Saturday, April 05, 2008

Working From the Core

For years, I've been talking with my swimmers about trying to swim from the core, instead of from the arms and feet. Although we use our core muscles for power in almost every other sport (think of a golfer winding up a swing, or a quarterback twisting that arm way back for the Hail Mary pass), when people swim they often tend to be rather flat in the water, moving only their arms and legs. If they're not flat, they're over-rotating their hips to the sides (often influenced by the Total Immersion method) along with their torso. These styles are the equivalent of giving Barry Bonds a baseball bat and asking him to either hit without moving his hips at all, or asking him to move his hips parallel to his shoulders. In neither case would he be able to muster up enough power to send one out of the park (stand up and try it with an imaginary bat if you don't see what I mean).

So I've believed for a long time that the power in a swimming stroke comes from twisting that core, and while the hips will twist too, to a certain extent, rotating them too far will take some of that power away. The human core is like a gigantic spring of muscles which can store a lot of energy once it is twisted and then unleashed. The bummer is that it's hard to describe this to people and have them just get it and be able to translate it to their swimming stroke.

One of the most exciting drills I learned last weekend was something that I think will really help swimmers feel this concept. We were doing a drill that's something like paddling on a surfboard - arms are flexed at right angles and you're paddling with a very flat and short stroke, with no rotation of the torso at all. One of the things this works on is setting that high elbow catch as well (two birds with one stone here). With the next step, you add rotation of the shoulders, but pretend there's a coffee cup balanced on your hips that you don't want to spill. That lets swimmers feel their torso rotating independently from their hips. Just using these drills the other night with my swimmers, many of them were able to have one of those great "aha" moments where they could feel the muscles they needed to be moving in order to start generating power from their core instead of just from their arms. I love it when that happens.

If you watch videos of great swimmers, like this one of Grant Hackett, you can see the rotation of the upper core, independent from the hips that I'm talking about, and how much power comes from that rotation.


Trihardist said...

One exercise that I've found very helpful in this regard is a high-low woodchop using a cable cross machine. Besides the fact that it strengthens those rotational core muscles, it helps you feel where that contraction should come.

By the way, the spring-loading thing is called the Serape Effect.

TriGirl Thea said...

I'm going to try this exercise tomorrow at the pool. Between you and my swim teacher, I'm convinced I can develop something approaching a passable stroke.