Training ideas for swimming cycling and running

Some thoughts on Swimming- Rolling and Kicking

Is the roll dead?

When I was in high school in the early sixties we were coached to swim flat for more speed. Then for at least the past twenty years swimmers have been taught to roll the shoulders and hips together for more speed. One way to explain it was to envision yourself on a spit from the shoulders down. No one has ever argued against holding the head as steady as possible. Primarily the reason was the decrease in drag when on your side versus being flat. There is also power in engaging the core as the hand passes the hip.

Until just recently this hasn’t been questioned. But until recently there wasn’t a reliable way to measure roll. One piece of state of the art tech was to put a piece of wood on a swimmers back and measure it’s deviation from vertical. That assumes that the shoulder and hips roll together which is weak assumption at best. But now there are cameras that can measure body landmarks during movement which is an upgrade from the wooden dorsal fin.

A study from England late last year used these cameras with 12 freestylers to how all this works. The short story is that Elmer Brown (my high school coach) was right. Well sort of right, because the roll lives, but the faster swimmers in this study had less shoulder roll than the slower ones. In everyone, the shoulders roll considerably more than the hips. So it could be argued that as that twist increase speed decreases.

What we can take away from this is like much of what is found. Again, individual strategies become more important than trying to mirror some sort of model. It seems that perhaps we have been trying to hard to achieve the perfect amount of roll when it appears that such a thing doesn’t exist.

Does the kick matter?

My son swims on a local swim team. It is nothing for these kids to do a 1,000 yard kick for time. He has had some practices where all they do is kick for an hour. Because I value my life, I would never ask masters swimmers to do that, but I’m beginning see the wisdom in my sons coaches.

Swimming well is all about timing. When a stroke looks really good or really bad to large degree is stroke and kick timing. The hands can’t get to far ahead of the feet or the who things goes south. It occurred to me that when we get tired, we don’t kick as hard or as fast. As we slow down with fatigue, we lose all glide and start pulling way too soon. This matters because there is a power beat in the kick shortly after the catch. If the power beat becomes something less, then there is nothing to help that pulling arm. That results in less forward propulsion, often a hip sway which increases drag, both of which decrease the glide which makes the arm start pulling sooner. It’s all a snowballing process that feeds itself. Watch someone pulling sometime and see if they have a hip sway that isn’t there when kicking. You may be able to feel it in your own swimming.

The solution? Don’t let your legs get tired and keep the kick strong. Sadly, the only way to not get tired at something is to do more of it. If kicking itself makes you think that drinking paint would be better, just concentrate on the kick more in shorter repeats. Think of kicking deeper to increase speed. Start a deeper kick on the 3rd lap of a 100 and hold it to the end.

The final word? Stop worrying about the roll and start worrying about the kick.