Stroke Technique Refinements To Maximize Energy Flow by Todd Kemmerling (2002)


Published


I want to start out with a story about the first coaches’ clinic that I ever attended.  I had started my team in the spring of 1987.  We had about 16 young kids at the time and wanted to do a good job from the get go.  I went to the Eastern States clinic in Pennsylvania in the fall of 1987 and there was a speaker that year who was one of the great coaches of all time in United States swimming.  I am not going to name him but I was sitting there young and wide eyed.  One of the things that he said was that he prepares his whole season in advance.  Someone asked, “Does that mean all your workouts too?”  He said, “Yes, all my workouts are basically prepared for the year.”  So I wrote that down.

 

My first clinic – young guy.  I went home and I spent the next month, about 8 hours a day, working my workouts for the entire year including the taper.  Needless to say, it didn’t work out as well as it might have…  The message that I am trying to send is you are going to hear a lot of things at these clinics.  I’d like the younger coaches, especially, to seek, to understand and to pick pieces and develop them within your own style.

 

From the very beginning of my coaching career, technique has been something that always just grabbed me as being a really important thing.  As I came to these clinics over the years – the same thing.  In the early years I would write down everything – everything would go back with me to the pool and we would try it, always with the best athletes that I had.  In the beginning it was young kids.  They were talking about airplanes for a while.  They were talking about boat propellers for a while.  There were all sorts of things that came out about technique and I tried it all.

 

Finally I got to the point where we had some pretty good athletes.  I realized that the coaches I was listening to, as well as some of the technique people at the time, were really referring to the best athletes’ technique.  The athletes were so gifted and their coaches were telling us that this is the way to do it.  However, in reality, they were saying that this is the way the great ones do it.  I would still take that information home and try to get all my athletes to do it that way.  After a while I started beating my head against the wall because I thought I wasn’t doing the job.  A couple of things happened that changed that.

 

In 1993 or so we started getting some senior national kids.  We had three to four years in the mid-90’s where we were putting some kids on national teams and at the same time I started training in the martial arts.  Now why those two things came into play – in terms of the national team – it afforded me the opportunity to do some national team events as a coach.  Training sessions like national team training camps, I did some meets with World University Games, junior teams – things like that.

 

What was important about that?  I would be on the pool deck say on a Friday morning or Thursday night and see my kid, a wide range of kids like we all have in the club settings.  Get on an airplane and go out to Colorado Springs and within 12 hours I would be watching some of the best swimmers in the world and things finally started to think into my head.  I started to see the differences, but also the reasons for the differences.

 

The martial arts aspect – the school that I joined is a lot into energy flow – yin and yang – energy balance.  These are key things and those of you who are familiar with martial arts and eastern views on energy recognize those terms.  Also our school was not real aggressive – a lot of it was based around the pressure point system.  Now my instructor, Master Black, was one of the top understudies to a man by the name of George Dilman, Grand master Dilman.  George Dilman really studied the ancient methods of martial arts.  A lot of times in martial arts you will see things that don’t make sense to the western mind.

 

Back about 50 years when martial arts first came to this country it came from military people who served in Japan and Okinawa after the war.  When the people over there became aware to the Americans they really watered it down.  They changed all the stuff because they didn’t really want to give the true elements of what was going on.  George Dilman developed a sense of trust with some experienced and knowledgeable martial arts people in Asia.  He brought it back to the United States.  He went to medical doctors.  He studied cadavers.  He tried to find out what was going on from a western science standpoint that these eastern people have been doing for thousands of years back to India and beyond.

 

So that was the two major things that got me started on my stroke shaping method.  I did a little bit of stock car racing a couple of summers ago for a couple of years.  It doesn’t have a lot to do with it, but there are a couple of little things I learned doing that too.  All these things got together and swam around in my head for a few years and then some light bulbs started to go on.

 

I have two talks:  this afternoon and tomorrow morning.  For me to give you everything about stroke shaping in 45 – 50 minutes is impossible.  I am doing freestyle technique tomorrow morning.  What I am going to do is emphasize freestyle technique tomorrow, but some of the stroke shaping stuff I am going to have to bring forward, otherwise I will give you way too much information today.

 

I’ve written a book on my thought and it is in draft form now.  A good friend of mine, Frank Naperoy, a former international coach is reading it.  I didn’t have a lot of science in there at the time and he asked me to prove it to him, to explain why certain things are happening.  So I took my ideas, my concept and I went out and I found the science to back it up.  I can’t give you all that today.  If you want to talk to me afterwards I will, like I said, its going to be in a book that hopefully will come out in the future and I will get on to crucial elements there.  Lastly, I do have a hard copy handout sheet for you after the talk is done today that will cover basically the overheads that I put up during the course of the talk.

 

Energy – energy is a really broad term to a lot of people.  We start out with where does energy comes – you have to bring energy into your body first.  That is nutrition, food, water, things like that,

 

Metabolism – the things that give you the energy to make physical movements, for your heart to beat, etc.  metabolism basically is the process where food molecules are broken down and they release energy.  Anabolism is when food molecules are built into larger compounds and that uses energy.  So we got a balance there using energy and releasing energy.

 

As you all know the body’s preferred fuel energy is carbohydrates, after that fats and then protein.

 

I went to the dictionary to find some definitions for energy and this is what I came up with:  “the capacity for vigorous activity, the exertion of such power, the capacity of matter radiation to perform physical work, such capacity converted into heat for many various forms etc…”

 

So I thought about that for a while.  What does that mean to us?  ………. I came up with an athletic definition – energy – the capacity to exert power during vigorous activity.  I wanted to refine it a little bit more – what I am doing with the stroke shaping method so I came up with a simple definition.

 

Energy = active power potential.

 

With the martial arts tie in and the yin and yang – basically it is balance.  That is the whole concept of eastern medicine is keeping good balance – physically, emotionally, mentally to stay healthy.  You can look at yin energy as more a fluidity (female energy) and yang energy as more powerful (male energy).  That is a simplistic way to put it, but that might be a good place for us to start.

 

When you are healing in the eastern views on energy you want to promote balance and good energy flow.  The opposite occurs in martial arts.  You want to disrupt energy flow and that is what the great martial artists or few martial artists do.  You have heard about attacks where somebody will be struck one day and the next day he will die mysteriously.  Well that can happen because a really experienced  martial artist will know how to combine different points.  Different points of strikes on your body that will affect the function of an internal organ and if they combine enough points, strike at the right time that is how they can kill somebody without having to break in after something like that.

 

If you are willing and comfortable to do this I am going to show you a little energy manipulation experiment.  This will help you see what I mean by how you can affect the balance of energy within your body or even manipulate how energy flows within your body.  Stand up and find a partner about your size.  Alright, now hopefully this is a friend of yours because I am going to ask one of the people to turn around and the other person, if you can do it, you are going to grab – bear hug the person from behind.  Lift that person, however, before you do that, the person who is being lifted, I want you to just relax and stand still, okay?

 

The first time you are lifted – we are going to do this twice – the first time you are lifted I want you to think of all of your energy coming up your body and rising out through your head like you were going up on an elevator and I really want you, in your mind, think about drawing all of your energy up to the ceiling of this room.  Do that for about 5 seconds and then have your partner try to lift you up.  Just grab him from behind and lift.  Okay that is very good.

 

Now we are going to do the same exact thing except this time the person who is being lifted – I want you to relax again, stand still and I want you to imagine all your energy, all of your weight just dropping down into the floor, through the floor of this building to the basement.  In your mind I want you to direct all of your energy and your weight so to speak, down into the floor.  Do that for about 5 seconds and then have your partner lift you up again.  Alright, did anybody feel a difference between the first and second time?  Did it feel lighter or heavier?  Did the first one feel lighter or heavier the second time.  Their body weight didn’t change but they emphasized downward energy flow.  That is why it was harder for you to lift them up.  It sounds crazy.

 

Another thing,.those of you who are parents who have had a sleeping or a child that is in your arms and all of a sudden they fall asleep and they get heavier and heavier or you are holding a child and they really want to get out of your arms, it is almost impossible to hold on to them because you are directing your energy down.

 

The energy pattern – I am going to lead up to the energy pattern and what comes together to make it.  However, we are going to start out with a couple of other things first.

 

Number 2 – energy intensity – I define that as energy volume times rate of energy flow.  Now we are going to get to this – we are going to progress through this as we go, but essentially energy volume would be like the volume of stimulus – neuromuscular stimulus running through your body.  Obviously to pick up a ten pound weight you need less than you do to pick up a thirty pound weight, also blood flow.  So those two things combine to make energy volume.  The rate of energy flows how fast you have to make that go.  If you are trying to sprint you want that stimulus and the blood flow to go quicker to bring more energy to the areas that are being utilized.

 

Alright – lets go to #3 please.  I did another search into the dictionary and I tried to come up with talent.  We all know what talent is – kind of.  We see it in the pool.  You know we say, oh that swimmer is talented or that runner is talented or that musician is talented.  You know what it looks like in our sports, but we do not really define it too much so I went into the dictionary.  The first one says a superior inborn capacity for a special field.  The second one – a person or persons with such capacity.  The third one – any of various ancient weights or weights of money.  If you are an accountant that is important.  It is not important to us but I left it on there.

 

Well how can I take these dictionary definitions and turn them into definitions that will apply to what we are doing.  So I said – the superior inborn capacity to move through and/or across a body of water.  Well that’s a pretty good start but I wanted to know the vital elements of this talent and I have an opinion that I shaped into a definition.

 

Talent is superior inborn capacity to produce and deliver energy efficiently – produce and deliver.

 

So really, what does the word talent stand for?  To me it is a symbol that stands for one’s current ability in a given activity is inversely proportional to the number of one’s current limitations.  So talent is lack of limitation.  The greater the talent the lesser the limitations but if I am a kid who is not born with a lot of superior inborn capacity and I am not.  I’ve got some inborn capacity for certain things and the majority of our swimmers – even a very, very tall swimmer have some limitations that they overcome.  So If I am born with this and say I am a moderately talented kid – if I see that definition that I put up there – the superior inborn capacity – I am saying why even bother to go to workout but really what the truth is it is not superior inborn capacity it is the ability to produce and deliver energy efficiently.

 

Some people have to overcome more limitations, circumvent more limitations to gain that ability to produce and deliver energy more efficiently.

 

#4 please – Active power sequence.  That is just a symbol – a name that I have given to how energy basically travels through your body.  It follows a basic general path.  I simplified it here but this is true if you try anything that you want to do in terms of physical movements – shooting a basketball, hitting a golf ball, hitting a baseball – whatever it may be.  Energy, this is the eastern view, originates in the center of your body, back between your kidneys, but lets just say in the center of your body and it radiates out in different ways.

 

I studied swimming because a lot of the martial artists they haven’t seen a situation where we are laying down to do a physical movement.  They are all standing up and everything else so I think it gives us the advantage in this case to study how energy flows when you are prone.  Energy originates in the middle and lower aspects of the torso.  It travels downward.  It is propelled in the hips.  That’s where it gets its juice.  That is where it gets popped down.  It travels down the leg, the thigh to the lower leg, ankles and toes.  It runs back up again from the toes, ankles, lower legs through the hamstrings – it is not really the back of the let but that is an easier way to look at it, the simplified way, back to the hips.  It is propelled again in the hips.  It travels up the torso. It continues up through the shoulder and the head area but let’s just stay on the same side of the body for now.  To the shoulder and the head area.  The back of the arm essentially – the triceps, the forearm, the wrist and the hand and then it returns down – the inside of the arm, across the biceps, the shoulder and back to the head.  When it gets to the head it crosses your body and travels down the other side, back down the torso into the hips.

 

When it crosses the body I will show you how it relates to us a little bit later.  That is basically the way energy travels in your body.  At least the way that I am looking at it, the way I have taken it from a combination of eastern view science and applied it to swimming.  It always flows in this loop.  When you are asleep it is flowing at a really minute level, really a small stream of energy.  The more that you put yourself out doing activity obviously the greater the energy flow will be.

 

Alright, now we are going to have a little bit of fun.  The chart that Lori is putting up there starts to tie the yin and yang energy concept into what we are doing and what I just showed you with the active power sequence.  Even my martial arts teacher really doesn’t look at it this way but he doesn’t see swimming and I look at it this way.  Basically your yang or your male energy is the front of your body, essentially.  That is very simplified so those of you who are knowledgeable understand what I am doing.

 

You all started on all fours.  You know the energy pattern in four legged animals is the same and gradually over time we stood up but basically – let’s go through the chart – downward yang energy.  In your arms it is a flexing limb movement like a curl.  In our stroke that would be the catch when your arms bend inward, catch, pull it in about the midway point.  In your legs the yang or the male action is the extending limb movements.  Flexing in the arms, extending in the legs – that is your dolphin kick, your breaststroke kick, pushing off the wall.

 

Now I am not facing you.  If I am on that chart I am sideways and the red or the yang is in the front.  The blue or the yin is on the back.  Yin energy coming back up the legs.  Flexing limb movements – butterfly and free that is your upkick.  The bottom of the foot is coming up.  Breaststroke heel recovery, bringing energy back up the body.  Heel recovery in a flip turn, open turns – when you are throwing the heels across.  Moving up to the arms – the yin or the upper energy is your finish.  The start to the finish.  If we let go of it we try to be really relaxed on the recovery but then again on the entry the forward extension and the catch – that is forward moving energy – the yin moving energy.

 

I also added a little different way, an easier way to think of it using inward bound and outward bound energy. So in your upper body with your arms the yang is inward bound, you are bringing it into your body.  In your lower body the yang is outward bound energy – releasing it away from your body.  The yin energy on the legs is inward bound – flexing.  Running the energy up your body with the heels or with the upkick and then with the arms, yin energy, is outward bound energy. Going out away from your body – whatever the stroke is.

 

Okay – #6 please.  I will give you a real brief look at some science stuff here – some anatomy and some physiology.  First we will start out with joints.  Another term for joints is articulation.  Three different kinds of joint; the one we are going to be most interested in today is synovial joints which permit free movement in one or more of the following ways.

 

Angular movement – that is like flexion when you curl with your arms.  Basically it decreases the angle between the fronts of two bones – it brings them together and also an angular movement is extension – that increases the angle.  This returns the arm to straight again.  It could be in other parts of your body.

 

Circular movements – rotation, pivoting the bone on its central axis, circumduction – moving the distal or far end of the bone with circular movements and these are not all the movements.  I am just giving you a few.

 

Special movements and samples – elevation would be like raising the shoulders – that is a yin action right there, yin action or inverting the foot just to give you an idea.

 

Skeletal muscles – muscles are different kinds in your body.  The ones we are most concerned with are skeletal at this point – muscles span at least one joint or attach to both the articulating bones – the bones that meet at that joint so your bicep muscle is attached to the inside of the lower arm, below the elbow and also attach up in the shoulder and scapula in that area and as you contract it brings those bones together.  It happens in a lot of different places in your body.  Create movement and muscle contracts and pulls one bone across the joint towards the other.  One bone moves the lower arm, the other bone the upper arm remains pretty stable.

 

Very important the next thing – muscles can only pull.  They cannot push so they are arranged in opposition to one another.  When I flex my arm my biceps pull.  When I extend my arm my triceps pull, they contract, they get smaller – they come together.  Individual muscle cells obey the all or none law.  What that means is if they receive enough stimuli they will fire.  If they don’t then they won’t – they are dead.  It is essentially like having dead flesh.  If they don’t get the information the nervous stimulation, if it doesn’t pass through it, if it doesn’t make it through your brain and along the nerve, out to the muscle you want to use it won’t fire.

 

Muscles, on the other hand, contract according to greater strength principles.  A ten pound weight you use less muscle – 30 pounds you use more.  Your body adjusts based on how much it needs to use.  Again though, if the information doesn’t get through the muscle won’t contract.  Muscles contract in different ways.  There are different contractions but just to give you a couple of examples.

 

Isometric contractions – if you just hold your arm out and squeeze your bicep the muscle doesn’t change length but it changes tension. An isotonic contraction is like you just did this with your arm real easy – it shortens but the tension doesn’t change.  If you put some weight in the hand the tension would change.

 

Muscles always act in groups.  They don’t act alone.  The prime movers would create the movement and your antagonists which relax, hopefully when the prime movers are firing.  In some cases you want the antagonists and the prime movers to contract at the same time – for example, when you are standing up.  If one of them gives way then you know that you are going down.  For our purposes we want the antagonists to relax, not contract when we are using prime movers.

 

Key thoughts on the nervous system.  Some important things here. Nerves divide and branch out in order to bring nerve fibers in contact with as many parts – body parts and tissue as possible.  It is important to know – taking that information out throughout the body.

 

Somatic motor pathways conduct nerve impulses away from the central nervous system.  The central nervous system essentially is your brain or the brain the spinal cord and so on.  The somatic motor pathways take that information from the central nervous system and bring it out.  The muscles contract either in groups or in sequence from that information – specific nerve tracks supply stimuli to specific muscles interactions.  Facilatatory fibers stimulate extensor muscles so there is a certain track – nerve type track that supplies the information to extending muscles.  Inhibitory fibers stimulate flexor muscles so it is a different track of nerve fibers that stimulate the flexors.

 

So you can start to see how the science – when I saw this I said wait a minute – that is yin and yang there.  It is that energy flow thing and I started to get excited.  Again, muscles and the motor units that make the muscles contract only when they are stimulated by energy.  They cannot be willed to contract.  If the information doesn’t get to that point they are not going to contract.

 

Think about a jump shot.  This is a little bit of a back step but I want you to see now – this is a little bit of science how this starts to come into play.  When you watch somebody to do a jump shot – a basketball player – if it is a close shot they don’t have to do much.  They don’t have to go too high.  You know even like somebody like Shaq, they are at the foul line, they just go like this you know.  Usually if they don’t move their feet there is not much spin on the ball though because they don’t transfer much energy to the ball.  Again – energy.  But if you move it further away from the basket you start to see them dip at the hips, pop the legs and as they are pushing down long energy of the legs – they are going forward with yin energy and releasing into the hands and balance – they work together.  The further the shot or the more energy they use – the bigger the movement would be.

 

Let’s take this to the swimming.  A little bit of this balance here between yin and yang.  The stroke movements of butterfly – three simple movements any you can start to see the balance of energy with yin and yang and how it comes into play.  When the hands enter and extend in butterfly that is a yin action – they are moving forward.  Energy is running up the underside of the body essentially.  At the same time for most people if they have a two beat kick in particular they are snapping the kick down – it is a downkick.  That is the male – that is the yang energy.  They are in balance they happen together – boom.  Number 2, as the hands catch and insweep yang, again we are bring inward bound energy to underside of the body, the legs making upkick so if we are bringing male energy down the body we are starting to run yin or female energy up the body at the same time – there it is together.  The third one – as the hands finish the stroke that is yin and our shoulders and head are stretching forward that is yin, the legs snap the second downkick – that is yang so you can start to see how the energy seems to be in balance and keeps flowing in a continuous circuit.

 

Alright, now we are getting a little bit more specific here.  The energy delivery system. I put a lot of emphasis on delivering energy. We tend to put a lot of emphasis in our sport and other sports on producing energy.  It is very important but if you can’t deliver what you produce it is useless to have huge muscles and all this fitness if it won’t work for you when you need it.  Four elements that combine to make up all of our energy delivery systems and they affect the way we can make movements and how forcefully or efficiently we can make movements.

 

Number 1 – joint range of motion.  It combines a couple of things – the breadth of the joints meaning how much energy can you get through that joint effectively?  Blood, nerves, nerve impulses, stimulus and the elasticity of the joint.  As you move it around into different angles it doesn’t stay open.  You all know what I am talking about.  Some people they stretch like this all the way back, cross their arms and no problem.  Other people it is close, it is close you know even us, as we get older things number one starts to get reduced.

 

The second thing – muscle elasticity.  We say flexibility but what I mean by this is I will call it an energy tube and we will get to that in a second.  Does the muscle contract and relax easily or is it like every time you contract a muscle afterwards does it not go back to its relaxed shape very easily – most of this is expanded relax easily.  As it fills with blood as a surge of blood goes through does it expand and come back easily or does it fill up like when we are doing exercise and all of a sudden it just feels heavy and full.

 

Muscle function – I define that as like a combination of the strength, effective strength and the muscle size can certainly be density.  Think about it as a sponge in a sense.  The more dense the sponge is the more heat it will absorb and the more liquid if you are cleaning up your counter the more heat it will absorb during a high intensity effort and durability.  The more durable the muscle is obviously the longer you can do your activity at the level you want to do it.

 

Aerobic fitness is the fourth element of energy delivery system.  We all know what threshold base is – threshold base is when you get to a certain intensity level where you can’t flush as much lactic acid out of your body as the lactate that you are producing.  Well I look at it in temperatures.  I look at it as heat cool, warm, hot, boiling so lets say when you cross threshold it is like going from warm to hot energy to boiling.  So the better fitness level you are at, the faster you can get to hot energy.  You can maintain warmer cooler energy at the faster speed.  I mean that is just basic aerobic training.

 

When considering your aerobic training, whether it is low level, mid level or higher level – what seems to affect the diameter of your energy tube.  In other words have you expanded the tube or the pipe that energy is going to flow through.  That is the way I look at it.  I look at the energy…….. system, the way the energy travels through the body of a set of plumbing or tubes.  When the energy pattern is effective – the tubes, they are like rubber, they are very pliable and they are thick but they are pliable.   The less fitness you have it is more narrow.  The weaker you become the less thick the walls of that energy tube are so under intense effort it can’t absorb as much heat or it can’t produce as much strength and also flexibility or elasticity think of it as being brittle.

 

If your elasticity is not good that tube becomes more brittle so it won’t be able to make those moves very easily or like a couple of pieces of metal in a joint that don’t have oil on them say might be another good way to look at it.

 

The next slide is what I call the three key joint areas.  In breaststroke the knee becomes the fourth.  The shoulder, the hips and the ankles.  When I say joint area I don’t just mean specifically that real tiny little area I mean the muscles and the tendons and the ligaments that are in that whole area.  That is why I call it a joint area.

 

You have heard coaches over the years I am sure some of you talk about how important it is for the ankles.  Ankle flexibility with floppy feet.  They are dead on the money and the reason is if your ankles are stiff the energy is not going to flow out your toes and gets stuck in your ankles so the better your ankles are the longer your energy pattern becomes and we will get to that in a minute.

 

The same thing with the shoulders.  If the shoulders are stiff and rough – it is like having a garage door over your neck.  If they are stiff that garage door is going to close and it is not going to permit energy to flow.  It is not going to permit nerve stimuli out to your arms, lower arm, hand and if you drive it forward then your glide and then the catch and then the hips – that is where energy originates and is propelled.

 

Strength, range of motion, flexibility – very important.  Body improvement is key to getting your swimmers to be better.  You have heard some great talks this weekend about dry land and things like that and I can’t emphasize how much that really helps for you to implement other things.

 

If you have a weak spot in your energy delivery system, your energy pattern that is where the energy is going to clot first.  It is going to jam up there so what I mean by that is say you are doing a really high intensity swim, 100 meters at all out effort but your energy pattern will really only support 75 meters before it starts to want to clot up and shut down.   What will happen is that swimmer will be going great at full effort, great pull effort and then all of a sudden the back – see the shoulder – one of the shoulders or both shoulders is the narrow or the weak point on their energy pattern that is where the energy is going to start to block up and that is when you are going to start to see them getting heavy and tight in their arms.  The energy is all blocking up there – blood flow and nerve stimulus and then that last 25 meters is very painful.  What that swimmer will probably do at first is start to back off early in the swim so then maybe they won’t have their best 100 meters.  What we need to do is work on that weak spot in dry land.

 

The way I look at energy patterns is there is a range – there is a range in energy patterns and a range is from like a ball.  A ball shaped energy pattern would be the far end of that one side.  Think of a big beach ball and that is an individual who really can’t expand straight and deliver energy well.  He still has to stay curled over and could also be the wider stroke person, maybe they have to do that, at least currently that is the way they have to do it.

 

At the other end of the spectrum is what I call the torpedo shaped energy pattern – a nice really long torpedo.  They are able to deliver energy – those types of people – really laid out.  Think about freestyle – think about Ian Thorpe – they call him the thorpedo.  It is an ideal nickname for the guy because his energy pattern is so long and so pliable that if you visualize Ian Thorpe laying on a torpedo extended, okay?  The torpedo is longer than his body.  That is how good his energy pattern is.  When we look at his pause or glide, he has a great body position to reduce frontal resistance – no question, but when he is in that glide he is recovering.

 

They have talked about Popov years ago, the Russian rocket.  He is still delivering energy.  He is running yin energy up his body.  Energy is going out beyond his hands.  The torpedo is longer than his body but yet he is gliding and he is cutting the water well but he is still propelling himself.  He is still running energy up his body.  His recovery is very relaxed.  His arm is empty.  He’s got the yang energy going on with the kick and yang and yin transferring. When he commits to his catch, essentially what is happening is that the energy has gone beyond his hands, on his energy pattern and then it is returned to him and when it returns he engages in his yang energy and he goes into his next pull.

 

So those are the extremes.  The swimmer with the ball shaped energy pattern who has to shape their limbs in a way to keep a continuous effective energy flow going – the other extreme like an Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps or some other athletes in that realm, even little kids we might have on our team.  When they are doing this they are still propelling themselves.  They are still running yin energy forward energy up their body.

 

A couple of things – notes that are important here.  It is not in reality a perfect ball or a perfect torpedo. There is going to be little undulations and so on within that energy pattern but I think from a simple standpoint that is the best way to visualize this.  Most swimmers their energy pattern falls somewhere between the rounded ball shaped energy pattern and the torpedo shaped energy pattern.  If you have a kid that can’t even get the rounded – say – think of them with the torpedo standing on his end instead of laying down.  They can’t even get to a ball shape then probably encourage academics, piano – things like that because it is going to be rough for them.  We all have athletes like that that are in your lower groups and some of them may want to swim so, hang in there.

 

Almost all swimmers have some degree of variation between the energy pattern on the left and the right sides of their body.  Maybe a few of us are born with perfect symmetry.  Even if that is the case just by living life and dealing with our environment, subtle things change so even the person with the best torpedo shaped energy pattern will have slight variations.

 

What turned me onto this first was I was on a trip in ’95 and I watched one of our freestylers and his freestyle was really long.  I think it was on the left side of his body in his freestyle – really long and what I now know to be a torpedo shaped energy pattern and on the right side his arm would go out more on an angle and he would get into his catch a little bit sooner.  I watched – I didn’t know what I was watching at the time but it stayed with me and this guy was pretty good – Josh Davis.  A year later he won a bunch of golds in Atlanta and then four years later in Sydney broke the 500 freestyle record – American record.  His energy pattern, if you watched him from the front you would have been able to see the differences between his energy pattern from one side of the body to the other.

 

A very small percentage of athletes have such a great energy pattern that they can deliver energy in a completely extended position, maybe even slightly inverted and somebody like Tracy Caulkins comes to my mind.  Somebody who – this is probably the all time great female swimmer in the history of our sport with all the strokes and distances and so on.  It takes a great energy pattern to have that much range in events, but she could probably deliver some energy even like this.  That is how great and elastic her energy pattern is – how strong it was – it probably still is – maybe not quite the same.

 

Basically in freestyle and back the long axis strokes the energy pattern rests above surface level and the energy pattern itself is below the surface.  The top of the energy pattern sits at the surface in long axis, but even as you recover your arm is up here, but the energy is running up your body.  The Yin energy returning up your body – remember the active power sequence that we talked about before.

 

In Short axis strokes it is just a little bit higher – you have to come up and over the water with an undulating action.  You cannot rotate.  We have to undulate, we have to move both arms around at the same time.  We have to bring both legs at the same time so that is going to be a little bit higher – the top of the energy pattern is just a little bit above the water as you come up out of the water.  A little bit higher in breast than in fly.  Fly can stay pretty close – some people very close – to the top of the water.

 

Energy pattern identifiers.  This is very basic.  Some things that will help you start to identify tracing your swimmers energy patterns based on some flexibility stuff.  Ankle stretches in various ranges.  What I mean by ranges – down, up, side, side, rotation and all of that thing.

 

A rounded energy pattern – the swimmer’s ankle will be tight – to some degree or another and there will be resistance to stretching in one way or another.  With a more torpedo shaped energy pattern, at least …. a swimmers ankle moves real easily in a bunch of different angles and ranges.

 

I have seen old people – when I say old not real old, but in their 50s start martial arts training  and after a year or two, three they are at their toes and beyond.  It can be improved but when they are about 15 they don’t want to really hear.  They will swim real fast for you every day but when it comes to dry land it is a little slow going.

 

Hip stretches – there are a lot of different hip stretches – I call them ranges.  They are really angles – rounded swimmer would have trouble doing stretching out to the side or butterfly stretch – things like that.  With the more torpedo shaped energy patterns, it is a real easy movement and again they might have real good in the hips and ankles, but not as good in the freestyle and that is where stroke shaping will come into play as you will see.

 

Shoulder stretches – we talked about that – the one against the wall – the one behind – all sorts of different shoulder stretches.  Just start to identify what your swimmers energy patterns are like.

 

Some important notes about energy and energy pattern before we move on to stroke shaping.  The mind is the most important aspect of the energy pattern.  We will either enhance the flow of energy or we will restrict it – just like if you have a constricting point physically.  The athlete that gets the tense mind or nervousness or whatever.  That heavy feeling you all felt in the very beginning – energy sinking versus energy being up.  Real good martial artists – their energy is high.  When the energy is low the mind is dull or nervous or tight.  If the mind is not there it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the swimmer is.  You all have great swimmers – flexible, they train great and everything is good and then they get into a meet and they were faster last week in practice.  Use that mind – if the mind closes up the energy won’t get through – the nerve impulses.  Can I prove that scientifically?  No I won’t step out and say I can do that but I think we all know what I am talking about.

 

The most narrow or constricted point on that energy pattern is where the energy is going to clot up – whether it is a shoulder – the hips – it might be a muscle.  A swimmer with an injured muscle – you heard Coach Bowman talking about the things he had done with Michael Phelps to get his clavicle and all of that fixed.  We have something similar that we do called active release technique which is a similar thing you know if the muscle has an injury in it then all of a sudden ………..  it won’t be as elastic so that would be the point where the energy starts clot up or if it is the mind, the ankles whatever it may be.

 

Muscle tension is stopped energy or frozen power.  What I mean by that is if you have an isometric contraction, we don’t want that because then the nerve stimulus is not going to get through – you try to hold your bicep really stiff and then move your lower arm fluidly it is not going to happen so muscle tension where you see this mostly in swimming ——— is in the neck.  Swimmers that swim with a tense neck – that blocks energy from getting through the shoulders out to the arms.

 

You all see swimmers who try to kick their way down the pool – it doesn’t work because the legs don’t produce energy.  Legs accelerate energy but we will get to that in a little while.  The hips serve as the energy valve.  They serve as the energy valve.  What I mean by that is the more open it is the more energy comes through so a person who rotates further – a lot of energy comes through where somebody who does real good undulation in fly and breast – more energy is going to come through.  The less the rotation, as you get flatter and flatter and flatter – less energy comes through that energy valve so with somebody who has a more rounded energy pattern, more ball shaped the only way they can compete then is since they have a smaller stream or lesser stream of energy is they got to move that lesser stream a lot faster.  Tempo.  We have all seen swimmers who – look at that little girl go – she swims a mile like this – doesn’t really rotate very much but she just keeps it spinning – keeps that ball spinning, spinning, spinning.  Your hips serve as the energy valve.

 

Event distances should be selected as much by energy delivery as they are energy production.  You all look at that person who looks strong and everything like that – that is a sprinter.  Well maybe they don’t deliver energy really well.  Maybe they have some real constriction for a young kid who shows some speed and then all of a sudden the body starts to change and it looks like they are swimming through mud.  Maybe you have to start to rethink what events they are going to do because they are having trouble delivering that high volume, high intensity of energy.

 

The person with the longer torpedo shaped energy pattern has more options – both in event distances and usually in strokes too then it is up to how motivated they are to train and so on.  Dry land is the best place to improve your energy pattern – to lengthen and strengthen.  We want to have a longer energy pattern.  I am not here to say that you want to reduce your stroke.  The goal is to lengthen it and strengthen it but if we want performance this season we should understand that we are only going to get it if the stroke shape of our swimmer matches up with their current energy pattern.  If we throw an elongated stroke shape onto a rounded energy pattern we are not going to get the results we want.

 

Technique is a choice.  Some athletes make it, some coaches make it, some programs make it more than others.  You have heard some of the greatest coaches in the United States talk about the importance of technique.  You heard Bob Bowman yesterday talk about the importance of Michael’s breaststroke to him and I saw Michael swim when he was 10-11-12 – we used to host all the zone short course meets back then at Princeton so I know what he swam like and I will tell you bob has done a great job with him.  Yeah, the kid is gifted, but he has done a great job with him too.  He focused on technique.

 

Some things that are important – what I call the six components of lasting technique improvement.  Again, effective technique is a choice and demands a commitment of both the athlete and the coach.  It can’t be one or the other and also as in the case of any situation where you are looking for growth and life – technique improvement rarely comes without discomfort and that discomfort can last days, weeks or even months.

 

But here are the six things:

 

The first one is the responsibility of nature or God and also what you have done previous to that point in training.  Physical ability – the swimmers current energy pattern limitations – where are they on that talent scale, where are their limitations?

 

Now a couple things that the coach is responsible for – decision making.  The coach’s ability to see the proper change.  You want to be able to see what you have to do.  Sometimes we make mistakes.  I made so many mistakes to get to here.  Some of my athletes put up with me experimenting and trying things.  You got to see the right change.  If you don’t – you try the next thing.

 

Communication – coach responsibility – effective transfer of information from coach to athlete.  There are a lot of means – it could be talking – that could be videotaping – it could be having one of their fellow swimmers watching them and say to that person what they see.  It could come from a lot of places.

 

A couple of athlete responsibilities – self-esteem.  I divide overall self-esteem from their athletic self-esteem because we all have kids who have not very good self-esteem in swimming, but they might be great at something else. Or they are great in school or they are great artists or whatever.  Once they are swimming their athletic self-esteem my not be so good.

 

Ability to endure the discomfort of change – very, very important – very key element about technique improvement.

 

Focus, the athlete’s ability to focus for extended periods.  That is an athlete responsibility and then both the coach and the athlete have to persist.  He has to be committed to the change.  He can’t just try it for 10 or 15 laps or two or three laps and say, ah that’s not working and walk away.

 

Confidence is very important as from a coach when it comes to technique in anything.  I know because there have been times when I have been very confident and times when I have been at the other end of the spectrum.  If you are not competent and not persistent then, not only will that change not occur, but you might lose some other things.

 

Stroke shaping – three basic steps and maybe it is not quite as easy as I make it sound here, but it is easier than you would think.  The simple things are what usually work the best.

 

The first step is to relax the swimmers head and neck.  In my opinion that is where the biggest energy problems occur.  Muscle tension = frozen power or stopped energy and that neck and head – it’s like a magnet – if that neck is tense the energy is not going to get through.  It is going to bunch up the shoulders.  The energy is just not going to flow out into the arms.

 

Over the years I have heard different coaches – not the best ones – but different coaches say you should hold your head this way or you should hold your head that way.  I would just like the kid to relax their neck totally and this is one of the things that I really saw going back and forth between my team and some of the national team stuff is that in national team stuff they were so relaxed and their neck and head were if anything stretching forward, not lifting up because the head and the neck want to go forward with the yin energy if you want to be fast.  Fast swimming is forward.  It is not back.  The swimmers who have trouble, tension in the neck they are what I call up and back.  They are pulling away from the direction the energy wants to flow and if you get tension in the neck you are causing all sorts of problems.  Sometimes that leads to shoulder things – it can lead to a bunch of stuff.  Just have them relax the head and neck.

 

There are different drills I am sure.  I am not a great drill guy.  I use a few simple ones.  Go to other people to find some better drills.  I am sure there is –like Bill Boomer is a great technique guy, an awesome guy for this similar type of things.  I just want to relax it.  To me that seems simple and all of the other guys said some times they are not able to do what they think you are telling them but that is fairly easy.

 

The second step is to relax and root the swimmers core, body core to the top of their energy pattern.  A lot of times what we do is we teach them limb movements first.  We teach them to do this with the arms and we teach them to do this with the legs and then all of a sudden it is not working and we wonder why.  I think they need to relax –  root the body core first – the top of their energy pattern and then start shaping the limbs.

 

Shape the arms – shape the legs – the kick to match up with their energy pattern and that is the third step – shaping the limbs.  Well how can you start learning about that?  There are some simple ways.  Start off with pushoffs – pushing off the wall.  Streamlining off the wall.  A great one is backstroke dolphin kick off the wall in a streamline.  You see the kids who are like really big – they probably have some limitations in their hips.  They are probably rounded energy pattern in their hips – maybe their ankles.  They look like they are infused with cement – boom – boom.  Well they have some limitations there or maybe at the head or the arms.  The arms want to diamond shape.  You know what I am talking about – they push off the wall and you see the diamond shape, well their energy pattern is limited in their shoulders or they want to curl in at the head and the shoulders a little bit.  There is some restriction up there – just a way to start seeing that stuff so you can learn how to shape their strokes.

 

Again, I want to emphasize – you always want to lengthen and strengthen.  That should be the goal.  A lot of that takes place out of the water.  Some can take place in as well and then you do some progressive sets.

 

What I like to do is a set – first do dives – he starts to learn about how well they deliver energy to streamline.  All of you have swimmers – no matter what their body shape is, who will push off the wall and they travel.  Whereas another swimmer who may look just as fit, maybe even fitter, cut more whatever, pushes off the wall and they decelerate.  Well, the one person is still delivering energy to streamline position.  We were talking about that with Ian Thorpe.  They are still running energy.  They are stretching it forward out the fingers yin and yang energy out the toes.  That is a good way to learn about it.

 

Then have them do a progressive set of 50s.  I like to teach the kids to start out more rounded now so we will do a set of 50s and I will tell them I want you to swim like you are swimming over a beach ball.  Think of that and I say what I want you to do is be in a continuous, continuous stream of motion on the first 50 and they are going to feel wide and shallow – I don’t care – I am here.  Now number 2 – I want them to elongate it just a little bit.  Number 3 – just a little bit more.  Number 4 – a little bit more.  Number 5 – oh – there is a break so we have reached the point where they either have a hesitation or weakness in their stroke or drop of the elbow.  That is telling you that they are – they protect themselves.  They don’t want to be on that stroke shaping because that is not their energy pattern.

 

A lot of shoulder injuries result from a swimmer who forces his stroke shape and it doesn’t match up with their energy pattern.  You drop the elbow to relieve stress and once it winds back up again they re-engage their pull so I go from wide to narrow – from wider and rounder, narrower and longer to find their current energy pattern and then we align stroke shape energy pattern – always looking to make it longer but I go from rounded to longer so that is just an easy set.

 

These are shaping decisions.  Look at these saw blades – it is a representation of the energy pattern.  Really if you think about this for breaststroke and Barrowman – we will talk about that tomorrow morning.  If a swimmer can elongate his or her stroke shape without causing a disruption in the flow of energy then he or she should do so without hesitations so if you are on the left and you can go to the right without an energy break do it but if this elongated shape causes disruption or break in energy then the person would be better served to stay more rounded.  If you go from what is on the left to the right and you get the break – you need to get out here and get that hesitation I talked about and since you lose that front end of your energy pattern it like goes away.  You are floating, but you are not traveling.  You are not running energy anymore – then you should back it up a little bit and get a little bit more rounded – that way you can stay continuous – keep cutting the water.  Regardless of shape of the energy pattern and this line got moved a little bit to the left, that dissecting line should be pretty much though that small oval in the center.

 

Regardless of the shape of the energy pattern, the swimmer’s emphasis from a thought standpoint should be placed more toward the front downward part of the stroke.  Forward and down is what I used to say to my kids because the tendencies wanted to be backing up, backing up, backing up and we don’t want any energy in our arm during the recovery.  We want it to be empty with the energy to run up our body.  If there is energy in our arm on the recovery the energy is going in the wrong direction so instead of being forward it is back and up.

 

How these swimmers think more forward and down when they are swimming – forward and down – it doesn’t mean they are diving down but that is where the thought is and some of you all saw when you direct it with your mind you can control where your energy flows and the weight, the energy weight and with the energy weight under the body where it will do you some good.  We don’t want it above the waterline where it won’t.

 

Most moderate ability kids can maintain a long stroke shape at easier moderate intervals or intensities.  You know just about everybody in your group – in the senior group that is pretty good can look like Ian Thorpe when they are going easy because the stream of energy is very small.  Even if their openings are small their stream of energy is low – low intensity – it fits through so be careful not to judge their stroke shape or their energy pattern at low intensity because as soon as you bring it up to test that intensity or race intensity that energy is not going to get through if you follow what I am saying so that is important.

 

Don’t be afraid to search out and discover their limitations. Go for it.  It doesn’t mean harp on it or whatever but go for it and I have found that swimmers are more comfortable – if you are trying something new with them or if they are new to your group and you work on technique they are more comfortable if you start with what they view as their least important stroke.  So if they are a good IMer except for backstroke and they are a great flyer – well work with their backstroke first.  As the backstroke starts to improve it feels better quicker, more fluid.  They are going to be more and more receptive as you work towards what they view as their most important stroke.  The best male swimmers have good fluidity or yin energy.  The best female swimmers have good power – yang energy and that is not a size issue.  Janet Evans, in my opinion in 1988 in that 400 free has just as much power or strength in the water, pound for pound as Matt Biondi did in his events, in my opinion.

 

Three things to conclude:

 

(1) Without question there is give and take between energy flow and reducing resistance.  You have to make some decisions.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Sometimes you might have to change your stroke shape so much to land them on their energy pattern that you will actually be better giving away a little bit of energy flow, but resisting resistance – frontal  resistance or drag so that is up to you as the coach to decide.

 

(2) Great technique will not make up for a poor mental approach or an ineffective training system.  I think that technique is the best way to improve speed if a good training system is already in place – an effective training system.  You can’t just do a bunch of drills and stuff and expect to be fast.  This is because the coaches who know how to work their kids, communicate and all that are going to kick your butt.  And yes, a good coach can help one kid with less ability.

 

(3) And finally, in conclusion, stroke shaping gives you more power to work more effectively with a wider range of athletes.  We don’t have to say that a certain swimmer doesn’t have the talent or the superior inborn capacity.  We can start to work on the ability and change their ability.  It doesn’t mean that somebody that was born like me is going to ever compete with somebody who was born like Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps.  However, we shouldn’t throw me away or somebody of that ability because there are ways that you can help them.  If you show them that they have their own unique and individual energy pattern.  Then create their own individual stroke shape for them, then I think you will find that they are going to be more willing to work on their technique.  I am afraid I am out of time.

 

 

 

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news