My problem with "traditional" swim training
In the last month, I have trained with three different swim coaches. Each one grew up swimming in a different part of the US. Each has taught for several years. Yet although two of them claim to be technique focused their practices are all fundamentally the same.
From these three and my swimming in high school, here is how I describe traditional swim practice:
Warm up (usually many consecutive laps like 500 yards)
Series of drills (differing each sessions)
Main set (this means swimming either fast or far)
(Note: the drills and main set order is unimportant.)
I have two big problems with this approach.
1) there is no stroke warmup only muscle warm up
2) drills and main set are always unfocused
The reason for problem #1 is lack of philosophy. While I am occasionally given a new drill that I find very useful. Primarily drills in swim practices feel like they are chosen at random, as if we were children and needed new games to keep us interested. Because speed in swimming is taught as an end-in-itself, anything that might increase your speed is given equal weight.
The reason that I think it is important to warm up your stroke after warming up your body is that you swim different on different days. Some muscles may be tired or need some special attention to stretch correctly. Your balance or rhythm might be off. And often it takes some time to really get your head back into swimming and away from home and work.
The way that I warm up my stroke, and I have started doing this religiously now, is that I swim a 50 of every TI drill for the stroke that I want to do that day. If a drill is harder than usual or does not feel right, I will do more.
Why do I say that this is caused by lack of philosophy? Because a philosophy is a set of principles to guide choices and actions. In TI, we are guided to be relaxed, efficient, and move with our core. To measure our progress towards our principles, there are tools such as strokes per length (SPL). Your SPL should decrease between your initial warmup and the end of your stroke warm up because, for lack of a better term, you have recalibrated yourself in the water.
Problem #1 leads directly into problem #2. Without a guiding principle, swim coaches are left to fumble around for how to give their swimmers practice. Since most swimmers were taught yardage yields improvement, most coaches will put in drills and change up the main set primarily to break up sheer boring chore that they see in endless lap swimming. While it is nice of them to try and make things interesting, I find it just frustrating because they do not organize practice around a central theme.
The importance of having a theme in swim practice is two fold. First, it improves muscle memory because will drill the theme into your muscles for a night. Second, provides you with a whole practice of consciously considering a specific part of your stroke. Here is where having a coach is the biggest boon, because while everyone can easily make out practices for themselves. Most of us leave out certain exercises. When was the last time that you do underswitch in fist gloves for an hour? Or do 300 just skating?
Since a good coach is hard to find (at least for me), I make myself a list of different focuses that I think can have a whole practice built around them.
For each practice, I would suggest:
Warm up until water is comfortable and muscles feel loose
Warm up stroke by doing all your drills at least two lengths
Test yourself by doing your main set. (time yourself for some distance, check your SPL, or play swim gold)
Practice with a focus for at least twenty minutes
Test yourself again with the same set you tested before.
(This is not to say that this is the only method one could use. I simply think that it is a good one. I am using it to try and get my 100y freestyle under a minute.)
Here are same examples of practices that I thought up. The difference between these and focal points is that you should use several different focus points as well as mix up drills and wholestroke to improve the gross skill.
Freestyle (in quotes are suggestions for the drill sections):
1. Balance practice (remember balance is both long axis -- rolling side-to-side, and short axis -- keeping your hips high)
2. Hip rotation (underswitch)
3. Arm recovery (relaxed elbows, mailbox, ear hops)
4. Kicking (primarily underswitch and zenswitch with 2-beat kick)
5. Breathing (breath only on one side per length, breath every three strokes, and breath as few time as possible)
6. Arm holds (practice holding water in your hand on the pull)
7. kicking (breaststroke kick on your back is a really good drill)
8. outsweep (outsweep with no kick at all helps with undulation)
9. breathing (chin should just touch the water)
10. low SPL (how few strokes can you achieve)
11. fast strokes (practice faster outsweep to breaststroke faster)
12. spearing (legs drive you to streamline
13. balance (how long can you lift your arm before you face sinks? How well do you keep water on your forehead)
14. hip rotation (really push stacking the shoulders)
15. kicking (time yourself kicking in skate position and with arms at your sides. I find it helps me improve my back kick)
16. breathing (you should breath rhymically on backstroke)
17. connected shoulders (recovery and pulling arm should move as a unit to shift weight)
18. pulling (I find one arm pulls help alot to improve backstroke)
19. Dolphin (practice dolphin on your back, front, side, and on your back with arms at your sides)
20. breathing (swim a length doing two butterfly, two breaststroke focusing on chin barely touching)
21. Pull (ride the wave and water angels)
22. Recovery (dolphin dive and streamline butterfly)
23. arm holds (ride the wave and dolphin dive but focus on holding onto the water)
24. Butterfly to backstroke
25. backstroke to breast
26. breast to free
27. butterfly and breast
28. backstroke and free
29. Push offs (go as far as you can with just your legs and underwater dolphining)
30. Turns (swim out about 1/3 of the pool swim in for a turn (depending on stroke) and back out to 1/3. repeat)
Excellent post Jamwhite, I've seen some coaches come to my local pool and "teach" young kids who are old enough to understand good technique an improve but all that happens it that they do the same tired, boring drills and sets. One particular coach just has his one client get on fins and jump around in the pool while he chats on his cell phone! No joke, I've come over to the kid and tried to give him some covert TI instruction and he appreciated my drills and thoughts. One coach asked me why I have the funny stroke that I do in the water. I explained that what I'm doing is identical to the technique that elite swimmers (wide tracks, spearing the water, head spine align etc) do only they can kick my butt on a warm-up alone LOL! The drills you gave are very interesting and I'm gonna incorporate a lot of them in my future practices. Thanks again!