Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great Swimming Article by Kevin McKenna- Development Specialist at USA Triathlon Swim

Over the last year I have been doing lots of reading about swimming technique, and the various drills to improve technique.  Swimming is not my strength discipline as a coach or an athlete.  However, my desire to improve my ability to coach multi-sport athletes, has me diving into reading as much as I can about swimming.   As I coach endurance athletes, I have focused my reading specifically on improving swimming technique.  The knowledge I have from the other disciplines is otherwise transferable to swimming.

I found this article quite good so I thought I would share it. 


By Kevin McKenna, USA Triathlon Swim Development specialist

While observing Ian Thorpe during his 3 week training camp in Colorado Springs in July my reaction was to conclude that Ian has an excellent FEEL FOR THE WATER. This is usually what I notice when observing many of the great freestyle specialists. Feel for the water has been labeled a gift (genetics). Many average freestyle athletes have a poor feel for the water and did not receive the gift. Can a better feel for the water be learned? It has been my experience that sculling drills and the general knowledge that feel for the water can be more important to an athletes success than achieving some grand volume in their daily or weekly training regime.

Sculling drills have been around for decades. The drills are numerous, elaborate and can be down right confusing. My athletes find that 2 to 3 drills are enough to accomplish the task of gaining a feel for the water. The hard part is to get the athletes and coaches to understand the importance of these drills. Sculling drills take twice the amount of time to accomplish as many swimming drills and almost 3 times that of swimming laps. The net result is a lower training volume, and during our era of get the “work done fast” this can be like pulling teeth.

Sculling drills should be a part of a weekly microcycle plan. Sculling sets should be consistent during the week and continue through the entire training Macrocycle (or season). I have found that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I can include sculling drills into warm-up, main drill sets, and at times main quality sets. For most athletes this is enough exposure to sculling. You may want to add more sculling days per week depending on the caliber of athlete you are working with.

In the beginning sculling drills should be completed at an easy to moderate intensity. As the athlete becomes more proficient in sculling technique you can design sets that allow the athlete to get more aggressive with the intensity of the drills. This will not only help the athlete to obtain a feel for the water but also strengthen the muscles of the back, forearm, hands and fingers. Distances of 50 meters seem to be the maximum length before having to rest or switch the sculling style. Sets can be short as 200 meters and as long as 800 meters. As previously mentioned, it is a great idea to mix sculling into other drill sets or even main sets.

Sculling can be done many ways: with or without a flotation device, vertical or horizontal in the water, head up or head down, and fast or slow. To make it simple my athletes do a front, mid, and rear scull in the horizontal position with or without a buoy between their legs. When sculling the athletes need to concentrate on some of these items:

(October-December 1998 issue of Swimming Technique, pg.27, author Ron Johnson)
1. Concentrate on feeling the water on both the inward and outward sweep.
2. Elbows may be straight or, to add more power, bent on the inward sweep.
3. The angle of the palm is changed quickly at the end of each inward and outward movement so that you feel constant pressure of the palms of the hands.
4. There is more propulsive or lifting power if the hands are fairly close to the surface in the hip area.
5. In vertical sculling, the further the hands get above waist level, the less power they have for raising and supporting the body.
6. Put your priority on smoothness and control rather than speed or height, then gradually add power and learn what changes propel you best.
7. Practice with a pull buoy to isolate the legs. Full attention should be given to arm sweeps and feel.
8. Practice all sculling techniques with a paddle designed to let you feel the water. (e.g. Tyr catalyst paddle).
9. Practice single or double-handed vortices (as described in Troy Dalbey’s article in the August issue of Swimming World).

Many elite freestyle swimmers continue to utilize sculling as an intricate part of their Macro/season to Micro/weekly cycles of training. Gaining a better feel for the water can be accomplished with any caliber of athlete. The athlete might swim mega-volume and not improve on time or technique. With sculling drills added to an athletes training program the net results can become positive results!

~end of article~

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