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Assume The Position!

(or Free Speed for Everybody)

Revised from an article which first appeared in Schwimmvergnügen in 1994.

The Mantra

“Hand over hand, wrist over wrist, head squeezed firmly between your upper arms, pinch your butt together, press the small of your back against an imaginary wall and point your toes!”

You've heard this a million times. Yet you still push off the wall with your arms more or less in front of you, hands separated, head up so you can see where you are going, big scoop in your lower back, toes pointed at the bottom of the pool. We call this the “Superman” position.

“Wait just a minute, Coach!” you say, “I have my hands together — I don’t do that Superman thing!” OK, maybe you do have your hands together, barely — “fingers over fingers” maybe. But your wrists are floating out to the sides, your elbows are bent at 60° or more, you’re still looking out over the top of your hands and there is enough daylight between your arms and your ears to give a grouper fish a wide berth. We affectionately refer to this as “Scud” position.

I know that each and every one of you knows how to get your body into a full streamline position. Without exception every one of you has been able to demonstrate a good streamline position while standing in one place.

So why'n't you doin' it?

So what is so hard about demonstrating it every single time you push off from a wall?

Two things:

First of all, it takes physical effort. If you are not very flexible you will find that you really have to stretch to assume The Position. But, as with all stretching exercises, the more time you spend in The Position the easier it becomes. Ideally, if you spend enough time in The Position, it will eventually become a relaxed position for you. Suffice it to say that the harder it is for you to assume The Position the more important it is for you to do it often and for extended periods of time.

Second, it takes mental effort. Until your neuromuscular system is conditioned to snap the body into The Position instantly and automatically as the legs are driving you off the wall, you must apply a bit of brain power every 25 yards to satisfy your coach's fantasies.

Mo betta practice

An excellent opportunity to get in some “streamline time” presents itself at every wall. You should consider each wall a platform from which to launch yourself, with gusto, into The Position. Snap into The Position every time you push off a wall. Follow that up by holding this minimum-resistance pose until you have slowed down to swimming speed — only then does it make sense to move out of The Position and begin swimming motions. And if you are serious about this becoming a habit you'll want to be sure you avoid doing any turns or push-offs the way you used to (Superman or Scud).

Where's the Profit?

“Sounds like a lot of work. What do I get out of all this, Coach?” you intone, looking for a way out. A few things leap to mind:

Stroke reduction. As you refine your Position (make it more “slippery”) you'll find you travel further without slowing down as much. This will allow you to take fewer strokes per length (which, I hope, we have already conditioned you to perceive as a worthwhile goal).

How about energy savings? Gliding a long distance from a push-off takes less energy than gliding a short distance and swimming the rest of the way.

And flexibility? The more often you snap into The Position and the longer you hold The Position the more progress you are making toward being able to return to that same posture with less effort. “Just doing it” will make you more flexible thus making repeat performances easier to do. Hint: if you have to really work to achieve The Position, take it as an indication that you need to do lots more of it.

Speed too? You will have faster turns during your practices. You will move faster through the water after your push-off, which translates to faster times. Capitalizing on the momentum of the explosive push-off you have already done by minimizing resistance with a great streamline position is, in effect, getting free speed. You've already done the work — simply milk it for all it is worth.

Racing payoffs? You will have faster turns in competitions. If you really make an excellent streamline position your habit you will do it without thinking every time you come off a wall in a race, which translates to smaller numbers on the scoreboard.

Stroke technique improvement? Strange as it sounds, the work you put in while just streamlining and not stroking will improve all of your strokes. Of course that sounds too good to be true, but just think about it. Each of our strokes requires us to achieve positions at the extremes of shoulder flexibility. And the streamline stretch is an excellent method of improving that flexibility. So, as your push-offs improve with added flexibility so will your strokes.

Coolness factor? Coolness factor? Perhaps most importantly, excellent streamlining skills put to use consistently will make you look more like a "swimmer" in the elitist, highly accomplished, truly professional sense of the word. After all, isn't this the real reason for trying to do most things correctly in the pool? In my book, it's as good a reason as any.

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2000

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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