Sunday, July 3, 2016

Improving my swim, part 1

The number one take-away from last Month's Half Ironman is that I need to improve my swim. Specifically, my efficiency. A seemingly more straightforward way to say it would be that I need to get faster. The trouble with putting it that way is that it invites a solution by way of increasing effort. No doubt a harder pull and a higher stroke rate will result in a faster swim, but at a terribly high energy cost. It was the near depletion of my energy that led to my downfall on the bike and put the run entirely out of reach. I cannot just hold back a bit, either, because with a swim time of 1:07:45 I am already too far back in the pack and precariously close to the cutoff time of 1:10:00. Nope, the only path to improvement is improved efficiency.

Back in March I finally learned how to do a proper two-beat kick, which is the preferred Total Immersion (TI) technique. When I start swimming for triathlon a couple years ago my friends all told me to forget about kicking and just let my legs drift along behind me, because if I did kick my stiff feet would just make me go backwards. I tried some kick board drills and what they said was true. I went nowhere, or backwards. Unless I wore fins.

When I worked through Terry Laughlin's Freestyle video it so happened that nothing was said about kicking until near the end, and even then there was no explanation of a two-beat kick, only instructions to use it. I guess experienced swimmers know what a two-beat kick is. I didn't.

At the TI Open Water swim camp in Kona last March Coach Celeste spent a lot of time on how to do a proper two beat kick. By the end of the week the personal direction from Celeste and Coach Bill was that I need to get my butt up to the surface and my feet as close to the surface as possible. I tend to go through the water like a rear-heavy power boat, which creates a ton of drag. I am certain that by getting my body level my efficiency will go way up.

I have included some links to some videos that set a good example. None are perfect, but each one offers something valuable.

First up, Shelley Taylor Smith and Mel Benson. I doubt these two women consider themselves TI swimmers. The kick looks exactly like what Coach Celeste taught us:

  • Legs motionless between kicks
  • Legs slightly apart
  • High hip leg foot lower than the other (counterintuitive)
  • Leg on low hip initiates body roll with downward kick, which lifts legs and hips

What is not TI about this clip is the arm motion. Both women thrust forward while still out of the water. The TI way is early entrance into the water, then reach forward and down. More on this a bit further down. This clip begins with Shelley Taylor Smith, Bel Benson enters at 2:30.

Here is a clip of Terry Laughlin himself. Notice how he brings his feat close together after the kick.

An oft quoted clip of good TI form is this one by Shinji Takeuchi. Notice how, like Terry, he returns his kicking foot to end up next to the high foot.

Is this clip Coach Suzanne Atkinson is demonstrating a drill she calls Hook, Line and Sinker. It just so happens to show a key aspect of the TI two beat kick, how the high leg forms a straight line with the lead arm. The lick set happening in the background is not TI! The first shot of leg position comes about 4 minutes in, but the entire clip is worth watching.

At the TI camp Coach Celeste had us take a look at this clip of Sun Yang finishing a 1500M freestyle race. His stroke looks to me like TI perfection, at high speed. His legs are mostly a two beat kick with a little flick in the middle, up until he decides to turn up the heat. Pay close attention to the comments my the female commentator.

The other thing Coach Celeste helped me with was a low spearing hand position. Take a look at Suzanne's video and notice how her hand enters early but stays close to the surface until she is ready to set up her catch. Now listen to the master himself address a similar swim camp a few years ago, especially how he describes dropping the lead arm through the mail slot right on down to the catch position. It was this advice that got me to a low hand position. Most likely a misunderstanding, but TI technique has evolved.

Now brace yourself for how I swim now. Right off the bat let me point out that I am wearing stubby fins. I find they give me a better feel for the water in the pool. In the ocean I do not use them. I will shoot this again in a few weeks, without fins.

This video was shot July 1, 2016, at the Oahu Club 25 yard pool, where I swim Monday and Wednesday mornings. It begins with whole stroke warm-up, then a freeze action drill I use to work on balance and leg position. For this drill I use a snorkel. What I feel is that my right leg is good at getting into position. When it is the left leg's turn to form a straight line with my left arm it does not know what to do and flops around like a headless chicken. When I watch this the thing that jumps out at me, something I am not aware of in the water, is how much I bend my knees. That has to improve.

The last part is some above water stuff. I was too low to see any useful leg work, but it does show arm position during recovery. Sorry for the tilt.

In the coming weeks I will continue to post videos of my progress. Let's see how much better I can do that 2:40/100 yards. My short term goal is straight legs!

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