Freestyle love/hate relationship
Short presentation, I've started swimming around a year ago. I did for two reasons first and foremost I discovered (late 40 at the time) that I liked it and because my health was calling for it (poor shape with some health issues). When I started I was out of shape and over-weighted (1.78m 90kg now 76kg). I swim alone , so no external feedback :(
During that period I work on all four (/five) strokes, sort of I would add. I started with a strong focus on breaststroke and dolphin kick&whole body dolphin. I tried to focus on freestyle later through the year and even later I introduced backstroke.
I'm comfortable with breaststroke. Butterfly is a work in progress, still "butter-struggle" but I sense it is coming together, slowly extremely slowly... Even though I came to it last and contrary to my early impression, I like backstroke a lot.
Then there is front crawling/freestyle. I've a love/hate relation with it. I can perceived the beauty of it but I still fail to fall for it. I fail to invest much swimming time into it.
At the core of the issue is breathing. The breathing pattern seems to have an impact of the technique. A part comes from my technique but I suspect another part is "built" into the stroke. When I'm using a FQS (/catch-up?) approach my breathing is not good, I'm ok on the right side but bad on the left. When I'm using a more "kayak" type of approach to the stroke breathing works a lot better and on both sides.
The kayak approach increases slightly my stroke rate which gets me to my real issue with front crawl (at least for now): the breathing pattern.
Using KayaK style I can try to breath every three strokes but truth be told I still want to breath every two strokes. As I start breathing every two strokes I tend to drift from the kayak approach into FQS which I think I'm less comfortable with (contrary to early feels), the stroke feels less connected, and the stroke gets "asymmetrical".
From what I see in competition more and more swimmers swim every 2 strokes and as such they develop an asymmetrical stroke asymmetric arm movements as well as kicking).
Many people says that breathing should be decoupled from stroke somehow and that one should be able to breath every 2, 3, 4 etc strokes as if breathing had no impact on the stroke fundamentals, it does or at least it seems to me at my early stage of learning.
Whether you are a competitive swimmer or not it seems that most people wants/needs to breath every two strokes /as much as possible at any level of exertion. Most of the modern day swimmers seems to have to various extend built that constrain into their stroke.
Modern competitive freestyle is no longer a symmetrical stroke but that should not bother me at my level of practice, what bothers me is that I feel like something is not OK when I try to deal with the stroke as symmetrical one while breathing every two strokes.
I swim for pleasure and leisure but I also want to do my back some good as well as correcting a really bad posture and associated issues if the stroke is not symmetrical it means that one has two practices both sides in equal quantity to prevent possible health issue. When it comes to "feeling" whereas in "kayak-ish" the stroke feels "good" (it still may never be my favorite stroke, anyway...) with a breath every 3 strokes, I fail to enjoy and really get into any front crawl while breathing every 2 strokes.
I'm not sure what to think or which approach to follow both practically and somehow aesthetically. I watched some race between Laure Manadou and Kate Spiegler yesterday, I "understand" the logic and the aesthetic of their technique: kayak-ish, 2KB, breath every 3 strokes (for most part).
Now I think Ledecky is onto something with her completely asymmetric stroke, Sun Yang's stroke is asymmetric but it does not look as "well though out" as Ledecky take on the stroke. Ledecky seems to have built its stroke on the necessary asymmetry introduced by the breath every 2 strokes pattern. I suspect from there she also takes more advantage of her stronger arm and "jumping" leg whereas in a symmetrical approach to the stroke you want to balance things out. Like other non symmetrical sports it might for specific training to maintain the body "balanced".
So to sum-up it up I fail to get comfortable with the stroke as I lean toward a breath every two strokes and I feel like I'm trying to make symmetrical something that is not and can't really be (I'm not kicking symmetrically, I'm not sure what I do). As I do I feel like I do not "wear/work" my body in symmetrical manner. Whenever I try to breath on my bad side I feel like playing football mostly with my left foot or play tennis with my left arm but at a "whole body level"... lol
I'm not happy with the aesthetic of the stroke either or more precisely the way I "understand it". My gut feeling is that Ledecky approach will impose itself as the gold standard and that as sidestroke front crawling will become an asymmetrical stroke and thought-out as well as analyzed as such. As for now I don't know if her approach (/technology) to the stroke have been formalized, at least in public manner.
End result whether my understanding is correct or not, I fail to take pleasure in it :(
We can all sit back and analyze Olympic swimmer videos and try to find their secrets, but ultimately we have to forge our own path with our own physical gifts and strengths (and also weaknesses).
Breathing is often an issue with swimmers; what a pain to need to take a breath in the middle of what was nice stroking and now interrupted! I would encourage you to make sure your basics are down in the areas of balance, streamlining, and propulsion first without taking a breath (standing up of course when you need to take one), and then work on breathing. There are sections on breathing in our Ultra Efficient Freestyle ebook and in Freestyle Mastery ebook. I would encourage you to give those a try and see if they help.
First thanks for your answer :)
Now I wonder wonder if freestyle is a symmetric stroke, after some research it seems that I'm not alone in fact though it does not seem as if the "last word" on the matter is out already. I may come back to your first answer, indeed Freestyle is more complicated than others strokes, so much parameters to fine tune and work around. I get interesting when compared to backstroke why are there so many approaches in freestyle from casual to competitive athletes while backstroke is more of a known quantity.
I believe the answer is breathing and the pattern at which it needs to occurs for most people (casuals and athletes). From people at the pool to athletes and on most distances (short sprint aside) almost every body breathes once every two strokes. A consequence is that people tends to strongly favor swimming on one side and doing so their techniques and movement definitely adapt. We know from elites swimmers that that asymmetric approach to the stroke is faster (and most likely more efficient) on any distance but short sprints during which breathing has a lesser impact.
Speaking for myself, I favor the symmetry from an aesthetic pov but also wrt to health/training as asymmetric workloads comes with their load of issues but I feel like I'm not breathing enough. On the biomechanical level we have a strong arm and a weak one (that does some things better nonetheless), a kicking leg and a jumping one. It is a fundamental issue, breathing comes first in the long run, may be freestyle is a different animal than the others strokes, like a galloping horse, whereas "classic" front crawl is in fact some form of ventral backstroke lol :)
May be the breathing pattern set us up to us the best of the distinct abilities of ours four limbs?
Only swimming a short time time, you have certainly developed a ton of awareness - nice!
Re: Kayak/windmill easier to breathe. Just to add to Coach Dave's excellent reply. Often swimmers will find air easier with windmilling arms since those arm movements are stabilizing your vessel, in other words the pulling arms are seeking stability. These are really instinctive movements that are primal human, not a cognitive choice. Instead, learn to balance without using/moving hands (and feet) and position body to remain balanced with hips and legs light. I suspect in your front quadrant timing, holding lead arm patiently in front your recovery arm/hand is stopping at the hip at exit too - this is a common problem. This "hitch at hip" causes the hips to sink (i.e. arm weight stalled behind the lungs) and thus difficult to breathe. When holding lead arm in front, keep the recovery moving continuously, swing recovery arm away from the body to maintain balance - don't hitch at hip lifting elbow early above the back/spine.
Keep up the good work!
I invest quite some time into it (either swimming or thinking) along with a change in lifestyle for the best :)
Other than that as the pool is a lot less crowed lately I should time myself in all the strokes on 200m (x4 50m) as I've simply no idea about my current speed.
I will keep the topic updated, thanks again for the insights :)
Hi Liolio -
I can relate your breathing symmetry vs need for air every 2 strokes. About a year or two into my re-learning to swim freestyle as an adult, I FORCED myself to breathe on my weak side because I thought that symmetry would look better, even out my stroke, improve my posture in the water and overall make me a better swimmer.
It did all that. It was ugly, uncomfortable and super-un-natural for a few months, but eventually it clicked into place. I forced myself to breathe at least 100Y per session on my weak side, then on every 3rd stroke, and then it clicked. Most importantly, I learned that pursuing improvement required discomfort and that un-natural feeling. People swimming in water is not natural. Learning to breathe on my weak side was a huge confidence builder. Breathing bilaterally every 3rd stroke improved my stroke in many ways... but I wanted to swim faster.
I suspect that breathing on 2's feeds the bulk of the swimming population the right amount of oxygen for the performance required of an athlete to maintain a good workout in the aerobic zone.
Terry (TI founder) usually answers this question like this: that for any given distance he will strive to take the same number of breaths on each side. But he does NOT say he always breathes on 3's. This implies taking a number of strokes breathing on 2's on one side, then switching to breathing on 2's on the other side.
Practicing in outdoor pools in California, I tend to breathe away from the sun going down the pool, and coming back, I breathe on the other side to keep looking away from the sun.
After my cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health last year, I started to push my speeds even faster. Breathing on 2's allows me to go faster than bilateral breathing (3's). If running out of breath is the problem (the kind that would be solved if you could sit on the wall for 15 seconds) then getting more air is the answer.
Now, I swim longer distances breathing on 2's and when I start running out of air, I can take a couple breaths in a row (breathing on 1's, on one side and immediately on the next). That allows me to keep up a near-sprint pace for longer and dig into the anaerobic zone.
It may seem like all the cool kids are breathing on 2's but that's a choice forced by fuel requirements. If you really want to argue that symmetry is irrelevant, look at the 50m sprinters. No fair removing them from the examples. Not one is breathing on 2's and they are REALLY symmetrical.
I paid more attention to my recovery today, indeed Coach Stuart Mc Dougall was right, I used to stall my hand around the hips (or slowed it too much) instead of getting the recovery going. I had an effect on my rotation.
I also discovered something else my right catch is more "evf" than the other "thanks" (I actually wants to stiffen/ strengthen it) to a shoulder blade than is a little to lose. Along with the hindered rotation,it has me doing a weird outsweep which does not happen on my left side. It also prevent my shoulder right torso side to "engage" (I mean go down a little putting pressure on the water) which happen without me really paying attention to it on my left side: it also impact rotation.
I use to think that my left side was the bad one, actually it is not whereas I feel a lot more strength on the right it further throw my stroke out of balance...
Hell freestyle is complicated, so many things to work and keep in mind. I'm in for a lot of work :)
Coach Stuart's blind assessment of my stroke was correct, the advises Dshen gave me was also good ones.
I was stalling sometime stalling my recovery at exit. My balance is also to be work on along with pretty much everything actually:
My kicks actually generate/start the rotation and one is weaker than the other one (/bad knee). I may try a 4 kick per beat pattern to see if it fit me. I tried to work in symmetry today 2KB and a breath every three strokes but it breaks often. I think when it does breaks or I try to push myself a little further I wonder if the pattern could actually work to my strength and also weaknesses instead of having the stroke breaking in not controlled manner as I inadvertently found myself breathing only to the right again and every two strokes.
As I work on the extension forward with my right arm, my body does not rotate as much as on the right side so I "swim less downward" as you would say (or put less chest pressure) on that side. I think it is the reason why my breathing on the left is bad: my center of gravity and of buoyancy are not in the same positions as when I breath on the right side.
My right shoulder blade is too lose (old injury I did not take care well enough) so it is more flexible (in a bad way) I can get more extension without rotating (than with my left arm), I can get into an "earlier" EVF than with my left arm. As I said yesterday it furthers throw my stroke out of balance ND I also realize today that as the shoulder is slightly further away from my core (/loose) I can't translate all the strength from the rotating core and its large muscles. Good news I can do a correct move but it requires a lot of awareness. I think I should see a physician therapist or osteopath and also do airborne exercises to make that shoulder more stable.
Those two reasons together explains why I'm more balanced and breathe better (both sides) while kayaking: shoulder driven rotation and stroke overall partly hide my lack of control and deficiencies in other areas.
Overall an interesting day at the pool today. I worked at slow pace and I think I increased my awareness of the issue with my stroke and my body as well. It is still a little frustrating to rework things I thought were improving (AND work at lesser speed) but I realize that (slow) front craw training can be turn into physical therapy as I grow more aware about myself.
I can do breaststroke to but I will have to have high awareness during the outsweep.
As much as I want to learn butterfly, I think I will have to stall my efforts at the moments, it is simply too easy to inadvertently try to force through the stroke and even on short distance I think it might hinder the efforts I have to do to stabilize my shoulder blade and matching muscles => I'm going to work whole body dolphin and dolphin kick and so "cobra" type of breaststroke in the mean time.
I learned these in physical therapy when I reached the point where the butterfly recovery was hurting my right shoulder due to an old injury. I now do them on both shoulders and I have no problems with the butterfly recovery.
I think that there are two different approaches to learning to breath easily in freestyle. The first is to learn to balance your head over an extended shoulder on your lungs. This will support your head as you rotate to breath, and you won't need to lift your head in order to do so. One drill that helps to learn this is rolling to breath while skating. The second approach is to incorporate a very small amount of body dolphin into your freestyle. By timing your breathing with the undulation of your body dolphin, the breathing becomes much easier. One way to learn this technique is to do one-armed freestyle with the other arm extended at your hip.
Both of these approaches can be used together to varying extents, depending on your body density and swimming style. The asymmetric loping style of many elite swimmers uses this type of body dolphin, which can also be used to enhance the propulsion of your arm stroke.
But all of these different techniques take time to learn. Just like swimming different strokes, it can be fun and useful to learn both of the above techniques. Lots of stuff to play around with, but these can be challenging exercises. Don't expect immediate success with them. If you get frustrated, go on to other things and come back to them every once in a while just to see how you are doing. As your technique progresses, you will notice it in your ability to do these drills.
Agree with Danny. I also go around in these circles and after a while these drills become more natural and easy.
Slump” in the May 2007 archives), inhibits the ability of the scapula to tilt backward and create space for the rotator cuff in the shoulder joint when the arm is lifted overhead. As a result, the rotator cuff gets pinched, causing tissue damage.
This is the reason I dont have shoulder problems anymore, described also in the thread `a different approach to preventing shoulder injury.`
exactly like in that sentence, Lifting the shoulder away from the ribcage seemed to make space around the joint to let it move more freely without pinching problems.
When the shoulder is lifted the whole high elbow style can be used with less risks for impingement, but dont start to pull hard before the paddle is set in the proper position.
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