The Paradox of Swimming

author : garyhallsr
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By Gary Hall Sr.
The Race Club 

This week in our Race Club camp, I had two swimmers who represented very different types of athletes. One of them was 12-year-old Erin, whose mother had won a gold medal in Sailing in the Pan American Games some years ago, and the other was Melody, who is a 29-year-old-superbly-conditioned triathlete from the SF Bay area.

Erin is a tall, spindly girl who will undoubtedly reach over six feet when she is through growing, and is already a few inches taller than Melody, yet could not even muster a bend in her elbow on the pull up bar. Melody is strong. She can do umpteen pullups, ab sets all day long and can run like the wind. Yet, put Melody in the pool next to limp, gangly Erin and it is a different story. Erin swims circles around Melody.  Therein lies the paradox of swimming. Where does all that power go in the water?

It is not as if Erin had it all right when we started, even though she swims for a competitive team. Both swimmers come from programs with little or no swim technical training...and it showed. Once we got the head in the right position and the elbows up underwater, though, it was still no contest. And then it dawned on me. What Melody was missing wasn’t the high elbow or the head position or even the slimmer body of Erin. It was the connection.

The connection between the beginning of the arm pull (the catch) and the start of the counter-rotation of the core (hip/shoulders/legs) is a vital part of fast swimming. Among beginner swimmers, it is often missing. Among fast swimmers, it is taken for granted. What is so fascinating about this connection is that it can take a long-piece-of-spaghetti type arm, like Erin’s and create more propulsive power in water than a big, strong arm, like Melody’s.

I like to compare the connection to the pitching mound. A pitcher who throws a baseball at 90 mph from the mound will lose about half of that speed when throwing from the deep end of a swimming pool. There are a few reasons for that, but the biggest one for losing the ball speed is that the water is not stabile. So when he throws from the diving pool, he has nothing solid to push back against, as he does with his foot on the pitching mound.

So when it is just you swimming across a lake, an ocean or a swimming pool, there is nothing to generate forces to move you faster through the water other than those you create with your own body; no starting block, no wall...just you and the water molecules. The act of counter-rotating your body simultaneous to the start of the pull, what we call the connection, enables one to create more propulsive power out of the arm pull. It enables one to achieve greater distance per stroke. It enables swimmers to swim fast.

The good news is that after working with Melody all week, trying lots of different drills and ideas to get her to understand the connection, she is starting to get it. And it shows. I loved to share with her the story of one of my ‘non-swimmers’, Nancy from Philadelphia, who is in her late 50’s, a fitness model, but had never swum before. After two Race Club camps, Nancy swims like she has swum all her life. She finally got the connection.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.
The Race Club

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date: December 7, 2010

Author


garyhallsr

Hall's record is one of amazing successes. Gary has held 10 world records. In both 1969 and 1970 he was named World Swimmer of the Year.

Since retiring in 2006 as a physician and moving with his wife Mary, to Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Dr. Gary Hall has now dedicated his life to coaching technique and training methods to children, masters, fitness and health swimmers, triathletes and others at The Race Club Camps.

Author

avatargaryhallsr

Hall's record is one of amazing successes. Gary has held 10 world records. In both 1969 and 1970 he was named World Swimmer of the Year.

Since retiring in 2006 as a physician and moving with his wife Mary, to Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Dr. Gary Hall has now dedicated his life to coaching technique and training methods to children, masters, fitness and health swimmers, triathletes and others at The Race Club Camps.

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