During the off season we are faced with many choices on how to make improvements so that we are better prepared for the next season. Now is the perfect time of year to focus on improving your swim stroke. Over the years I have conducted many swim lessons and although I have seen many flaws, improper hand entry is one of the most common errors I see. If the hand doesn’t enter the water properly, you have significantly reduced your chances of catching the water up front.
Your hand should enter the water at the 11 and 1 o’clock position on a clock (imagine a railroad track in which the tracks run through your shoulders and alongside your body). The hand will enter the water somewhere between your elbow and rest. Finger tips enter the water first, followed by the wrist and elbow. It is important that you maintain the finger tip, wrist, elbow alignment throughout the entry and the front part of your stroke. Imagine a steel rod which extends from elbow to finger tips. The wrist does not flex.
The hand should enter through an imaginary mail slot, finger tips, wrist and elbow and the elbow should never drop below the wrist or finger tips. The hand sets up somewhere between 4-6 inches below the surface of the water. Since it is hard to gauge this in the water think about your hand setting up under your shoulder. The trajectory of the hand is forward. Think about running the hand along the imaginary rail road track.
A good drill to practice proper hand alignment is the pause drill. In this drill, the entry hand pauses about 3 inches before the surface of the water. As you pause, ask yourself, is my hand in the proper alignment (elbow above wrist and finger tip). The lead hand should still be up front. Once you pause the lead hand enters the water at the same time the stroke hand begins to pull.
When doing drills, I would encourage you to wear fins as they act as training wheels in the water. Once you have perfected the time of this then you can take the fins off until you have mastered the drill again. This drill is one of my favorite drills as it promotes property hand entry and front quadrant swimming.
Sarah Thomas was born to swim. She picked up the sport at age seven and has been swimming pretty much ever since. This past July, she broke her own world record, swimming 104 miles in Lake Champlain, from Rouses Point, New York, to Vermont and back again. Her solo swim was unassisted, non-wetsuit, and current neutral. The water was also full of lampreys. I wasn’t sure what a lamprey was, so I looked them up. Yeah, they are the stuff of nightmares. I recently wrote about my fears of swimming in open water without a wetsuit because of the perils of lake or ocean creatures; Sarah clearly does not have those same concerns.
As I was swimming laps this morning, I was mentally tracking how long I would have to be in the pool to cover 104 miles. The answer? A really long time. It took Sarah 67 hours, 16 minutes, and 12 seconds. Five hours faster than she expected. Three nights, two sunrises. Not only was this a phenomenal physical feat, it was also a mental one. While Sarah has a crew on her long, nay, mammoth swim challenges, she is swimming alone. The mental resilience needed to conquer the mind games that occur is mighty.
Her epic 104 mile swim sits on the shoulders of the many other awe-inspiring open water marathon swim challenges she has completed over her thirty-five years. After her first marathon open water swim in Horsetooth Reservoir (a 10K), her swimming world expanded. She met some Catalina Channel swimmers and decided she would give that race a try in 2010. Catalina is an island off the coast of Los Angeles and the channel from the island to the mainland is about 21 miles. Although she finished the swim, she reflected on what a tough experience it was for her. The swim began around midnight, and she hadn’t done a good job of prepping, and then executing, her nutrition plan leading to her ‘crashing’ in the last four hours. There was a significant cross wind and she just couldn’t find her rhythm. Sarah finished the race in just over nine hours, which is still a pretty fast pace. She described to me the aftermath with a chuckle. It included an inability to lift her arms over her head for a week, a swollen tongue from all the salt water, and chafing in places she didn’t even know you could chafe. And so she decreed: “This is it, I’m done.” Famous last words.
For any non-endurance athletes reading this, what usually happens is we routinely declare that we are one and done on these mammoth athletic exploits. And then the amnesia sets in. Sometimes it takes a few days, or perhaps a couple of weeks. But before long, the narrative changes and the race that was so horrific morphs into something not so bad. This softening of our feelings towards an endurance event inevitably leads us to sign up for another one. And that is what Sarah did. She signed up to swim across the English Channel.
In preparation for her English Channel swim, Sarah completed a 28.5 mile swim around Manhattan Island (2nd woman/5th overall) and the Tampa Bay Marathon swim (she won this race, although swimmers were pulled early because of a storm). Then, on a clear, sunny day in 2012, Sarah swam from England to France in just over 11 hours. “I swam with joy the entire way,” she said. When she got to the shore in France, the clientele from a local restaurant had come to the beach to cheer her on. The restaurateur handed her a glass of champagne as she walked from the water. It was a “magical moment” she reminisces. On finishing the English Channel swim, Sarah was now a proud member of the Triple Crown club — swimmers who’ve successfully completed the English Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island swims.
Sarah’s other open water accomplishments include swimming the length of Loch Ness in Scotland (no monster sightings, I am afraid), an out and back across Lake Tahoe (she was the first swimmer and woman to do this) and swimming across Lake Memphremagog in Newport, VT. Originally, this was a 25 mile race but the race director called her to see if she wanted to do 50 miles–an out and back. “I’m never one to back down from a challenge” she declared confidently. This was her first 50 mile swim, and a tough one mentally: “I had to really dig deep.” And, her resilience paid off; she was the first ever swimmer to complete the 50 mile swim. Sarah has accrued an impressive litany of firsts. And her next challenge, because yes, you can top a 104 mile world record breaking swim, could be another. In September 2019, she will attempt to swim the English Channel crossing four times—England-France-England-France-England. Swimmers have tried, but no one yet has been triumphant.
Sarah Thomas is a formidable force in open water marathon swimming and one of the top competitors in the country from right here in land-locked Colorado. One of the insights she shared, and one that has stuck with me since we met, is that in every race, experience, or adventure, there is always something to learn. So often we close our minds, and doom ourselves to repeat the same missteps over and over. We have to allow for those moments to teach us. Humility is how we become better at what we do.
If you’d like to learn more, you can follow Sarah’s swimming adventures and progress on her official Facebook page.
On a recent call with a friend of mine, we got into a discussion about language and how our language has changed over time. We both have spent time living abroad; her in the UK and myself in the USA. The conversation started with accents, and how some people “lose” their accent when they move to a new country and live there for a while. I used myself as an example. For the most part, folks in the U.S.A think I am Australian. In the U.K, folks think I “sound American” and when I hear myself speak, I still hear a strong British accent. I have, admittedly, adapted my accent over time, code-shifting more routinely into U.S linguistic and behavioral culture as a means of camouflage. Not because I am ashamed of my Britishness, but because I am so darn tired of being asked where I am from, or being told that either my accent is lovely, or that I am not understood. For my friend, she reflected that while her accent didn’t shift significantly, the vernacular she used to “fit in” in the U.K did. She adopted terms readily used there, and strayed from North American terminology more frequently over time. She also expressed exasperation at being told her accent was cute, or having conversations interrupted or derailed because the focus shifted to the way she said a certain word. I can relate. It’s annoying.
I think what is interesting about all this is that rather than expecting our friends and colleagues to flex to incorporate us in our original state without fetishizing our accents, we shifted and changed to fit the new culture. In so doing, we lost a little part of our identity. Collectively, we realized that we made these changes because it was easier and more expedient. But at what cost?
Since we are both triathletes, our conversation shifted to athletic terminology and our need to code-shift depending on the nationality of our audiences. In the U.K, for example, a swimsuit is called a swimming costume, which here in the U.S.A seems like such an archaic term. When she and I have used this term in North America, the response is often laughter and puzzlement. The same is true for running machine (treadmill) and turbo (indoor bike trainer). There is the old adage that the U.S.A and U.K are divided by a common language. While both nations speak English they do so differently enough, leading to confusion and misunderstanding.
Triathlon is a global sport, and individuals of many languages participate across the world. My conversation with my friend led me to ponder just how much language and meaning difference is there within our sport and how much code-shifting happens for triathletes who routinely occupy international spaces. How much do they lose of themselves when they try to fit in, and what cultural norms dominate in the sport? Who is most at risk of needing to change to experience inclusion and success? What this line of pondering also highlights for me is the skill involved in existing in two worlds, two cultures, or more. It’s not easy, and takes practice.
Beyond linguistic code-shifting, there is also the reality of how women code-shift behaviorally to fit into sport. Sport broadly, occupies the domain of the masculine. Men’s sports often get more money and resources, more air time, and more sponsorships. Men’s sports are the norm, and women’s sports are often the add-on, or the afterthought. Systems, processes, and competitions are (historically) built for men around masculine norms. In sports where all genders participate, men are generally viewed as the main event, and women as the lesser “other” event. The 2016 coverage of the Ironman World Championship bears this out: women received 27% of the coverage as compared to the 43% for men. How much do women triathletes need to code-shift to be taken seriously in the sport? How much do they need to change who they are, to ensure their participation is featured by networks and taken seriously by sports journalists and fans alike? I don’t have any answers on this just yet, but I think it is worth consideration. What are we asking of women triathletes to “fit in” to the triathlon system as designed, versus being willing to redesign the sport and system so they no longer have to code-shift, losing a piece of who they are, to be equally recognized?
“The whole point is to be relaxed and centered during the storm” -Eney Jones
Forward breath, two beat cross-over, Chinese take-out and driving with a snorkel. What the heck are we talking about?
Swimming, of course. Actually, we’re talking about downright intelligence of technique and execution that is steeped in science and equals less resistance and more flow in movement through the water.
Eney Jones is our guest today and she is straight out of the box. In other words, she is intelligent. She has an ability to take data and information and create new concepts that yield results. She has produced innovative tools and techniques that have greatly improved the performance of many well-known athletes. Eney is always stretching possibility and she does this by remaining in a state of curiosity. She has what yogis describe as a “beginners mind”. Refusing to rely on her decades of expertise, she is open to learning and by not resting on her laurels, she has become one of the most sought after swim coaches in the world.
The daughter of an Olympic swimmer and world record holder, Eney was putting down 10,000 yards a day in the pool at the age of thirteen. She was literally born to swim and through a lifetime of being submerged, she is now living her purpose more than ever as she guides athletes, every day, to finding their most efficient stroke and movement through water.
Eney combines the principles of yoga and athletics to pull out the highest potential in each athlete and she believes, above all else, that we must enjoy what we do with our heart. Combining love and strength in our sport equals our greatest performance. By not giving the negative any energy she draws upon the unique strengths of each athlete to create their optimal body/mind connection in sport and life.
The clinic night will feature a local PT from Alta Physical Therapy. They will be discussing the common injuries seen in triathletes. Additionally, they will talk through the seemingly unconventional ways to assess injury, with the consideration that the location of the pain is often not the source of the injury. This amazing insight should be a great way to really understand your own body and how to provide feedback to any therapist, body worker, or trainer on what you are feeling. Understanding that the site for injury may not be the source of the problem will also help you keep an open mind to why therapists may treat other areas of your body which you may not have thought was the correct place to treat.
So join us for a great night of learning. Bring all your body and injury related questions so you can keep your body out of pain and achieve your 2017 goals!
Everyone works the bottom of their stroke, we reach, then push and propel ourselves forward. But we are dealing with two different elements while swimming, water and air. It is easy to be more deliberate underwater in a denser material, but rarely do swimmers work the “recovery” part of their stroke. They even hear the word recovery and they slow down and relax, and place their catch. Instead we need to speed up our airspeed as I call Split Tempo.
Having more speed and alacrity in the air will create a more deliberate forceful catch. Speed creates power. I have always found this helpful in Open Water but last week end watched it in Caeleb Dressel’s 40:40 100 relay split. In sprinting you want more length in the front of your stroke. The higher you can be in the water the easier it is to push yourself forward.
When you tell swimmers to speed up their tempo often they shorten their stroke. Working on Split Tempo will allow the stroke to be longer under water and faster through the air. In Caelebs’ 100 free split in the relay each arm underwater was .33 seconds. His left arm straighter and faster thru the air was .21 seconds and his right more arced arm thru the air was .23 seconds for a 1.1 second rotation of both arms. This is quite amazing because his is 6’3” inches tall. On a Finis Tempo trainer setting #1 set at 1:1 the beep is when his left arm hits.
Katie Ledecky’s overall Tempo in the mile is 1:37 ( she is 6 feet tall) but once again she is faster thru the air than the water. Usually the difference is not as pronounced as Dressels’, but that is why most people are looking at his feet or just feeling a wave go by.
There are a few ways to work this:
On land – Keep you upper thoracic mobile. Everyone uses cables to mimic swimming, but have the cables behind you and punch forward and down. Before a race rather than swing your arms around bend over and cross front and back ( think Phelps) .
In the water – Use shells, biscuit sand dollars, whiffle balls or tennis balls with holes: something that will fill up underneath and drain thru the air.
Drill – Grab paddles over the front end, slice thru the air, punch the catch.
Be deliberate and be fast thru the air and you will find your times dropping from easily from there.
Eney Joneshas achieved remarkably diverse success as a leading pool, open water and Ironman triathlon swimmer, and is also a yoga instructor.
Masters National Champion 100-200-400-500-1500-1650 5k freestyle 2009
Open Water 5k Champion Perth Australia, May 2008.
National Masters Champion 200-400-1500 freestyle Champion, Portland Oregon, August, 2008.
Overall Champion Aumakua 2.4k Maui Hawaii, September 2008
Waikiki Rough Water Swim 3rd place 2006, second place Overall 2009, 3rd place 2012
European Record Holder and Masters Swimming Champion, 2005. Records included 200, 400, 800, 1500 m freestyle
Over twenty time finalist in U.S. Swimming Nationals, including Olympic Trials 1980
Gold medal NCAA 800 yd freestyle relay 1979, silver Medalist 200 yd freestyle 1979. United States National Team 1979-1980.
Professional Triathlete 1983-1991. First woman out of the water in every Hawaiian Ironman participated (6).
Grant Holicky, head coach of Rallysport Aquatics (RACE) in Boulder, Colorado, has been working with elite open water swimmers for several years now. Two of his most notable athletes are Joey Pedraza, who finished third in the 5k at the 2014 Nationals, and Christine Jennings, who has been to both World Championships and the Pan Pacific Championships for open water.
With all this success, plus the success that Coach Holicky has with his pool swimmers, you would assume that he has some of the best facilities in the country. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth, RallySport Aquatics practice in a six lane, hotel pool. Oh and it is outside the ENTIRE year. In Colorado. That makes for some very cold morning practices…