The Three Most Important Concepts for Beginning Swimmers

author : garyhallsr
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Being comfortable in the water and knowing where your body parts are trump power and strength any day

by Gary Hall Sr.
The Race Club


Rule #1. Be comfortable in the water.

I know this seems trite, but it may be the most important thing you can do in order to advance your swimming skills and water speed. There is a great tendency among swimmers that did not begin to learn the sport as tots to be uncomfortable in water. Some have a fear of drowning (true!). Some hate the feeling of getting their face or ears wet. Some have an instinct to want to fight the water, knock it out or hit it over the center field fence. Others aren’t sure when and how to breathe while swimming.
All of these feelings, and others, lead to a tense body. A tense body will not perform well in any sport.

A bit like hitting a golf ball a long way, swimming fast requires the right combination of power, speed and the coordination of movements. One cannot even begin to achieve those if he or she cannot reach a relaxed state. On each and every arm cycle, there is a recovery that absolutely requires muscular relaxation with minimal biomechanical stress. Without this phase, exhaustion is reached very early.

So if you are one of the tense ones, how do you learn to relax? Float. Scull. Blow bubbles. Pick quarters up off the bottom of the pool. Roll over on your back. Tread water.  Kick underwater…on your stomach, side and back. Do somersaults underwater. Do all the things we are supposed to do as children in the water that you may have missed out on. Do them until your heart beats slowly and you feel like you are back in your mother’s womb. Then you are ready for the next step.


Rule #2. Learn to feel the water.

One of the reasons that technique is so important in the sport of swimming is that water magnifies the physical forces that act on us in air.  Drag and inertia are particularly important laws that must be considered. When the power that we generate to increase swimming speed depends greatly on our bodies motion through the liquid, the ability to feel the pressure of the water molecules with our fingers as our hand moves through it becomes extremely important. This is a hard skill to teach because each one of us may have a different ability to sense the minute changes in pressure as we pull our hand/arm through the water. No matter what level of sensitivity one may have in the fingertips, I do believe we all have the ability to get better at sensing the water with practice, just as a piano player improves his ability to feel the keyboard.

Years ago, my coach at Indiana University, James ‘Doc’ Counsilman, would pride himself at predicting who would become a good swimmer by observing the number of air bubbles the swimmer would carry as he or she moved the hand through the underwater pull. The great swimmers had an uncanny knack of eliminating most of these air bubbles before initiating the propulsive phase of the pull, thus maximizing the propulsive drag, creating more power. Doc attributed this ability to a high level of proprioception in the fingertips.

One of the most important ways of developing this increased ability to sense pressure is by doing sculling drills, slowly moving the hands back and forth underwater trying to develop a better ‘feel’ for the water. When teaching swimmers to use the early vertical forearm maneuver to reduce drag, I often teach a technique of slightly bending the most distal joints of the two smallest digits of the hand, ring finger and pinkie, as if one were pushing them softly into a stick of butter.

Before you can swim fast, you must learn to develop a better sensitivity and appreciation for the small changes in pressure on your hands. Small degrees of angles and position make huge differences in your ability to develop power in water. You are much less likely to develop this skill by jumping in and pounding out a set, than by doing some carefully planned drills first.


Rule # 3. Don’t coach yourself.

Swimming is a sport of compromises; where every move you make to try to go faster somehow also makes you go slower. It would be one thing if we were engineered to be fast in the water, but we were not. Therefore, using our long arms and legs, the only real tools we have to develop propulsion, albeit not designed well for fast motion in the water, creates a constant battle between power and frontal drag. We are one of the few aquatic creatures that will change its shape drastically through each act of propulsion. Within tenths of seconds, we change from a relatively streamlined shape to an extremely un-streamlined shape and back, over and over again.  

Since for the most part, we are unable to feel the frontal drag forces we create as we swim, we tend to gravitate toward the motions that give us more power. Unfortunately, in the aquatic world, that doesn’t usually work. Reducing frontal drag trumps increasing power and in order to reduce drag, we must sacrifice some power. It is primarily for this reason that swimmers need to be coached; ie told what to do, rather than do what feels right.

The other reason one needs to be coached in swimming is that most of us have poor spatial awareness. In other words, what we think we are doing with our arms and legs and we are actually doing can be and often are very different. Getting video images of your stroke, particularly underwater, may be the only way you will be convinced that what you are doing is wrong.

Spend a certain amount of time each week devoted to improving your swimming skills by playing in the water, doing sculling drills and getting some good coaching. Getting faster in the water is not just about jumping in and doing laps. In fact, it is far from it.
 
Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.
The Race Club

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date: May 6, 2011

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.

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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