Category: fins


Ah Wednesday night technique sets. Nothing gives me more insight into what I’m doing to make things more difficult for myself. Luckily there’s also nothing wrong with the idea of getting faster, or better, or being able to swim further with no extra input of energy.

This Wednesday we were focussing on kicking.

I don’t know if I’ve done much on here about kicking. As a general rule, in endurance swimming, kicking isn’t a major component of our swim technique. If you watch shorter distance sprinters swim, you’ll see some crazy 6- and 8-beat kick rhythms that really are part of propelling the swimmer through the water. With endurance event, though, we tend to aim for a 2-beat kick. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that the muscles we use in our legs to kick are large, and therefore use a lot of energy compared to the amount of propulsion you get in return. Your arms, in contrast, have a much better return on investment of energy. In a sprint this is OK, but for endurance events, it just means you wear out quicker.

That being said, bad kicking technique can have implications for other parts of your stroke. And I stand up and am the first to admit that I have bad kick technique.

In fact, I use the photo below as my Facebook cover photo. It’s a great photo, which is why I use it, but I have to confess that every time I look at it I cringe a little at my bent knee…I’ve added lines in to show what I’m talking about….

knee bend

Ideally, that knee should be pretty much straight. More like the lovely example below…

Much Better

The good news is, that there are some really good drills you can do to work on your kick. We did one before we even got in the water. There was a set of stairs leading up from the pool to the grassed sitting area, and we did some practice of good kicking technique with one leg standing on the step sideways, and the other swinging clear. This was great for the coaches to be able to check technique and for us to feel what good kicking feels like (engaging the glutes!).

We did various other drills in the pool using fins, and focussing on pointing our toes and not bending our knees. I did feel like it really helped improve my kicking technique (although it will take some time to embed that as a good habit), and as an added bonus, I found that the improved kick helped with my biggest technical challenge -my body position in the water. I tend to have to fight very hard to keep my legs and lower body from sinking down below the surface, and therefore creating unnecessary drag. Working on my kick noticeably improved that, so it’s doubly useful!

Wow, I haven’t been to a 4SEASons Wednesday session since 24th October.

It’s not like I’ve done it on purpose, but my Can Too Mentor group was the ABC pool on Wednesdays, and they’ve been kind of the most awesome thing ever.

That being said, it was kind of nice to get back to a proper technique session. Even though i’m totally out of practice with these things and completely forgot my pullbuoy and fins.

Regardless of my forgetfulness, I managed to get a really lot out of this session.

As I mentioned about last week’s endurance set, I seem to have suddenly gotten a little faster. Somehow, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that seems to have happened pretty much while I’ve been focussed on a change to the timing of my stroke. In fact, in my experience, a change to technique is the only thing that will give you a step change in times. Anything else, like general fitness, will give gradual improvements, but they won’t be as marked or as sudden.

Not to undervalue that other stuff…technique improvements tend to be less frequent, and after a while those sudden things are harder and harder to find as you get better at everything and learn more.

But for this season, the tick of holding just a fraction longer seems to have made a huge difference….I think something to do with making me rotate more (always a challenge for me).

The thing is, though, you can never get too comfortable with your swimming. You might improve (note I don’t say “master”) one thing, but that’s just as likely to highlight something else you can improve. To keep it in perspective I try to remember that even the top swimmers have coaches and work on this stuff down to the tiniest degrees forever. And ever amen.

Interestingly, I have been letting myself fall into this trap, and been a bit chuffed with myself and my decreasing times. Seems a technique session was just what I needed to jolt myself out of it and remember that this is a game of continuous improvement.

One thing we can use to measure our improvement in the pool, is a stroke count. The number of strokes it takes for you to swim 50m is a pretty good indication of how efficiently you are swimming. My count is pretty atrocious and a very good indicator of just how much I rely on strength, stubbornness and good old-fashioned moxie to get me through. Bad enough I don’t want to admit it and quote numbers on here.

Thing is, though, we did a few different drills. And then switched to one in particular that gave me what we call in my (corporate) job and “ah-ha!” moment. (I think they used to be called “light bulb” moments before we all switched to compact flouros).

The drill was a very simple one that involved swimming as normal, but ticking your thumbs out and making sure they brushed each hip at the end of each catch. Lo and behold, something finally clicked in my head and I realised I’ve been focussing so much on the front quadrant of my stroke, that I’ve been completely neglecting to make sure I follow all the way through with my catch. All that energy to get there and I’m wasting all that energy that’s just stored up and ready to go.

Well, not only did I manage to drop a substantial number of strokes per 50m….I now know what my next real technique focus is going to be.

Wish me luck as I embark on Operation “thumbs”!

images

As the seasons change and the weather warms up and it’s light in the evenings, us ocean swimmers start to mix things up a bit. During the winter we’ve been focussing on endurance and strength (and practicing with challenging surf conditions), and that’s the prefect time for it. Now racing season is looming and it’s time to think about what we need to do to do well at the events.

That means the focus shifts to a couple of things:

  1. Technique. Worth revising to make sure we’re optimising power forward through the water, minimising drag against the water, and not injuring ourselves doing it.
  2. Speed. Or in other words, cardio vascular fitness.
  3. Ramp up = More sessions.

To that end, 4SEAsons have switched their Wednesday night sessions to technique night!

This is brilliant for me (this week, anyway)…as my technique is kinda, well, suboptimal. ahem.

Technique is one of those things where you have to aim for continual improvement, not perfection. It’s such a complicated thing you’re doing, using your whole body, and there’s really no single answer to the right way to swim. Different body types, different conditions, different habits, different strengths and weaknesses and injuries…it is really a lot of variables.

On Wednesday night we worked on a couple of drills designed to help with arms and timing. To help with this we used fins for the first time in ages, as they give you extra propulsion through the water and allow you to concentrate on slowing down your stroke to concentrate on different aspects of it, without feeling (all the time) like you’re going to drown.

I use these Speedo BioFUSE as they’re pretty inexpensive, fit in a backpack, and that’s what was in stock when I was shopping and they do exactly the job they need to do, exactly the way I want them to, so I’m pretty happy. (Not sure that fins could be life-changing, so don’t want to get too weirdly overly enthusiastic here).

You’ll note these are pretty different to diving or snorkelling fins. They’re a lot shorter, for a start, and quite rigid. This is because they’re designed for a distinctly different purpose. Dive\snorkelling fins are designed to give as much propulsion as possible with as little output of energy as possible (when diving, so you use less air and can stay down longer before your tank runs out). These fins are just designed to give you a little bit more than a regular kick…mostly to work on different aspects of your stroke, catch, or return.

They do have a slight down-side for some people (me included). Wearing fins does make you more susceptible to foot cramps. I’m not exactly sure why, but I know that I need to make sure I relax while swimming and stretch out well when the inevitable cramps hit. Not a biggie or a deal-breaker, given the benefits you can get from using fins in your drills, but something to be aware of.

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