I want to start out this morning with a story or two. It will kind of give you a little more perspective on how I arrived at some of the things that I talked about yesterday and what I am going to talk about today. 1993 I had a couple of good distance swimmers – boys that were pretty well ranked and one of them graduated and the other boy was two years younger in school so that meant he was left suddenly without a training partner. His brother was his best training partner. In the sense of having an athlete to train and go head to head with on a daily basis that was gone so a friend of mine – a coach who I was becoming friends with — had an athlete of a comparable level in a different location in the country so we talked about doing some training where we would do sets. We would trade back and forth sets week to week. On a specific day, I think it was Thursdays these two boys would do the same exact set and then we would compare the results and it was a way to motivate these two young guys.
They were both juniors in high school at that time. I kind of got that idea from coach Joe Bernal because back in the 70’s when Bobby Hackett with Bernal and Brian Goddell with Coach Schubert and they were kind of ragging back and forth across the country about how they were doing sets in workout. Well that is not really the story. The real story is this coach also had, my friend who we were doing the training with, also had a young female swimmer. Now she was probably about 12 at the time and she started to latch onto these sets. She couldn’t do it the same distance but say for example – I will take something simple – if we did five 1000’s on x time she might do nine 100s or nine 25s and then nine 50s and so on and she started to develop kind of chasing these guys. So finally I am at a meet one time and if you were here yesterday and heard me speak you heard me talk about how I really tried to throughout my early stage of my career, to follow all the ideal models for things and what the top coaches said about the great athletes. Well we are at a meet and I said to my coach as we are watching this young lady swim, “you know if you could really get her to get that traditional freestyle stroke you would really have a swimmer there.” You know I was young and thought I knew something and he said, “Todd, you know we have tried it but it just doesn’t work for her. She needs to be [and he didn’t say shape at that time] she needs to move that way.” Well, my friend is Peter Banks and that swimmer is Brooke Bennett so obviously I didn’t know what I was talking about and she has gone on to do pretty well with a different stroke shape than what you would consider traditional.
Another quicker story – I was at that same clinic I referred to yesterday in Pennsylvania some years ago and there was a local coach there giving a talk. I don’t even know what the talk was about but there was a question from the audience asking what kind of stroke model or technique model would the speaker use and the coach said, “Well I don’t follow any stroke technique model.” I know the questioner was kind of stunned at the time and I will admit, I was too. He followed it up by saying, “I just kind of watch the kids and when their stroke looks right to me I let them know.” That coach was Dick Shoulburg from Germantown Academy whom you have heard speak here.
Yesterday, for those of you who were not here, I started to talk or covered it pretty well – energy. The energy pattern which is just a term that I have put together as a symbol to describe part of what my system is about in stroke shaping. Today we are going to continue on with that a little bit in a quick review. We are going to focus on freestyle for the most part and then if we have time we will get on to the other strokes, turns and starts a little bit. This is a definition that I put up for the talk yesterday. I don’t have all the time to go through all of the specifics that I did yesterday. What I did was to define energy in a way that will help us in swimming.
With the stroke shaping approach is that I took some dictionary definitions for energy. For example: the capacity for vigorous activity and exertion of such power and capacity of matter and so on. Energy: the capacity to exert power during vigorous activity. I wanted to simplify it even further for stroke shaping. That is just what I call my approach to technique. Energy = active power potential. I talked a lot about yin and yang energy which is eastern views on energy, the way energy flows through the body. We started to relate it to swimming movements — the way that the energy travels through the body. I spent quite a bit of time on that. We will just review it a little bit here.
We talked about the fact that as humans we started on all fours and gradually came up. Well energy still flows the same way it did when we were on all fours. The way that energy flows in our body – it flows the same way in a 4-legged animal’s body. The downward pull, that is a yang energy movement. A male, raw powerful energy type movement with the arms. I described that also as inward bound energy bring in energy in towards the core of the body. As the energy moves down the body you got your extending limb movement in the legs. That is the fly kick, the flutter kick, the breaststroke kick, pushing off the wall – that is another yang raw power energy movement. Think of it – it is basically the front of the body as you are male or your power energy.
Coming back up, the legs – talking about yin or female energy, more fluidity type energy. Flexing limb movement on the legs. That means you are up kick in freestyle and butterfly, breaststroke heel recovery, bringing energy up the body, up the body up the back. Heel recovery flip turns and as we move up towards – that is inward bound energy bringing it up into the core of the body and then moving up into the arms. Extending limb movement, upward yin energy that is your forward in breaststroke, butterfly – not only the arms, really from the top of the head, the shoulders, freestyle, backstroke. That is your forward in energy movement and that is outbound energy, taking it away. That is the main direction we are interested in is taking energy out of our body and projecting it in the direction that we want to go – that’s towards the end of the pool that we are approaching – not leaving but approaching.
From all of this I came together with what I call the energy pattern. Again, just a similar name for something that I see in my mind. And there are some thoughts that I want to share regarding the energy pattern. Yesterday we talked about the fact that energy patters come in a variety of shapes over a generally simple spectrum of shape. We got a rounded or ball shaped energy pattern on one end. That would be more like Brooke’s stroke. It is not quite as rounded as it was when she was younger, it is elongated some which is a good thing and at the other end we have what I call torpedo shaped energy pattern.
It is a longer more narrow shape and when we were referring to Ian Thorpe and the fact that if you visualize Ian Thorpe – his energy pattern, laying on top of a torpedo – the torpedo would be actually longer than his body. His energy pattern is so long and pliable that he actually projects energy beyond his fingers. We talked about the fact that when he glides in his stroke he is still running energy up his body. It is not a pause. What is happening is he is projecting energy out beyond his fingers and then when it comes back, around the nose of the torpedo, he re-engages it at the proper moment and drives down into the next stroke. So that is the kind of two ends of the energy pattern spectrum.
The more rounder ball shaped which would be somebody with a more continuous stream of movement, continuous stream. It looks line a bang, bang, bang because we are rolling that ball down the pool. The elongated person who looks or appears to be pausing. We have some swimmers who are pausing because they don’t really have their stroke shape matched up with their energy pattern properly. If someone like Ian Thorpe or swimmers like that and you can think of any of them in different strokes you know a great breaststroker who is able to continue to travel in a streamline. They are not pausing. They are gliding but they are still running energy. They are running energy out the toes, long energy, male energy. You get energy out of the fingers, forward energy and keeping that balance so the body as they kick and glide continues to travel very efficiently and well.
We talked about coming off the walls, how when they push off no matter how good their body looks, how tight their streamline is, how cut they are, they just don’t travel real well, but you have other swimmers who have the same looking body, maybe even a little softer looking, maybe not well shaped in terms of cut and all those frontal resistance issues, but when they come off the wall, man, they travel and they are not kicking. They are not doing anything. They are just holding the streamline, but they continue to run energy while in that streamline position so with that in there, some key thoughts:
There is no perfect torpedo shaped energy pattern. There is no perfect ball shaped energy pattern. I use that just as a visualization. There are some furrows in it. It is not perfectly round. It is not perfect torpedo. That will give you a good idea of the kind of extremes we are looking at in our competitive environment. In most cases the energy pattern will fall somewhere in between the torpedo shape and the rounded shape. We talked about if they cannot even maintain a rounded shape – if their torpedo is standing up and down instead of on its side then maybe swimming is not the activity for those kids.
Also, most swimmers have some degree of variation between the left and right halves of their body. Whether they were born with it – we were all born with it or even if they were born perfect from that standpoint, just living day to day in the environment, having fights with your brother or sister when you are 4 or 5, falling out of a tree when you are 8 – I’m just talking about me right now and it could be a bunch of other things that happened. You are going to have a little bit of variation from side to side. We talked about the fact that there is a small percentage of athletes with such an elastic pliable energy pattern that they can deliver energy in a really straight or even slightly kind of curved or I guess this would be a convex position. We talked about – the first person that came to mind for me was Tracy Caulkins. Years ago, those of you who remember seeing her swim breaststroke, she would continue to drive energy up her body and really deliver energy well and it was almost like she was curved back but those kind of athletes are very few and far between. We talked about the fact that in the long axis strokes the energy pattern, the top of the energy pattern will sit approximately at the surface of the water. Because during the recovery the energy does not travel forward in the arm. It travels forward in the body and so during the recovery we want the arm to be empty of energy. We want the energy or the energy weight to be under the water and that is in the forward driving arm where it will do some good. If there is energy in the upper arm it is going to be pulling back and away from where you want to go. So we really want to empty that recovery arm in butterfly, the recovery arms as much as we can backstroke so that we can put all of our energy weight forward and down. You need energy – run it up the body towards the end of the pool that we want to get to.
Yesterday we talked about science a little bit. I hit on some of the key issues with muscles and joints and the nervous system. It was real simplified at that point. Today we are going to talk more about strokes, but some of the key things that we hit on for those of you that weren’t here is trying to tie together the flexor and extender muscles to the yin and yang energy flow. How the fact that when you flex your arm for example with your biceps, that’s a pulling in. When you extend your arm that is a pull with the triceps. All the muscles pull they don’t push. So they are arranged in opposition to one another and that is that yin and yang balance. Pull, pull from a different spot. Pull yang, pull from the tricep again. That is our extending action – flexing action. Same thing with the lower body. As we do this, that is coming up as our yang – using the front of our legs, coming down we are bringing the heel up that is the yin using the hamstrings. We also talked about with the nervous system — the different tracks of nerve fibers that stimulate the muscle groups. Facillatory and inhibitory nerve tracks that either stimulate the extending muscles or the flexor muscles. So again, there is that tie-in to the yin and yang balance.
The active power sequence: This is where we talked about how energy moves through the body. We are going to get even further into that with our pipe cleaners today. We talked about energy originating in the center of the body and this is based on eastern views of energy, but as you see in all the different movements that we make and you try to walk without moving your hips first it is kind of hard. You know you have to engage your hips. If you are going to hit a baseball, energy originates in the center of the body, propelled in the hips, it travels down the legs. This is general. It is not exact, but basically down the front of the legs, not completely but let’s use that for a simple look at it. Down through the lower leg, ankle (the ankle is important) feet, and toes. It travels back up, essentially the back of the leg through the hamstrings. It is to the hips, it is propelled again. Hips are very important here. Energy travels from the hips up to the torso, shoulder and head, out to the arm basically, that is your extenders, the back of the arm essentially out to the wrist, fingers hand, etc., back down again, the inside of the arm, the biceps, your yang, into the center of the body it crosses, not all of it but a good portion of the energy crosses the body, right below your nose and then travels down again, into the body and into the hips and it continues to flow in this manner.
A real light stream if you are laying on your back but if you are swimming or shooting a basketball or hitting a baseball or punching – whatever the case may be –that intensity is going to lift. The stream of energy is going to expand and accelerate. So that is the active power sequence.
Now, the energy crossing. I just talked about energy crossing under the nose and it is funny because this whole method comes to me in bits and pieces over the last couple of years and it was just like a couple of weeks ago that this all came together for me. I had read an article in one of the ASCA magazines and this guy was onto it – I don’t think he knew it — but he was onto it and he was talking about whether you should sweep the arms laterally in freestyle as opposed to just kind of driving the hand down and over. He had some pictures of Mark Spitz in there.
The answer is there – its because of the energy crossing. If you watch a swimmer who really rotates – they don’t need to S their hands because the rotation takes care of the energy crossing, but being high on the rotation and coming into the hand, the body rotating into the hand creates an energy crossing to the other side of the body. A swimmer who swims on a flatter – a more flatter body swimmer in freestyle, they need to have more of an S pattern because that creates that energy crossing. If you go back to your pool and watch your swimmers you will see it. The kids who are more rounded, more ball shaped energy pattern. They have to insweep more and this is the reason why. It just dawned on me like three weeks ago or four weeks ago.
Watch a swimmer who is nice and high, boom. Very little S pattern. They don’t need to. The rotation takes care of that because we are living, breathing animals. Yesterday I was referring to the fact that in years past I had gone to clinics and people talked about boat propellers and airplane wings and lift and this and all that stuff I used. I am not knocking it, it was great stuff. I mean ten years from now somebody could say I was crazy, maybe today people are saying I am crazy but we are living, breathing animals moving ourselves through water. We are not immaterial things like an airplane or a boat so we have to think of ourselves as an animal and that is what happens. We are turning that energy down the pool whether it is in a ball shaped energy pattern or a torpedo shaped energy pattern.
That is how we do it and the energy crossing – the greater the rotation the less the lateral sweep on the hand. The flatter bodied swimmer – the more the lateral sweeping of the hand. Think about it – butterfly and breaststroke are flat bodied strokes. What I mean by that – there is no rotation from left to right, but in butterfly it is outsweep, insweep – energy crossing from the right hand it crosses to the left side of the body – from the left hand it crosses to the right side of the body. Same thing in breaststroke. Flat bodied stroke – the difference between a real high rotation swimmer – no sweeping – very little laterally. A more rounded swimmer, yes – keep that ball rolling. Basically their movements are going to mimic essentially the shape of their energy pattern.
If they have a rounded energy pattern think about them laying on a big round ball. The hand goes over, around the side and under. The swimmer with the torpedo shaped energy pattern – they are laying on that big long torpedo — it goes out, it doesn’t have to go out to get around that torpedo – it just slides down the side a little bit. It slides under the bottom of that torpedo a little bit and then through.
Now we are going to have some fun. We handed out some of these pipe cleaners before, if you didn’t get one there are some more up here. I am just going to try to give you another visualization. If you would, take your pipe cleaner and just close it into a circle. Close it into a circle – twist it together. Okay. Now what I want you to do is make one twist so that you have a figure 8 – just one twist so it is like a figure 8. Now I want you to turn the figure 8 sideways so the two rounded ends are going out to the left and right as you look at it. Now I want you to do is the two outside ends of the loops on the left and the right, just pull them up towards the center – maybe put your thumb on the X and pull the outsides up so if you are holding it and looking at it – from the top you see kind of two parallel lines or curves and looking down into the bottom you see the X.
That is the energy pattern you are looking at. You are looking at it. Look down at it from the top and that is the top view for a forward stroke, glide for breast. Turn it over and it is backstroke. That is the energy pattern right there. If you pull on the ends to make it longer and narrower that is a more torpedo shaped energy pattern and again I wish I could do this bigger one. If you widen it and open up the loops that is a more rounded energy pattern. That is basically the way the energy is moving through the body and again, that will reinforce why you have to cross the energy. In the flat body stroke there has to be an insweep and in a more rounded freestyle there has to be an insweep while in a more rotational freestyle there is less of an insweep because if you pull on your energy pattern, flatten it down and make it long and narrow you see the difference between the two loops on the top and the loops that cross on the bottom they are a lot more narrow so you don’t need a lot of that sweep action.
I am going to really confuse you now because I want to have fun. I told you yesterday that I did a little stock car racing – a local stock car around an oval. It was a pretty painful experience from the car breaking down and me not knowing what the heck I was doing, but I also learned a few things and somehow they snuck into this and I don’t know if this is going to work real good, but essentially what I like to do is think of the energy as a continuous stream like we talked about, but within that stream there is kind of a surge at different spots. For example, when you are swimming your butterfly we talked about that combination of yin and yang yesterday in the butterfly movements, the balance there. As you snap a down kick that is a surge of yang energy out your feet. At the same time you are driving the head, shoulders and hands forward, fingertips – that is a surge of yin energy going forward. In energy forward yang energy down and then they stay together. They don’t leave the body. They go to the extent or the far range of the energy pattern and for somebody like Ian Thorpe in freestyle that is beyond his physical body.
Martial artists can break bricks, six or eight of them on top of each other. How does that 8th one get broken? It is the energy that travels to it. This hand doesn’t make contact with it. In martial arts you can hit 8 bricks and the top 7 don’t break – the 8th one does. I cant do that, but obviously the energy is what travels to break that bottom brick. That is what Ian Thorpe is doing. The energy going out beyond his body, but it travels then and kind of surges and those surges have to balance each other.
I look at the energy pattern like a racetrack. You’ve all been on loop to loop roller coasters – that is what we are going to think about. The energy travels on the inside of this wire – this little wire thing that we just made – I call it the energy race track, alright? This is where we are having fun. If I am confusing you – just stop me or throw something at me – tomatoes are okay. Traveling – the energy cars are traveling on, on the energy race track are in balance. So if we are swimming butterfly for example, which is a flat bodied stroke – the energy travels in pairs, side by side, as you recover and stretch forward the yin energy race cars they come up the body together and extend. The yang energy race cars go down to the bottom.
Freestyle and backstroke – they don’t travel in pairs. They are opposite of what is going on – as we drive forward – I am going to say left arm in backstroke – yin energy is running up, yang energy is running down so the balance is opposing whereas in flat body – breast and butterfly – forced together.
Stroke shaping. Technique is a choice. It is a choice that I see having six components to bring lasting change and it is a combination of responsibilities. Some of the responsibilities belong to the athlete, some to the coach and some to both of them together. First thing – physical ability. That is the swimmers current energy pattern limitations. We talked yesterday about the difference between talent and ability. It is very important for us as coaches to focus on ability and that is what the good ones do. Good coaches manipulate an individuals natural born talent and change it. They have the greatest impact on the change in their ability. So, essentially what we want to do as we are doing technique is we want to identify. We are the art today. Talent is inversely proportional to natural limitations, some of which can be eliminated through training – technique, dry land, swimming etc. mental stuff — so that is something that is out of the control of the athlete and the coach in terms of talent or what they are born with, but very much in control of the athlete and coach with how they manipulate that talent over a course of seasons and years. So today we want to know where it is.
Decision making: that is a coach responsibility. The coach has to be able to see the right change. You are going to make mistakes. I made thousands, thousands of mistakes chasing this approach now, but my athletes bared with me the whole way and I learned some things.
Communication – coach responsibility. Effective transfer of information from coach to athlete. However you do that best – through video, through having a chat with them, through putting a little pipe cleaner together – whatever works. That is coach responsibility.
Self-esteem: Yesterday I separated athletic self-esteem from their every day self esteem. We all know athletes in our program who are real good in one and not quite as good in the other and vice versa – we have to judge their athletic self-esteem and how good or how strong that is today will relate directly to their ability to endure the discomfort of change. We all have athletes who we want to work on this and we are going to do this and it slows them down just enough that they cant keep up with the person they are used to being 4 yards behind every lap of the entire practice so they wont do it. They wont endure the discomfort of change or maybe some of them will. The best athletes do.
Focus. The athletes ability to focus for extended periods. That is age related to a certain degree or a large degree, maturity, experience. But sometimes technique change takes several weeks or months and they have got to be willing to do that.
Persistence. That is a responsibility of both the athlete and the coach. You’ve got to persist. You have got to be confident. Confidence is huge in coaching. You have heard some other guys talk about this this weekend. Even if you are wrong. Ten years ago I had swimmer’s confidence but when I look back now there are a lot of things that I didn’t know what I was doing but we were swimming faster then than we are right now. We are coming back. But I just believed we could do it and I said we are going to this. Confidence is huge.
So those are the six components. Essentially what we are trying to do with stroke shaping is combine these components today to improve your swimmer’s stroke. Yesterday I emphasized quite a few times that longer and stronger is better. If you can move your athlete closer to that torpedo shaped energy pattern that is great but we want our kids to progress from year to year so sometimes while you are working towards the future you have to give them an opportunity to see some success today. You may decide between you and your athlete, if you have a real mature athlete, you don’t need to do that this year. Maybe you just say, “look, we are really going to create this change for the future so even if it affects performance this season we are not going to worry about it.” By all means go ahead and do that if you really see that they can make that change, that transition over a period of seasons but kids like to swim fast each year or they get bummed out if they don’t. Sometimes parents do too.
Go bigger but with stroke shaping you can shape their stroke based on their current energy pattern where it is today – where is this season to get a good level of performance and that is where our goal is with this stroke shaping approach and not every swimmer is going to look like Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin or other kids like that. So it is important to understand that.
Freestyle technique. Yesterday I related this story about Josh Davis and this hit on that left side, right side variances, asymmetry. Back in ’95 I happened to be fortunate enough to do a month long trip to Japan. A couple weeks at Stanford for training, a couple of weeks in Japan training in meets and one of the things that I noticed about Josh when I stood at the front of the pool is that one side of his body was real torpedo shaped and the other side that arm would travel out, it would not travel forward. It would travel out. Well he knew, Eddie Reese is an awesome coach. I think he just knew too, somewhat innately that that was where his energy pattern was so he shaped his stroke to be there. On the left side of his body it was more extended. A real torpedo shape on his right side and he has a good rotation in his lower body. His lower body didn’t change very much but his right arm would go out. For him to go here he would have had an energy break so he had to go where his energy pattern was.
We are going to talk on backstroke a little bit later but something that will help you understand it. How many of you guys have had swimmers in backstroke that like to do this where the arm bends in or the elbow bends and the hand is over the head or even over the body, but the elbow wants to be out here? Well generally speaking, the upper arm and the elbow is pointing to their energy pattern. It is generally pointing to where it is. If they tried to deliver energy – really press here – they would hurt their shoulder so a lot of these swimmers come over like this, the hand slides out and boom when it gets there they re-engage their stroke. So generally speaking, this is just to give you a visualization. The kid who breaks at the elbow in backstroke – the upper arm is pointing to their energy pattern. That is where the need to be. That is just a little ahead there.
Freestyle. I find and you may also that the biggest problem with freestyle is breathing. When the young swimmers are learning how to swim, often times the station where they have to do good freestyle with good breathing in our program, is in lane 1 and we are upstairs in the balcony doing dry land so I watch these kids and when they first get into the station they will take about 15 strokes not too bad and all of a sudden they will stop and breathe for a couple of seconds. They are not comfortable yet breathing because they don’t understand about how the body, the hips in particular, affect breathing in freestyle. Even older swimmers as they mature have trouble with breathing and that is why it is so very important. If you do anything with freestyle just relax the head and neck and get the breathing down. I would like to say – there is a general term that I like to use – “breathe with the hips, not with the neck.” If you breathe with the neck it creates muscle tension and that will stop the energy. We want the energy to flow. If you are going to put isometric contractions or tense contractions in your neck that is going to prevent energy from flowing out to the arms and people that really lift and tense their neck to breathe whether it is up or back. They are preventing energy from getting out into their arms and a lot of times people breathe with their chin and to breathe with your chin you have to tense the neck. So what I try to get the kids to do is to breathe with the hips.
Yesterday I talked about going back and forth to my workouts from National team camps and trips. Sometimes that transition for me would take place in less than 12 hours. The high level kids, kids like we were doing the PANAM camps and the national team camps and in the freestyle they breathe with their hips. Their necks stay very relaxed and their head position might be slightly different. Some swimmers – their head position was pretty darn low – others a little bit higher. There was no tension in the neck. They breathe at the hips. They breathe with the rotation. So that is a very important thing for freestylers to breathe with the hips.
This all ties in with the ball shape versus the torpedo shaped energy pattern. It is a little easier. The more elongated your stroke energy pattern/stroke shape is the easier it is to use the hips to breathe because one of the things we talked about yesterday also is that the hip surge is the energy valve. The further that you rotate the more the valve opens. We all talk about poor body strength and so on, but if you look at it in the energy pattern way of thinking, the more you rotate the more that energy valve opens. The less you rotate it is less open. So a swimmer who rotates more it is going to be easier to use that flush of energy coming up the body to turn the chin out to breathe. A more rounded energy pattern swimmer probably will be holding the head a little bit higher but we still want them to relax the head and neck because neck tension is frozen power – stopped energy — and that is a big problem in freestyle. Once you start using that neck you are pulling energy back and up and you want the energy forward and down, not back and up, forward and down – that is what I tell the kids. Some can do it – some have a little bit more trouble with that.
Stroke shaping: I had this up yesterday. It is very simple. Some people that have talked to me about this in recent months and kind of the feeling I get is, “well tell me how to do it, this is great You are telling me all these wonderful things, this yin and yang and these mystical things you know well tell me how to do it.” Well the reason I am telling you these things is that many of you know how to do it better than me. What I am doing is getting you to understand it – hoping to get you to understand it better so you can have a broader range of decisions, cleaner decisions to make.
Very basic with the stroke shaping. #1 we just talked about it. First step – settle the swimmers head and neck. I don’t like to say press or anything like that. I know there are other people who advocate that and they may be right and I might be wrong, but I just like you to relax. Find its natural position. A great quote that I have in that little book that I have in draft condition is by Bruce Lee, martial artist. He said “one should seek balance in motion and not in stillness.” I have some background in martial arts, one should seek balance in motion and not in stillness so. Just relax it. Let find its natural position because we have our own different energy pattern. I think the tendency is to want to make kids do what Ian Thorpe does – is to try to teach a torpedo shaped stroke shape to everybody, but not everybody has a torpedo shaped energy pattern. We want those two things to line up and come together. So we just want to relax the head and neck.
Again, we are always aspiring to lengthen and strengthen that energy pattern. There is no doubt about that. I am not going to say anything other than that, but not everybody is going to get there and not everybody is there today. Relax the head and neck. You may have to film kids. Maybe some kids don’t know if it is relaxed or not, but that is the first thing.
The second step is to relax or root the swimmer’s body core to the top of their energy pattern which is approximately the surface of the water. In fly and breast it comes over the top of the water – the top arc depending on how rounded or long it is. Just relax and root it. Essentially what I am saying is set the body before you set the limbs. If you set the limbs for a torpedo shaped stroke shape and they don’t have a torpedo shaped energy pattern then the body is going to make the adjustments. The body is going to make the changes to re-create the proper angles. You have seen kids who swim freestyle like this. A lot of times kids will lift their body to take stress away from the shoulder because their arm is shaped in a torpedo shaped stroke shape, but their shoulder can’t handle that energy intensity there so they lift up. The reason they lift up is to recreate the angle of their energy pattern, to draw stress away from the shoulder to allow that energy to flow through the shoulder.
There are a lot of hitches in strokes. Hitches are energy breaks or energy restrictions or constrictions and a lot of times when kids fly and they are all over the place because they are to recreating angles to protect their body. They are going to do that. Just think of it – some kids are so tough mentally that they will just force through and all of a sudden they are walking around with the bags of ice after every workout. I think we can avoid that a lot. Maybe not all the time, but a lot of it.
There are a couple of things that are real important about muscle tension. Before I talked about muscle tension equal to stopped energy or frozen power. If you watch a baseball player or a golfer, when they have the club or the bat in their hands, they have a loose, but relatively firm grip on the club or the bat. They don’t hold it real tight. They stay relaxed. They hold the club firm enough and they let the energy travel up and as the energy travels down, at the strike, their hands are firm. As the energy moves its way down into the hands, bam – then it is all firm. With a baseball bat, it is the same thing. I can describe all the energy movements that are happening with a baseball player hitting a ball., but it is generally relaxed. A lot of baseball players, good hitters in some kind of movement, they don’t want to be still. They want balance in motion not in stillness. As they step, hips drive and there are different energies are going on. Then at contact, as the energy runs down the arm, bam – firm.
Maybe some of you have little kids in martial arts, your own children or some of your swimmers. When they go to break for the first time they go up and bonk – the board doesn’t do anything. That is because as they are getting to the break they are stopping the energy or even reversing it. Maybe some of you had friends in college who got drunk and punched a wall one night and broke their hand. Well punching a wall is not a good idea, but when you do break you want to stay relaxed and at the moment of the strike you release the energy. The energy comes out. It protects the hand. It travels through the wood or the bricks or whatever you are doing. That is what Bruce Lee did at the moment of strike. So you want to let that energy flow and then release in the appropriate places.
Third step: shape the limbs. This really holds true for all four strokes. Again, I am not going to tell you I know everything about this because I don’t and some of you are better at seeing things than I am in some regards. I noticed most of you, if not all of you, have seen some of what I am talking about, but just didn’t kind of classify it or categorize it the way I do. There are better coaches in this room than me, but I think I know this stuff. I think I have seen things through the combination of things that I have done in my life. I have just had a strange combination of things that allow me to see this.
Shape the limbs. The way we do this is with progressive sets. See how their energy flows through their body when they are just streamlining. I have had little short kids who could streamline faster and further and their body would travel better under the water than taller kids. It is great to be tall and that is an advantage in a lot of ways, but it is not the only thing. A shorter person who can really deliver energy, that is huge. You have all seen that. You have seen the kids come off the wall and travel. I had a distance kid years ago and that kid would push off and man, this sucker would go and that was before he got real tall. That was even when he was a little chubby kid and he ended up doing pretty well, he got second at NCAAs. When he was 11 years old he was just a little chubby kid who couldn’t make the A team at the Y so he came to us. I was starting this little team, but when he went off the wall he would travel. Now I had other kids that were leaner and more cut, they could hold the same streamline but when they came off the wall they just didn’t travel. That is the first test. Just learn about their energy pattern. Have them push off the wall a few times and see how they travel.
That will start to give you some insights and then start having them come off the wall with some kicking whether it is flutter kicking or dolphin kicking. Yesterday I alluded to the fact a backstroke push-off with a dolphin kick coming off the wall will show you an awful lot about their energy pattern. If they are real wide, kind of an undulating thing, that will show you that they have got some limitations probably in their hips, maybe even in their shoulders too, probably. Or another thing, when they come off the wall, do they kind of just lift and drop their feet or do they slap at the water from their ankles in kind of a stiff. You know what I am talking about – the kids who just kind of lift and drop – they are showing you that they are pretty restricted in their ankles. The kids that really snap, snap, snap and you can just see that energy traveling, rippling down their body from their hips, through their legs, feet, out their toes. At the same time they are stretching. Instead of running yang energy down their body and yin energy out their fingers together.
You learn about the top – the shoulders – when they come off that wall. That will show you about their energy pattern up top. When a kid comes off the wall on their back using a dolphin kick, if they are curled over they are probably more rounded in their energy pattern up in the upper body. If they are real straight and relaxed they are probably more torpedo shaped or longer so you can learn some things from that. This is real easy stuff for at least for fly, free and for back.
You can learn some things about breaststroke that way too, but breaststroke is a little bit of a different animal. I don’t have as good a grip on it yet, but I do have a couple of things that I think I understand.
Now we shape the limbs. It is not really magic. Once you get one taken care of – that is, relaxing the head and neck and then get #2 taken care of – that is, establishing the body core at the top of the energy pattern and routing it to the top of the energy pattern and then we want to shape the limbs. The way I do it is the exact opposite of the way I did it for the first 13 years. I used to go real long. This is the way the great ones do it, so we did it.
Once 1 and 2 are done the 3rd step is shape the limbs and I start rounded – get them to understand what the rounded energy pattern is so we will use freestyle for an example. The first 50 is like this: I want continuous motion. I tell them really wide and rounded, even if it is a kid with a great long, you know they got a torpedo shaped energy pattern close to it. We will all do it together. We stay together as a group and it is good if you are just working with one or two kids at a time when you are doing something like this. The key is continuous motion, continuous stream of energy, no disruption. That is #1. #2 just elongate it a little bit.
We all have our pipe cleaner? So we start out real rounded. These things are really circular –a little bit far apart. That is #1. #2 – we are just going to press down on the top a little bit, pull out the ends a little bit and we are just going to make it a little bit longer, but still very rounded. Continuous stream of energy. #3 a little bit longer and progress every set of 10 x 50s. You can use a different number – whatever works for you. As soon as they get to a point where they get a hesitation, boom, boom – they have probably started to enter a restriction or a break in their energy flow. Usually at that point you tell them to stop where you are at and back direct just a smidge and that is probably going to give you a better idea of where your energy pattern is.
Now the easier you do this and we have to start easy to get them used to it, the further they are going to be able to go because the stream of energy is pretty small. The volume or the intensity of energy when you are swimming easy is light. It is like a stream after a drought. There is not a lot of water coming down. We have had big droughts in the east so if you think about it that way, we are having a drought when you go easy. There is not a lot of water running, not a lot of energy running through those tubes. Yesterday I described the energy tubes in your body. There is a set of tubes running through the body. A real good energy tube is pretty wide open like a plumber’s pipe and the edging is pliable, strong pliable rubber.
Are the kids energy tubes real wide or narrow, if we are running with a drought of energy. If the energy stream is real light – as long as that tube – no matter how big it is can allow for that full energy flow, the kid is going to be able to overswim their race intensity stroke shape so they are all going to be able to look nice and long. It is just a way to learn it first, but as you progress to get a better idea of what their energy pattern really is. You want to start raising the intensity of that kind of test set. So the first time it would be real easy. The second time closer to moderate, third time a little bit above moderate until when you get to do the set 10 x 50 really fast and high intensity. You might even want them to have a do it tired and then you can start to see where their hesitations or breaks are going to be and then you backtrack.
It’s the same thing if you are doing backstroke. We talked about in backstroke how a lot of kids like to leave the arm bent, but when you are doing a backstroke progression you start out like this. #1, #2, #3 a little bit higher, #4 they start to get a little stuck so we need to bring it out. You might be surprised. I know we want them to be up here. I am not going to say that that’s not true. We want them to be longer, more extended, but not everybody can maintain energy flow doing that. There are a lot of great backstrokers or very good backstrokers who did this or had other things in their strokes that were a little bit unusual which we will get to that in a little bit.
With younger kids at what point do you stop pushing towards the torpedo shape and go with the ball shape? Let me answer it in two parts. Number 1, with the youngest kids we don’t talk about these kinds of things. We do the standard things that are trying to lead the kids towards a more torpedo shaped stroke shape – a longer type stroke shape. We do all the basic things that you have heard for all the years. Streamline really well, alternate breathing or bilateral breathing – things like that. The second, we never stop trying to get a more torpedo shaped energy pattern. We are always working on it. Most of that work takes place in dry land.
Let’s establish your stroke for this season or for where we are at now. I am always doing that. Every season with every kid we are setting their stroke shape for that season. I do a lot of stroke technique work through about the first half of a season. I am experimenting with them a little bit trying to get maybe to extend that energy pattern through dry land and even some in water things – experimenting trying to lengthen it. From about the half way point on that is their stroke shape for the rest of the season, but we will keep working in dry land to do different things. I want to make it better, but we will continue to work towards that through strengthening and lengthening.
In my martial arts experience I have seen men in their 50s come in who couldn’t stretch their hamstrings more than this, but within a couple of years they are reaching beyond their toes. When your athlete says oh this is all I can do or they are not motivated, I guarantee you that you can get body improvement. I guarantee you, you can get body improvement with your swimmers. Don’t give up. Don’t settle and say this is the way it is. Keep working at it. That doesn’t mean you are going to have it in the water that season, but you can have it if you and the athlete stick with it. See it as a long-term view. Those of you that are experienced talented coaches know that intuitively.
With young kids we really emphasize alternate breathing all the way through, but then they are going to get to a certain period of time when you are going to see that breathing on one side versus the other promotes energy flow a lot better and often times it is not on the side that they were raised being comfortable with as young kids. If they liked one side before they came to your team or before they started to bilateral or alternate, a lot of times it is going to be on the side that they don’t like so much because they can feel that stick. That stick, or hesitation – that break a lot of times feels strong. It is like a phantom feeling of strength that is not there. We don’t want those sticks. We want that energy to keep flowing. We don’t want to have those sticking points. Keep very fluid.
What I will do with a kid like that – say the kid really prefers the right and I think that they are better breathing on their left – what I will do is a series breathing patterns. We are going to start out with four breaths to the right, two breaths to the left. So 1, 2, 3, 4 on the right transition 1, 2, transition 1,2,3,4 and then after a while I am going to say okay lets go to 3 and 3 and then after a while I am going to say let’s go to 2 and 4 and then alternately let’s go all left. That is really flowing and by then I have convinced them and they know – either by filming them or taking splits or whatever – they know they can feel it. They know they are a lot more efficient to that other side so that is just a little hint in terms of if you want to switch the side they breathe at do it progressively.
You have heard as a common theme throughout the whole week that progression is very important, whether it is a technique, dry land, swim training, or mental. Progression is very important.
All other things being equal – a swimmer with a rounded energy pattern, when I mean all other things being equal size, equal strength, sides from fingers to toes, equal strength, equal training and so on – imagine all of that is equal, equal mental strength – the swimmer with the more rounded energy pattern has to turn over at a greater rate to compete with the swimmer with the longer more extended energy pattern because they have a lesser stream of energy. Their volume of energy is not as great because their rotation is not as great or their undulation in breast and fly is not as effective. That means, remember the hips are the energy valve so if a swimmer really rotates high he is getting a broader or a bigger flush in energy up their body with each stroke. It’s like sort of who rotates less, the more flat bodied person is a lesser stream so if all of the things are equal that person has to turn over. You know that is pretty much common sense.
You know that the kid is more rounded and that is how I describe it, and you might think there is a different way up to this point. Maybe they have to turn over great or more consistently but if they stay on their energy pattern they are going to keep going and generally you will see more success at the highest levels. The more rounded the energy pattern generally speaking the longer the event for that kid, generally will be 200, 400 and above. The person with the more torpedo shaped longer energy pattern, depending on how they produce energy because we know they deliver energy great, they can do anything from a 50 up to a 1500 or whatever the stroke. They have more options based on training and energy production. The reason for this is that the person with the rounded energy pattern will have a little more trouble with the sprints because the energy intensity demands that are needed to go that fast are so intense, the volume and the rate of energy flow are so intense that if a person is rounded at a 200 distance, they need to be somewhat rounded at a 200 distance – to increase from a 200 down to a 50 of energy intense would make them curl in so much. Like the third step, second step, route the core body and then set the limbs. The limb angles are going to change from distance to distance because the energy intensity requirement changes. The energy required to do a good 1500 is not as boiling hot as it is to do a hundred. Again, I think in terms of heat so the greater the heat of the energy that is going to curl the energy pattern in so somebody who is a little more rounded in a mid distance would have to be even more rounded, would have to curl in even more for a shorter higher intensity distance and then they have to turn over so darn fast to be competitive it is probably impractical.
The way the athlete delivers energy is just as important as how they produce energy when it comes to selecting event distances. Over the years there has always been this kind of argument about six beat kick, two beat kick, four beat kick for different distances and so on. Well the kids who do a two beat crossover kick do it because their energy pattern is shaped that way. It is not a choice. Well yea, it is great to do the six beat, but we have to work on improving the body to be able to do the six beat. We have to improve that ankle flexibility, improve the hips, improve the shoulders. A lot of times you will see breathing problems with kids where they are lifting their head and neck to breathe because they are catching their ankles. If their ankles catch it prevents the hips from rotating so then it is hard to breathe with the hips so then they have to lift up and be more rounded.
Sometimes to improve the way the top of the body is working you have to improve the bottom. A lot of coaches I have heard over the years talk about the importance of ankle flexibility. In my opinion, this is because of the energy ramifications. If those ankles stop catching those hips are going to start flowing more and it is easier to settle things up top, get a little more longer stroke shape or energy pattern up at the top of their body.
You can break it into segments but it is really all connected. The energy travels down the front of the leg — the yang energy. It snaps out the toes so that is the downward energy and then the up kick brings it back up again. That is your return, your yin energy. On the upkick, you feel the draw, the breast. Narrow and fast is better than wide and slow with a kick because that is more in line with your narrow torpedo shaped energy pattern. It is very important: legs do not produce energy. We see the coaches getting their kids to kick harder in races but you know well that is going to slow you down. I had this little girl who is starting to come along a little bit and she used to be like this, bang, bang, bang and the arms would be moving like this. This little tiny girl and her arms were moving like this you know that is because she is kicking so big that she is preventing energy flow with her legs. When the swimmers all of a sudden throw this big kick in and they slow down and they cant figure it out and they start to tie up –it is because the legs don’t produce energy they accelerate it. If you take the legs off the energy pattern, just like with the arms – if the arms are out of alignment, you are stroke shaping the arms out of alignment with your energy pattern shape – you take the legs out of the energy pattern, that is going to start to restrict the energy flow too. That is when it clogs up in the legs.
You have heard about kids that come to you after their races and their legs are all knotted up. That is because by making the kick too big it starts to clog up in the hips. It just burns and then those thigh muscles and hamstrings have to absorb all that heat and they can’t do it. If they are able to, do floppy angles when you want them to go faster. You heard about Bob Bowman talking about Michael Phelps – he committed to that six beat kick and when he got it his 50s went to from 35 to 29. It’s because the legs accelerate energy. They don’t produce it. The energy was being produced already in his body. You don’t go from 35 to 29 in one week. You don’t have enough time to train that difference. What he did was he started to accelerate that energy. So You want to go fast and narrow is the way I look at it as opposed to big. It is hard to hold that and that is the energy clog, it will clog up in the hips in the legs.
Crossing the center line. I had a swimmer who used to cross the center line when he breathed. The center line meaning if you look at the black line in the center of the pool, when he breathing the hand was across it and I tried to change that. He told me it is just not working and after a while I said ok. I asked him to try to extend it a little bit and he ended up being pretty good. He was top three or four in the US in the 400 IM for a few years and a decent miler too. The reason it worked is because even though his hand was across the center line, his body was rotated so it wasn’t across his center line, it was still on the left half of his body. His energy pattern kind of went with him.
That is one of the things I learned about in martial arts – you are strong with this hand from this side over. The further your hand comes across the weaker that hand becomes. If relative to their own personal center line that right hand is still on the right half of their body they are still going to be able to get good energy flow and that is the key. Granted, we are giving up some frontal resistance. By being here it is not as advantageous from a frontal resistance or drag standpoint as it is by being here. I concur. But I believe that energy flow takes priority over frontal resistance. You can have the sleekest race car in the world, but if you have a 4 cylinder engine in it you are not going to be beating a wider shorter racecar with an 8 cylinder engine in it that has good suspension, good wide tires because it is really gripping the road. Your energy pattern and your stroke shape are lined up and it is really gripping the road. It will nicely make the turns and make the catch – otherwise you have this other sleek beautiful car with the 4 cylinder engine because you are reducing frontal resistance but you are not getting as much energy through the grill and you have to be a little bit more careful. The athlete is a little bit more gingerly about making their movements because they don’t have as good a suspension. The tires are not gripping the road.
Elbow drop in freestyle. You all have the athletes that are like this, they drop the elbow and then they rotate back and re-engage their strokes? That is because when they are here their stroke shape was not aligned with their energy pattern so they drop the elbow to take the stress off the shoulder to protect themselves. Then once they have rotated back to realign to get the proper angles again they reengage the stroke and go.
Hip swimmers. They are not doing anything with their right arm up here and they might be pretty fast and maybe that is a decision that you will stick with. That is the thing about stroke shaping: that you as the coach will make those decisions. You may decide that a gallop is the best way to go but I if I had that athlete I would really try to find their energy pattern and align their stroke shape with that and see how that works for a while.
You have always watched the Olympics and these bigger events and some of you guys have been at nationals and so on and you have watched the swimmers who do this, right? Just like they are doing this big old finish. In my opinion it is not what is going on. Remember yesterday I talked about emphasize to the front, somewhat downward half of the energy pattern, the entry extension catch in the first sweep. I think what those swimmers are doing is that their energy flow is so impressive on the underside of their body. Their yin energy, their drive into that leading arm — that the body surging forward and since this shoulder is attached to the body and as the body surges show, the body surges forward and this hand can’t help but whip out of the water so it looks like they are emphasizing this big thing at the bottom but it is just being dragged along like a whip. You remember yin energy is fluidity so it is good to do a lot of tricep work. I am not going to tell you to stop doing it, but the great athletes are driving forward and this arm is just being snapped along and that is what gives the appearance of a really snappy emphasis on the triceps.
Are the hips related to breathing and what do I think about people using the snorkels. We did use those snorkels years ago when they first came out. I really like them and then I had a bunch of good kids that graduated. Then we were real young for a while so I haven’t done them and I may go back to that. I think maybe what that does is it takes breathing out of there so since breathing is often times the biggest problem in freestyle by being able to just relax and settle the head and neck into the water you can start to make better adjustments on limb angles. You still have to swim them with breathing once you take that thing off. You can learn a lot that way, but the key is addressing what happens to the stroke shape while they are breathing and some of these decisions are affected by learning.
Is martial arts compatible with a young swimmer? There was another coach who talked about that the other day, about girls doing dance and things like that and boys doing martial arts. I don’t think it has to be a boy girl thing. If I had the time I would love to do like ti chi or martial arts or yoga and things like that and I think that for like college coaches that stuff would be great when you have the time and the resources, but martial arts is great for discipline but also for improving energy pattern. People in their 40s and 50s come into our school with very limited range of motion, very rounded energy patterns and over the course of years have been able to improve that. Improve the speed of their kicks. In the beginning they were like bang you know but then after a couple of years they are snapping them out just like anybody you know that had a little bit more talent to begin with. So if they can do those kind of things, but improving your energy pattern in that kind of way is going to help you in the pool. It is going to improve their energy pattern in the pool.