One of the biggest issues that middle and back of the pack swimmers have is syncing up what their upper and lower body is doing. In other words, they struggle with connecting the upper and lower body so that they are swimming as one unit. If you look at a beginner, their upper body is typically doing one thing and their lower body is doing another. This might display itself as a flailing upper body and/or a wiggling lower body. However, if you look at an advanced swimmer, their whole body seems to move as one. When their right arm enters their left leg kicks. And when their left arm enters their right leg kicks. There is more to it though.
Their core is also highly engaged. As they swim their hips rotate on a central axis and in sync with the rest of their stroke. This optimizes the power output and acceleration of the pull. The overall effect is that they look smooth, relaxed, and powerful. You would never know that they are swimming fast!
When the upper and lower body “stop talking to each other” you not only lose power but also form, balance, and speed while your effort goes up. So how do you start building this connection? Here are three tips:
- Opposite paddle and fin. Put a paddle on your left hand and a fin on your right foot and swim a 50. By using these two toys on opposite sides you are increasing your awareness of what each is doing. As you swim, pay extra attention to syncing these to sides as much as possible so as the paddle enters you are also kicking. After a few 50s, swap sides and repeat.
- Single arm swimming. Like the last exercise. Swimming with only one hand will allow you to focus just on one side at a time. Keep your other hand glued to your side throughout this drill. As you swim, be extra aware of your hips and your kick. Also, as you initiate the pull phase, be sure that you are engaging the hips and core to maximize your power.
- Backstroke. Despite being everyone’s second to last favorite alternative stroke (butterfly might be the most despised), backstroke is great for teaching your body to engage the core. It also helps that you can breathe out of the water so you can focus more on your body position. As you swim, be aware of your kick as well as your core engagement. If your lower body is sinking, you are letting your core go slack instead of keeping everything taut.
Connecting the upper and lower body neurologically does not happen overnight. It takes time and patience. Try incorporating these drills into your warmup, building that awareness, then carry the feeling over as much as you can into your main set of swimming. If you have a break in between rounds of your main set, “reset” your form by doing your recovery as one of these drills or doing backstroke instead of freestyle.
It might be frustrating at first, but keep working at it because syncing your stroke will have major effects on your power, effort, and speed.
Coach Chris, Tri Swim Coach