By Dan Bullock
How they started.
If you do too much of something it is well known its benefits can diminish. With swimming, the accuracy of a certain movement will fade and its effect limited as we fatigue. Not just physically tire of performing the movement but also the psychological fatigue as when we engage high concentration levels we can only absorb so much. There are two aspects to a hybrid drill, the ease with which it can flow into and out of full stroke and how two separate drills can combine to produce more than the sum of the two separate drills.
Watch the FreeWilly drill to see how an isolated drill movement helps to launch the full stroke FC into the next 3-5 strokes (Apologies for poor filming on this one.) How it shapes the recovery and encourages the legs and hips into action after the slow drill. This is a great example of combining the drill into full stroke and utilising the slow drill movement to encourage the body to work harder to ‘launch’ into full stroke. Many drills flow into and out of full stroke really well, others not so much. If we can perform a shorter amount of a drill with enhanced accuracy, then as adults learning to swim faster we discovered this was a winning formula as the drill carried into its teaching points in the full stroke naturally.
Traditionally a length of a drill repeated multiple times would be needed to help someone new to swimming learn a movement, to hold an improved position in the water or to unlearn an incorrect movement. With fins and other pool accessories to help with accuracy, it was essential to repeat the correct movement 000's of times. Most of us who learned to swim in the 70's & 80's then joined a swim club and would then start a fitness regime since most swimmers had the basics. After this, not much drill and technique activity would happen. As we have learned and understood more about the water we know how important swim technique is. For those who have moved on from learning to swim and are needing more of a learn to swim faster effect but might currently feel they have plateaued, hybrid drills might be the answer.
The Superman <extension position> is a wonderful drill for working the legs and a streamlined body position. Made easier and more accurate with fins. It might seem straightforward but there are a lot of points to take on board. Without fins, it is particularly hard to do well. At least not to the extent that many of the following teaching points needed are incorporated.
- Head still unless breathing
- Surface shoulder still, no rocking
- Small kick offset as hips rotate slightly.
- Lead arm parallel to the surface but submerged
- Hips stable while upper body rotates
- Kick not splaying as a reaction to the hips not flat
- Lower back not curving
The beauty of this one particular drill though is how it flows into and out of the full stroke. This makes it more accessible and accurate if you cannot use fins. More full stroke and less drill if fins are not allowed, more drill and less full stroke if they are. Play with the numbers and work out a ratio that works for you i.e. delivers all the accurate teaching points mentioned without fins. If you cannot hit all of those teaching points you have to ask if it is really helping. This goes back to the point that a full length or two of a certain drill is rarely performed with such accuracy. It is better to mix shorter amounts and more quickly have the movements shape the imminent full stroke.
The ratio of drill can be measured in seconds held or the number of breaths taken in the drill position. An odd number of full strokes will leave you ready to perform the drill now on your opposite side. The momentum of your full stroke can carry through to the drill allowing a short section to be performed without fins which is useful once a certain level of accuracy has been achieved. Equally, the positions the drill puts you into will more quickly flow into and shape the full stroke which is what I hope for a drill. 50m of an averagely performed drill leaving you tired is less likely to have the desired impact we are looking for when you turn around and commence your 50m of full stroke.
More recently I have been combining drills with multiple elements to help swimmers full stroke by delivering additional benefits. Ideal if you have grasped the basics and plateaued with your progress. Progressive challenges will activate the body into working harder to perfect movements. Levels of focus can be improved during the drill as these movements need full concentration. This allows the brain to really switch off during race mode, yet retain great accuracy in your swim technique when your concentration is elsewhere.
The combining of drills, swim accessories and stroke mechanics in some cases will help due to a variety of reasons:
- Part of the drill has been designed to check the first part has been executed correctly. It could be to promote a good finish to a movement that otherwise might have been lazy or to restrict an incorrect movement. The following drill came about for exactly the former reason. The advanced single arm can easily be swum incorrectly with no real idea if it is being performed accurately. A lot of swimmers remain flat, shoulders parallel to the surface, when performing and wonder why it is difficult to breathe. The addition of the single shark fin arm movement in between each single arm reminds the swimmer to complete their rotation improving body position and making it easier to breathe.
- The addition of the two or more movements promotes an enhanced synergy. Not really specific drills but more to do with the effect of adding multiple swim aids. The SFT swim down is something we refer back to frequently as sessions conclude as we attempt to polish our tired strokes before exiting the pool. With fins and Paddles, you get the hands and feet movements accentuated and able to work together more. With the larger hands doing a better job of anchoring the arm, the fins can help drive the legs and shift the body past the hand. Hips will sit higher and the body position will feel great. The extra sense of speed can also be a positive. Another variation of this might be swimming FC arms with Butterfly legs. The natural undulating rhythm of the hips delivering the butterfly movement will in turn speed up your FC arms. As the FC arms react and speed up so can the kick, the two work together really effectively. They complement each other to the extent some fast International FC swimmers have experimented with fly legs as their full stroke FC.
- Restrict one area via a drill then enhance it with part 2 can really help you feel when you get it right. Fast legs with fins in the normal FC swimming position for 10m then point the toes down for drag and to lower the body position for 5m. The arms will work harder to offset the additional drag from the legs but the key point here is the sensation of enhanced height and speed in the water when you resume your normal kick that had been restricted.
- The Single Fist drill is a simple change to your full stroke that needs no swim equipment but will quickly enhance your stroke. With your left or right hand clenched into a small fist swim 5 strokes, then switch before finishing the length full stroke. The diminished clenched shape slips through the water upsetting timing and rhythm and forcing you to be more aware of your hand pathways and their connection to the water. The normal hand feels larger than usual and it appears easier to hold more water. When both open and engage it feels like the water suddenly becomes a lot more solid. Clenching both fists as per the classic Fist drill but then opening them to a normal hand shape after just a few strokes will have the full stroke feel really heightened, the hands bigger like you have invisible paddles on, the forearm really supplementing the hand (having had to work harder to offset the diminished hand position.)
- Both of these variations are superior to the classic Fist drill which might have previously been practiced for a full length leading to getting tired and losing accuracy.
- Introduce a simple movement to ‘teach’ you or remind you of the basics and then overload the system with the 2nd harder drill. Fist into finger trail. Recovering the arm over the surface from your hip in a finger trail position will help remind you to:
- Fully rotate otherwise it will not be easy to recover
- To keep the back of the hand facing forwards on entry so we do not twist the hand & impinge the shoulder
- Keep relatively narrow as we slice through the water
- Reduce the low wide-sweeping arm recovery which will have you snake down the length.
It is easy to switch off and lose concentration when we work with the classic Fingertrail, just like catch up, we know it and we can do it in our sleep but add a related tricky part two we might just absorb more as we concentrate more. If we then pull with a fist clenched for a few strokes, we heighten our concentration on the tricky pull movement and enhance the correct recovery.
- Set up a position or movement then work against it in part 2 to accentuate the sensation of getting it right.
I stumbled into this MFC drill wanting to have swimmers feel what it is like when the Triceps accentuate and get involved with a solid push at the back of the stroke. Clenching the fist at the start makes the movement feel really easy. When the hand reopens the hand feels like it has the biggest paddles on and the arms really get a sense of what they contribute. Start with catch up to isolate each arm first to make this a little less complex. Slip the hand at the start of the pull and once the forearm is vertical open the hand to its normal shape and push through. As a secondary effect, it will bring an awareness to a vertical forearm as you set up your catch position.
Some of the effects we are looking for are to:
Restrict and accelerate, if we are forced to hold back a movement we can often launch into the correct position with more efficiency and accuracy. As you perform a normal sculling motion with the hands in front you sweep water back and forth. As that water moves in one direction you then pull it back towards the feet as you start your full stroke it can feel more solid. Many elite swimmers appear to start their pull with a very small and subtle out sweep before bringing it back to centre. It is hard to define why and how this helps but I feel it is related to the movement of pulling against ‘water already in motion’ in one direction so it feels just a fraction more solid. After the small outsweep it is common for a subtle S pull to be used so that you do not pull in an entirely straight line.
If you do pull perfectly straight this allows the water to move under the hand and around the back of the hand. At this point you get the hand slipping and the body no longer moving forwards. In an effort to search out solid water to hold I think the first small outsweep moves it to one side and it is then ‘caught’ and pushed back towards the feet. The change in direction momentarily helps. Don’t overdo the secondary sweeps & movements as they will throw the hips around and slow your general progress.
Stifle then magnify. In particular with this example, I am thinking Sculling with Mitts. With the gloved ‘paddles’ on and performing sculling the body works harder to make any kind of connection to the water. Once off, the connection of the hand to the water is intensified and swimming at this point will feel like you have a heightened feel of the water.
At an advanced level, a drills combination sequence might just help your technique to have a breakthrough or at least withstand more fatigue stress that is so critical to fast long-distance swimming. Technical inefficiencies can be sustained for short fast bursts but if you are looking for sustained speeds with the least amount of effort going to waste then improvements to swim technique is key. You only have a certain amount of energy available and in a medium nearly 1000x dense than air you can end up using that fuel at an alarming rate.
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