Imagine a 9 year old boy, clinging to the lane line for dear life in the middle of the pool. He’s wearing board shorts, has no goggles and is grabbing his leg complaining of something hurting. A blue kickboard is gently going up and down with the waves about 5 yards away from him. This was my experience during my first kick set on a competitive swim team.
I recall this first kick set because it was the first time in my life I felt completely helpless. I had spent every ounce of energy in my body and only made it to mid-pool. My friends, who encouraged me to join the team had lapped me at least twice. I think we were doing 50’s. The weird pain in my leg (which I would later come to know as a cramp) hurt every time I tried to move water, and nothing made it feel better. The pool was huge, wavy and I had no way to defend myself against it.
Looking back to that moment now as a coach, I know exactly why the 9 year old version of me was struggling. I had no “feel for the water”, and did not know how to push against it with my legs. My board shorts, although much “cooler” than a speedo to a 9 year old boy, were pulling my hips down to the bottom of the pool, and holding pounds of extra water that I had to pull. In short I was not putting any propulsive force on the water and my body position was creating a huge amount of drag.
This is a scary situation for any aquatic athlete to be in. If a swimmer is spending tons of energy and feels like they are not going anywhere, helplessness sets in and the mind starts to panic. The athlete becomes exhausted and now they are at a higher risk of drowning. This is not an experience that promotes longevity in our sport.
Applying force and decreasing drag affect every level of swimmer in our sport. Teach new athletes how to control the two variables and they will stay in our sport longer. Help older athletes with the two variables and they will go faster.
Out of the two variables mentioned above I feel that decreasing drag is by far the most beneficial to teach and refine in any swimmer. Decreasing drag has 3 major benefits 1. It is the easier to teach out of the two; 2. Decreasing drag actually increases the benefit of the propulsive force your athlete already puts on the water.; and 3. Decreasing drag conserves the athlete’s energy.
To decrease drag we need to focus on the two largest parts of our body: the torso and the legs. If we can get these two heavy, bulky body parts in line with each other and hitting the smallest amount of water possible, we decrease drag. I refer to these body parts together as Body Position or Body Line.
To get an idea of how important body position is to an aquatic athlete imagine running through a pool/wave versus diving through a pool/wave. Running through puts your body in a vertical (standing up) position, so water can hit your legs, torso, arms etc. Diving through puts your body in a horizontal (flat) position and water will only hit your hands and head while going around the rest of your body. Running provides a greater surface area for the water to hit, while diving reduces the surface area water can hit dramatically.
To achieve the preferable horizontal body position in the water there are a few drills that I love to use with my athletes. Please let me know if you have any that you use to help your athletes “get” the importance of body position.
1) Floating Drills:
- Cannonball Float: Ask your athletes (while in the water) to take a deep breath and tuck their knees underneath their body while their arms hold onto their legs and their head submerges and relaxes. Their inflated lungs will naturally be the most buoyant part of their body. Tell the athletes to wait until their body settles at the surface with their lungs the highest part of their body. The athletes then SLOWLY release their hands from their legs and move BOTH their arms and legs closer to the surface until they are in a “superman” position. Ask the athletes to remain balanced throughout the whole exercise. The slower the better!
- Resistance belt pulls (partner drill): Ask one partner to put the resistance belt around their waist (cord coming out from belly button) and hold on to the wall, while the other walks to the other side of the pool. When the athlete pulling the cord gets to the other side their partner releases the wall and immediately gets into a streamline position. The partner holding the cord pulls their team mate across the pool with a constant speed.
- This drill can be used for finding the best kicking amplitude (size of kicks) for an athlete along with swimming with and against resistance.
A bob consists of the athlete jumping vertically out of the water as high as they can and then entering back into the water in the same area of space that they left. (Jumping up and down) While jumping, swimmers are paying attention to their body position and where the water is hitting them on their way in and out. Ask the swimmers to bob with their eyes closed and see if they can keep the proper body position. There are 3 main kinds of bobs:
- Soldier bobs: Arms at side
- One arm streamline bobs (Right and left): One arm up one arm down
- Streamline bobs: Arms in a streamline
- Note: suggested repetitions of 10 at a time
3) Snork Board: (Need a snorkel and kick board. Fins optional)
Swimmers wear a training snorkel and hold their kick boards horizontally in front of them (instead of their normal grip ). The athlete’s palms should be flat on the board and their head should be in the water located in the space provided between their body and the horizontal board. The athlete should attempt to get their body as close to the surface as possible. We like to remind the kids to try and keep the small of their back dry as they perform kick sets with the snork-board.
4) Rotisserie Chicken Body Position Kick: (Need a snorkel. Fins optional)
Swimmers use the training snorkel again, but are now kicking without a board. You may want to use fins with this drill in the beginning as they provide athletes with a better body position with less effort.
Swimmers start with both arms at their side, face down in the water (looking directly at the bottom). While keeping a steady kick the swimmer rotates their right shoulder underneath their chin. Using a 3 count, the athlete rotates their right shoulder away from their chin and moves their left shoulder into the same location the right just occupied. The hips and legs have to follow the rotation of the shoulders. It should be the athlete’s goal to rotate the entire body as one single unit. The athlete then repeats the process left to right, right to left until the desired distance is completed.
While holding this kick and rotation pattern the athlete presses down on the water using the most buoyant part of their body (their lungs which are located in the chest). This press will allow the athlete to maintain balance in the water and raise their hips up towards the surface.
This drill can also be done on the back except now the athlete is pressing on the water with their back, not their chest.
Where you can go next:
Now that your athlete has an understanding for what a good body position feels like you can have them translate it into drills and swim. A progression that I may do is as follows:
5x cannonball float
3x10x bobs (soldier, right arm, streamline)
10 x 25 snork-board
10x 25 Rotisserie Chicken kick (O=free; E = Back)
10x 25 1 arm freestyle (O= right, E = Left)
10 x 25 swim
I hope your athletes gain a great body position in the water. It really is the foundation of any good stroke and helps them get the most out of their propulsive movements.