Yesterday morning I met up with an old friend, who I haven’t seen in far too long.
Morgan Williams is a senior triathlon coach and event organiser, who has previously served as national development manager for Triathlon England. He’s also a Swim Smooth certified coach – coachmorg.com
I have been dissatisfied with my swimming for some time, so a couple of weeks ago made a 1-1 swim analysis appointment with Morgan, in the hope of seeing for myself, what my issues are and figuring out how to solve them.
If you have never seen yourself swimming before, prepare for a shock. I’ve been considered by some, to be a reasonable swimmer but as the saying goes, the camera never lies. After being videoed over six lengths of a 25m pool, Morgan walked me through almost frame by frame the horror movie of my swim stroke.
Where was my long, straight, balanced, propulsive swim stroke?
Well, it didn’t take long to see any number of reasons for the gradual decline in swim performance that I have experienced over the last few years. The root cause (I’ll offer here) is an absence of coaching. I haven’t been coached since I had 1-1 sessions with the late Ian Smith, former UK head coach of Total Immersion (TI). I don’t wish to debate here the pros and cons of TI and Swim Smooth philosophies but to suggest that TI had worked for me, is reasonably accurate. Gradually though, without critical observation, bad habits have crept into my stroke to the point where swimming is no longer an effortless display of balance and poise but a somewhat uncomfortable, strenuous effort to produce lacklustre times that for the most part, I’ve taken to not recording, preferring instead to monitor by feel. Even my overall perception of performance had reached an intolerable low.
Going into the session I had a clear idea of what I wanted – to turn back the clock by about 6 years. As it turns out, the swim-smooth coach certification program lacks the requisite flux capacitor for time travel, so I’d have to be open minded about the nature of my swim stroke issues, the steps to be taken for stroke correction and the amount of work its likely to require to make those changes stick.
The side-view over the water, revealed that during the breath, my head was slightly higher than I’d expected.
Overhead view revealed a reasonably tidy kick, with a leading arm in full extension (over reaching).
The consequences of over-reaching only became clear under the water, as the elbow of the leading arm dropped in the water.
The under-water side view reveals dropping hips and arching back – both consequences of extending beyond my range of flexibility.
Over extending also caused me to have a poor catch on the water and only creating propulsion relatively late in the stroke cycle and delivering power from the shoulder, rather than the larger and more powerful pectorals and lateral muscles.
Here’s a comparison shot of Beccy Adlington at the same time in the stroke cycle. See how her elbow is high and the forearm is in the elusive ‘early vertical forearm’ position.
The head-on shot shows how my arm is too wide and too straight – again, a weaker stroke than ideal.
Once Morgan talked me through the flaws (there were more, I assure you), he recommended we try just one drill (rather than many) to effect a change in my stroke. If you’re a follower of GI Tri Coached Triathlon, you’ll be very familiar with doggy paddle. Now to let you into a secret – it’s a drill I shy away from – because I’m not very good at it. As a rule, I recommend focusing on drills that are difficult to execute because the difficulty arises from a specific opportunity to improve technique. For me, doggy paddle, is no exception.
Spearing a little deeper (within my range of flexibility) and forming a catch a little sooner, first in the drill, then mixing drill with pull-bouy freestyle, before finally unaided freestyle swimming.
The work Morgan did, changed my stroke timing, drastically reduced the dead spot, increased my stroke-rate and caused me to use pectoral and laterals, rather than my shoulder.
For the stats athletes out there, here’s the objective data:
Beginning of session pace 1:40/100m (which would have soon become 1:45 as I tire easily these days)
End of session pace 1:28/100m (and felt like I used to feel when I was swimming 6-days a week).
So, in 90 minutes or so, I changed from not looking forward to getting into the pool, to remembering why I used to love swimming and an opportunity right now, to rediscover my love for swimming and recapture the performances of yesteryear, without access to a flux capacitor!
GI Tri Coach