This past week I have introduced the “roll-over” drill into the mix for my groups’ technical work. The drill is a great way to slow down the process of the pull, helping the swimmer “draw” the proper line with their arm while still working on proper body position and a strong kick.
During last weeks BCSSA coaches conference, Ben Keast (Winskill Dolphins Head Coach) reiterated the fact that a good swimmer must be able to swim SLOWLY with good technique as well as swimming FAST with good technique. This aspect of swimming known as “stroke reliability” is the reason why a swimmer must train long hours, putting in time in order to cement the neuromuscular actions known as “technique”. Swimmers are peculiar athletes in that it is a highly specific type of fitness, unlike anything on dry land. Sure, traits such as explosiveness and general athleticism will be enhanced by doing other sports; but the fact is the only way to get better at swimming, is to actually SWIM.
In watching the video of Alexander Popov, the idea of “swimming with grace” comes to my mind. Here is the greatest natural freestyler of all time, forget Michael Phelps or Ian Thorpe. Popov set standards in the 1990’s that remained untouched until Speedo created the “supersuits”. His coaching included a focus on perfection in timing, and a focus on kick efficiency/speed. His coach (Gennadi Touretski) knew that it was not the fastest person who won the race, but the swimmer who slowed down the least. In focusing on kick fitness and timing, Touretski and Popov found a racing technique in which Alexander would be high on top of the water during the last phase of his 100m Free, allowing him to pull with more strength than those whose hips were low in the water.
For me, the main focus of this drill is to find a good body position where a swimmer can find his “sweet spot” for floating properly. The hips are high, the kick is working both directions with strong (and supple) legs, and the hips are rotating ever so slightly.
The other part of the drill (equally important), is the rhythm of the arm pull. I have my swimmers do a 10 beat, rollover to 1/3 through the underwater pull phase, then proceed to accelerate all the way until the hand has pushed past the hips. This pattern of “soft catch ——>strong lat recruitment and tricep push” is the way I want to see people swim freestyle; with acceleration from the catch all the way to the tricep push. The “catch” is a weak position for a swimmer in that you are using the smaller muscles of the rotator cuff. The strong part of the pull (where a swimmer actually gains speed) comes from the use of big muscles such as the lattisimus dorsi and triceps in a “pull/push” phase.
I know that was a lot to read, but nothing is as good as merely watching the video and imitating the best freestyle swimmer of all time. Here is another video of one of Popov’s greatest ever races to see the technique in action.
*NOTE* Popov had exceptionally strong and flexible hamstrings so that he could make the “up-beat” of his kick as strong as it could be. He knew that many swimmers before him were focusing on the use of their quadriceps in the “down-beat”. If you want to watch a full video made of Alexander Popov and his coach, search “Alexander Popov: What’s the Limit?” on youtube.