3/10/04 Learning the Perfect Streamline
Demonstrated by Attila Czene,
1996 Olympic champion, 200 IM. Think your streamline is perfect?

Think your streamline is perfect?

Think again. It probably could use some help.

To make your streamline super-efficient, you must find every way possible to eliminate as much frontal resistance as you can. The perfect streamline takes a lot of practice, and demands extremely good flexibility.

The following exercise, which should be done before workout with the rest of your pre-workout stretching, will help you develop the flexibility you’ll need to attain a perfect streamline.

The easiest way to see if your streamline makes the grade is to use a flat wall. Standing with your heels a couple of inches from the wall, turn your back to the wall and assume your normal streamline position. Now, slowly back up to the wall and see how flat you are to the wall. You may be surprised to find that your wrists and lower back are not as streamlined as you thought.

To improve your streamline, flatten your lower back by flexing your abdominals and bring your wrists back to the wall. Then point your toes while holding this position. Practice getting into this position on land, then try it in water.

With a little practice, you can become as streamlined as Attila.

2/3/04 Proper Getaway: The Drop Push
Drop pushing off the wall every time you start a repeat in workouts will help you improve several skills: improving your body position during open (butterfly & breaststroke) turns and attaining a consistent depth every time you push off a wall. Not only is the drop push good for developing good habits, it is much more efficient (both easier and quicker) than jumping off the bottom of the pool, or treading water with your hands trying to balance your feet on the wall.

Set up:
Set yourself up with one hand on the wall and the other extended toward the opposite end of the pool with the palm facing up. Focus your eyes on the hand that’s on the wall, with your chin almost touching your shoulder. Plant the balls of your feet (not your heels) on the wall with your feet pointed parallel with the bottom of the pool.
Bring your head back, look toward the sky and allow your body to drop down until your torso is aligned with your lower body (parallel with the bottom of the pool). Your hands should be together and overhead, with your elbows bent slightly.
As you push off, your elbows should straighten, tightening your streamline so that as your toes leave the wall you are in a tight streamline and on your side (perpendicular with the bottom of the pool).
Now rotate either onto your front (freestyle, butterfly or breaststroke) or onto your back (backstroke).

1/13/04 Don’t Go To the Board: Treating Shoulder Soreness Differently

There is a widespread misconception among coaches and swimmers thinking about treating shoulder injuries. During workout if you begin to feel pain or soreness in your shoulder and you switch to kicking with a traditional kickboard, using a traditional position, you may actually be making the problem worse.

The traditional position -- with your hands holding the tip of the board, your elbows resting on the surface of the board and your head up, eyes looking forward -- increases the pressure on your rotator cuff. The main movement that causes pain in the shoulder during freestyle is the top catch of the stroke. Kicking with a board can cause your shoulder to feel prolonged pressure similar to what you feel during the catch.

This position can add pressure to the impingement of the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, and Subcapularis muscle tendons). These muscles help hold the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder tightly in place. These four muscles all cross through a relatively small space. When these soft tissues become inflamed, the space tightens and impingement occurs, resulting in a “pinching feeling.”
    There are several ways to avoid pain in your shoulder and continue to work out without causing pain. And you can add variety to the workout design at the same time. These include:
  • Kicking with a smaller kickboard, or even a pull buoy, so that you are lower in the water and the pressure on your rotator cuff is not as intense.
  • Kicking without a kickboard, using a drill such as the extension kick, which will promote good body position and avoid shoulder pressure.
  • Continuing to swim, but with fins. While you are swimming, use your legs -- not your arms -- for most of your propulsion. Let your arms go through the swimming motion without pulling or catching the water. This will allow you to keep your shoulder loose and keep working on your body rotation.

11/17/03 Maintaining Proper Body Position During Freestyle Flip Turns:

In this Tip on Technique, we will discuss the major factors leading to proper body position on freestyle flip turns. The turn is demonstrated by world record-holder Lindsay Benko.

Without breathing on the final stroke, make final adjustments eying the target on the wall while kicking vigorously.
On the final arm stroke, let your eyes follow your hand as it pulls past your head. This will sustain your momentum into the turn. You will slow down considerably if you pull your arm down to your side without tucking your chin. You can see that Lindsay’s right hand is stopped at her side; it will stay there throughout the turn.
As your last pull passes by your chest, you can take a quick dolphin kick in order to quickly snap your heels, ankles and calves over the water with the water line level with the knee caps. The “snap” of the heels is timed to coincide when both arms are at your sides. The press of both arms downward toward the face initiates the “Snap”.
Once you have flipped the legs over. Your arms, which are now overhead, should still be at your sides, ready to streamline off the wall. The balls of your feet should be on the wall, toes up.
As you push off the wall, tighten your streamline as you turn onto your side, positioning your body perpendicular to the bottom of the pool.
10/27/03 Breaststroke & Butterfly Turns Technique Tip:

When performing a breaststroke or butterfly turn, your goal should be to get in and off the wall as quickly as possible. How fast you can turn depends largely on how quickly you can get your feet onto the wall.

The breaststroke and butterfly open turn can be broken up into three distinct phases:

  • chest slap
  • hip slap
  • hand recovery close to the cap


Chest Slap – After both hands simultaneously touch the wall, one arm is immediately brought back into the body with the elbow pressed against the ribs and the hand slapping the upper part of the chest, close to the shoulder (Some coaches modify the positioning of this arm).

Hip Snap – Draw your knees up quickly toward your chest and the wall with toes pointed. Both chest slap and hip snap movements are performed simultaneously. This causes the shoulder of your recovering arm to drop in the water while your hips rotate to allow you to place just your toes horizontally on the wall. While your legs are brought under the body, the head and shoulders are brought straight back, looking up toward the ceiling or sky.

Hand Recovers Close To the Cap - The hand that remained on the wall will recover close to the head as if you were saluting to the official standing over your lane. Continue to drop back until your feet are on the wall and your hands meet in a streamline.

Push off the wall with your toes only, as if you were jumping rope. Your heels should never be placed firmly on the wall. When pushing off, your feet are planted on the wall, parallel with the bottom of the pool. This will help you to push off more on your side, since pushing with the toes pointed down causes a lot of resistance. As you push off, you will twist the body in a corkscrew motion onto the stomach. Your feet must push off with your shoulders past vertical and with your chest facing the bottom, as you hold your streamline tight by squeezing your arms against your ears.

There are two common errors in doing breaststroke and butterfly turns: the "spin like a top turn”, and the “pull-up turn”.

If you “spin like a top” when you turn, it may be because you are rotating your head in a “no” motion and rotating your shoulders horizontally through the water. To correct this, keep your eyes on the wall until your feet are on the wall. The speed of the turn does not depend on how quickly you get your hands on and off the wall, but how quickly you get your feet on and off the wall! Once your feet are on the wall, bring your head back into your streamline looking upward rather than turning your head to the side.

Pulling yourself up out of the water as you turn , probably means that you are grabbing the lip of the wall and pulling your shoulders and chest up and out of the water. This turn will cause you to lose most of your momentum, since you want to get “in and out,” not “up and down”. When your hands touch the wall, rather than pulling yourself up, immediately bring one of your elbows back and drive your bent knees and feet into the wall.

9/17/03 Bi-Lateral Breathing Tip:

Freestyle breathing is one of the most basic skills that swimmers learn early on. When and how often you should breathe, however, is a more complicated matter that changes throughout your swimming career. For some swimmers, the most notable of these changes involves bi-lateral breathing. Bilateral breathing occurs while swimming freestyle when you breathe on an odd count (every 3rd, 5th, or 7th stroke) and the head is turned to one side to breathe and the following breath is to the other side.

One advantage of bilateral breathing for competitive swimmers is that it keeps your body balanced because you rotate to alternate sides each time you breathe. When you breathe to one side, you may only be rotating to your breathing side. This uneven body rotation causes you to extend the recovering arm (the arm that is in the air while you are breathing) less than your other arm, hindering your distance per cycle. When you only breathe to one side, you may also encourage uneven muscular development in your shoulders. This can lead to injury.

Many swimmers find that learning to breathe bilaterally is difficult. This seems particularly true of Masters swimmers. The first stage in learning bilateral breathing is learning to rotate and breathe comfortably to your non-natural side. Practice doing 50’s, breathing to the right on the first length, then to the left on the second length. This will allow you to even-out your body rotation while keeping your normal 2- or 4- count breathing.

When training, it is very important to keep rotation even, while breathing at an appropriate rate. For many swimmers the appropriate rate is roughly one breath every 2 seconds, or approximately one breath every 3 strokes.

8/11/03 Breaststroke Timing Technique Tip:
Timing Basics:

One of the common characteristics of most great breaststrokers is their timing. Timing includes both the order and the spacing in between the parts of your stroke (pulling, kicking, etc.). One of the simplest and most effective ways to teach breaststroke timing involves using what some coaches call "self-talk."

In self-talk you speak your swimming cues to yourself, consciously affecting what your body is doing. The self-talk that you use with breaststroke is “Pull-Breathe-Kick-Stretch.” By speaking to yourself, you can positively impact technique flaws, especially in timing.

Some of the common technique flaws in breaststroke timing and the ways that using a self-talk can overcome them include the following:

  • Over-lappers: Beginning the pull before the kick is finished. By saying "stretch" to yourself after each kick, it will help you to finish each kick and streamline the body at the conclusion of each stroke.
  • Over-gliders: During the stretch phase of the stroke, if you glide so long that your body loses much of its momentum, forcing you to speed up and slow down every stroke cycle. If your self-talk sounds like “Pull-Breathe-Kick-Stretch-pause-pause-pause-pause-pause” you may be over-gliding. A self-talk allows you to recognize immediately pauses and problems with your timing.
  • Stop-and-Goers: During the cycle, the pull is finished and the head is down before the feet begin to kick. When we refer to the kick’s place in our self-talk, we are talking about the power phase of the kick (when the toes are pointed out and they are pushing the water back and together). While you are doing the outsweep of the pull and your head is rising to breathe, the heels of your feet should be coming up toward your hips. This will ensure that when it is time to kick, your legs are bent and you’re ready to kick. This kick timing will also help your hands to recover quicker while your legs are driving together.

The breaststroke self-talk can be modified to fit into many drills that most of you already know.

  • 1 Pull/2 Kick Breaststroke – "Pull – Breathe – Kick – Stretch – Kick – Stretch"
  • Streamline Kick or kicking with hands on the bottom of a kickboard – "Breathe – Kick – Stretch"
Warm-Up Tips for Minimizing Shoulder Pain
The risk of shoulder pain during swimming is a real one. Even with perfect technique, the number of repetitions alone can wreak havoc on your rotator cuff. Improper technique can increase your risk of injury. It's important for you to use a correct catch motion with your hands and maintain a high elbow recovery at all times, including during warm-up.

During the arm recovery above water, keep your fingertips pointed down toward the bottom of the pool on freestyle and extend your arm directly in line with your shoulder (vs. crossing in front of the head). Your rotator muscles are relatively small and weak. If you're just pulling your hand through the water (versus rotating your body while you pull), you may be putting too much stress on rotator muscles.

Important factors to consider about your workout and shoulder pain:

  • In the span of a 3,000 yard workout, your shoulders will endure nearly 1,000 repetitions.
  • Incorrect repetitions can cause impingement of the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, and Subcapularis muscle tendons). These muscles help hold the ball and socket joint of the shoulder tightly in place.
  • The soft tissues surrounding the rotator cuff can become inflamed. Since the tendons all cross through a relatively small space, the space tightens and impingement occurs and you experience a “pinching feeling.”
There are several things you can do during warm-up to minimize the risk of shoulder pain and injury:
  • Use the first 200-300 yards as “stretching while swimming,” by putting your shoulders through the motions with little force on the hand. This will stretch and loosen your rotator cuff muscles.
  • Use pulling early in workout to help your shoulder. Pulling easy – or, “soft pulling” -- can continue to loosen the rotators while strengthening these muscles.
  • While doing warm-up and “soft pulling,” think about riding a bike in an easy gear, or spinning. This movement allows free rotation of the joint and there is very little power involved.
In addition to stretching before and after swimming, you should acknowledge the first sensations of shoulder pain, rather than try to ignore them. The earlier you recognize the pain and allow the inflammation to retreat, the quicker your recovery will be. Icing and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can also decrease the inflammation. You might also consider strengthening your external rotators. Ask your coach about surgical tubing and shoulder strengthening exercises.

Basic Drill for Balance and Body Position:
The following drill can be valuable for all swimmers, from beginners to elite athletes. This is a drill that emphasizes balance: keeping your body still and relaxed in the water. Body position refers to the angle the body maintains in relation to the surface of the water from both head to toes, and shoulder-to-shoulder. To maintain an ideal body position, keep your eyes looking downward (except on backstroke). While looking down, your hips and shoulders should be parallel to the surface. Press down on your armpit in order to keep your hips and feet on the surface.

Extension Kick on the Side

This drill will help you control your rotation on freestyle and backstroke. Starting on your side (shoulders and hips are perpendicular to the surface), extend one arm out in front of the body, palm down, and the other arm at your side. The arm that is at your side should be at or above the surface of the water from the shoulder to the wrist. When working on freestyle, your eyes should be looking straight down, with your cheek against the extended shoulder. When breathing, rotate your
head to the side using only your head and neck, trying not to affect the rest of your body.

When using this drill to work on backstroke, keep your eyes focused on the sky or ceiling, keeping the tips of both ears slightly and evenly submerged underwater. Your feet will tell you whether or not your body is perpendicular to the surface: if your feet are kicking perfectly side to side and making very little splash, then your body position will be correct. You may have to adjust your head position and lower the angle your eyes are looking at in order to keep your hips on the surface. If you find your hips sinking, you may be lifting your head and eyes to breathe (rather than simply turning your head to breathe).

This drill also can be modified in order to work on rotation for freestyle. Begin kicking on your side, as explained above. After 10 kicks, begin to lift the elbow of the arm that is at your side, dragging your fingertips across the surface. Once your hand has reached your armpit, and your elbow is pointing directly up, begin to pull with the other arm and rotate into the same extended position on the other side. The extension kick drill can also be used with butterfly kick. Keep your cheek on the surface, and your eyes above water, looking toward the side of the pool. Do butterfly kick keeping your upper body balanced and your extended arm fairly still. You should try to begin the kick from the upper abs down into your hips and legs. This will prevent you from pressing the chest too far, or allowing the shoulders to bounce while doing fly kick.

Freestyle and Backstroke Breakouts

You’re coming out of a freestyle or backstroke turn, streamlining on your side. With which arm do you pull first?

You can create several advantages by pulling first with the arm that has the shoulder facing the bottom: (Note: Because of the natural rotation, or body roll, in freestyle, it is easy to tell which side is facing the bottom. However, on backstroke, most swimmers push off fairly flat on their backs. Do what the best backstrokers do and drop one shoulder a split second before your breakout to gain the advantages described below.)

  1. You can gain more rotational power and distance. This rotational power allows you to use your hips more effectively, greatly increasing the distance you cover on your first stroke cycle.
  2. By taking your first breath on the opposite side of your breakout stroke (breakout stroke on the left, first breath to the right), you ensure that you will do a complete stroke cycle before your first breath. (Note: Swimmers who breathe on their left side should streamline on their sides with the right shoulder facing the bottom.)
  3. By controlling the timing of your first breath, you can hold the velocity gained from the push much longer, and carry this increased velocity into the rest of the length.
  4. In addition, by controlling the timing of the first breath, you will find it easier to reach your ideal tempo (stroke rate).