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Swimming: The Horizontal Axis

Posted by: on March, 12 2012

By Marc Evans/Xtri.com:  Good swimmers are elongated along a horizontal axis (a line around which an object rotates). They give the appearance of gliding (a poor term in my opinion) but are not in a state of inertia. Rather they are continuously generating propulsion with the underwater hand and arm in what I refer to as the continuum.

Indeed, the front hand and arm are gliding forward and slowly downwardly arcing during the down sweep to the catch, but the swimmer maintains movement and momentum through a continuum of symmetrical strokes (without a glide) from one side to the other along the axis of the body.

The “glide” or the extension of the entering hand and arm does however, have an important role for the side to side rotation along the center line/axis. By extending forward a longer and narrower body shape is formed, the hips will release spontaneously and a potential for maximum purchase of water is gained providing greater potential to hold more water and pull for a longer period.

That continuum is important and has been appropriately referred to as a “kayaking” stroke or “front quadrant”. Both simply mean there is little if any deceleration of stroking and certainly, little if any, gliding.

The kayaking idiom is a first-rate visual and tactile teaching tool. The swimmer imagines the paddles of a kayak entering and exiting one after the other. In the pool, standing in shallow water the swimmer places one hand/arm then the next into the water as if using a paddle. The result is a continuum of stroke where there is always one paddle or hand in the water creating momentum.

Combing the swimming axis with the continuum method is most easily accomplished when a swimmer has muscle and joint flexibility within normal ranges of motion. That’s why movement and stability analysis before technique work is important. Often triathletes/swimmers will have restrictions of movement in the hips, shoulders and back which limit their ability to elongate the body.

Those limiters can make it challenging to reach and maintain a long body axis. By identifying those restrictions first the athlete can overtime with dryland exercise training and in water drill work ensuring more steady and objective based improvements. Make a point especially during the off-season to assess your movement function especially, if you feel your swimming isn’t improving along the lines you expect.

Swimming Axis Workout

The long-axis technique begins with a body that is balanced from head to toe around the spine/center line of the body. The back of the head is aligned with the spine; the hips are high and movements from left to right be symmetrical – mirror images of the other.

The swimmers body should not deviate in vertical (depth) or lateral (width) positions. And the goal is to rotate along the center line (axis) without fluctuations in the depth or width of the body. A helpful tip is to keep the eyes and head looking down at the pool bottom and maintain this established position while extending (entry, extension, downsweep and catch) and then, while breathing rotate along the axis with the head and chin moving with the torso (in unison) to take a breath of air (only turning the body and head along the axis to get a bite of air).

Do the following workout with low intensity – feeling relaxed, effortless and streamlined throughout.

Set 1 – Warm up; Distance = 500
500 Freestyle swimming with long horizontal axis (length), stable vertical axis (depth) and minimal lateral axis (width).

Set 2 – Backstroke/Kick; Distance = 500
8 X 50 (25 Backstroke, 25 Kick supine) on 1:00, 1:30 or 2:00 sendoff.
Emphasis upon Length, Depth and Width axis

Set 3 – Length Axis Freestyle; Distance = 500
20 X 25 Freestyle plus 10s-15s rest sendoff interval (i.e. on the 30s, 40s etc.)
Focus upon posture and long axis rotation: 1-5 count and establish normal stroke count, 6-10 take ½ fewer strokes, 11-15 take 1 few strokes, 16-20 take 2 few strokes.

Set 4 – Freestyle; Distance = 300
Straight swim with the same stroke count (during reps 16-20) in Set 3. Maintaining a stable horizontal body position and fully extend the hand/arm and release the hips. Rotate with minimal Lateral motional by moving along a central axis (use the black line in the pool to rotate around – or imagine a center line in the body).

Total – 1800

Perhaps, more important than the training program is the application of technique for athletes of any level. It’s especially important to identify technique areas and how movement limitations or restrictions can affect performance. And this is an especially good time of year to make those changes and work for several months on movement function and technique in the off-season.

Marc Evans
www.evanscoaching.com – Clinics for individuals and groups (movement and technique)

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