To have an effective, smooth swim stroke, your whole body–from your extended fingertips down to your (hopefully) pointed toes–needs to move as one unit. If you look at videos of many beginner swimmers, their bodies are all over the place with their upper body moving one way and their lower body moving the other. They are like overcooked noodles. And what is worse is that they have no idea that their bodies are doing that! In comparison, if you look at the best swimmers, their bodies are completely in sync with their legs, core, and arms moving together along their central axis to propel them smoothly through the water. I like to call this “relaxed rigidity.”
Relaxed rigidity means that you are:
Rotating your core to get full extension rather than just your shoulders. Think of your belly button moving back and forth like a metronome.
Using your hips to get that snap and acceleration as you pull.
Engaging your core muscles to help stabilize your upper and lower body so that they are moving together.
Swimming along your central axis with little cross over from your hands, head, and feet (i.e. your left side stays on the left side and your right side stays on the right side).
Keeping your upper body relaxed so that you can get full extension with each stroke.
Breathing from side to side and not lifting your head up and down.
Building this feeling and coordination takes time and awareness of what your upper and lower body are doing as you swim. These three drills you can do just that:
Pull buoy around the ankles. With the pull buoy up above your knees you get a nice boost in hip placement. Putting the pull buoy around your ankles will build awareness of what your lower body is doing. With the buoy in this position, when your legs begin to fishtail or swing, OR your hands crossover your central axis, you will feel it. And be able to correct it by widening your stroke, engaging your core more, and keeping your body tight with proper hip rotation. You should feel like your body is rotating on one axis that extends from the crown of your head down to your toes. As an added bonus, to keep the buoy in place, you have to keep your ankles together. This prevents you from scissor kicking and develops your feel for the flutter kick.
Vertical kicking. We love vertical kicking at TSC and for good reason. Not only does it develop a better kick by forcing you to kick from the hips and point your toes. It also helps with developing good bodily tautness. To stay afloat in the water, you must brace your core and kick with your hip flexors and glutes rather than your knees. If you let your body go limp, you will sink.
One arm drill. For this drill, keep one arm at your hip and just swim with the other arm. To do this correctly, you must rotate the body to get the appropriate reach. While you pull with a high elbow, you must engage your core and rotate your hips. Failure to do so will lead you to swim flat in the water and sink. I would start by doing 50 m repeats of this; use the left arm on the way down then switch arms and come back.
With relaxed rigidity, you will be swimming more smoothly and with less wasted energy leading to faster swims.
Coach Chris and Kev