If you look at many age group athletes’ stroke, you might notice that it is slightly imbalanced as if they were limping through the water. One arm might extend a little further, pull a little quicker, or recover across the water faster. Moreover, many of these same athletes get out of the water complaining that only one side or arm is fatigued or tight while the other feels fine.
These imbalances could be due to past injuries, mobility issues on a specific side (for example right handed people typically are weaker on their left side), or improper technique. Depending on the magnitude of your imbalance, it may or may not have an impact on your times, but more importantly, imbalances interfere with your efficiency and drain you of energy–energy that could be used to going faster.
This past month, I noticed that I had a slight imbalance on my right side which would make my right elbow drop during my high elbow catch and pull, and would make my right arm sorer after practice. After analyzing my power data files from Vasa workouts, I found that my right side was pulling about 5-10 watts more than my left leading to a 48%/52% imbalance. It was not that my right arm was stronger but rather, it was weaker and thus had to pull harder to keep up.
So how do you fix it?
- Fix your breathing: Many imbalances are caused by not breathing at the right time in your stroke or only breathing to one side. To fix this, do sets of bilateral breathing and weak side breathing. I like doing these sets at the beginning of a workout and before the main set. If you have good technique bilateral breathing should feel natural and more relaxed than breathing to one side if going at a moderate pace or under.
- Work on mobility: Inflexibility prevents you from extending to your fullest, which then impairs your speed. Fixing this requires doing stretches that target your upper back and shoulders and deep tissue work. Seeing a chiropractor also can help since some parts awkward to get to on your own.
- One arm drills: By only swimming with one arm you can really focus on proper form and extension with both arms. Be sure that the non swimming arm is fixed to your side so that you can get the proper rotation and work on your breathing. Wearing fins can help with body position and speed if you are not used to this drill.
By fixing these imbalances, your stroke can regain balance, and you can become more efficient in the water.