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Rowdyness and Ignominy

(or Toward More Effective Pushoffs)

Originally part of an answer to a swimmer's question in the H2Ouston Swims.org discussion forum – 8/2000.

If you haven't read Passing the Oafs please do so right now and we'll wait for you.

.twiddle, twiddle, twiddle.

Done? Good. Read on and see how you too might improve your sub-surface endeavors.

One of our H2O training toys is a pair of 2x2 ceramic tiles (hint: Home Depot, aisle 4) with unique color/markings. They are small enough to fit easily in your hand but large enough to see plainly on the bottom of the pool. There are a number of drills and exercises we use these for:

Push & Glide (P&G) for Maximum Total Distance (#1)

With a tile in hand (or snug under the edge of your suit) do a single push and glide with no kicking or stroking. Keep gliding till you come to a complete stop. Place your tile on the bottom at the point your nose is directly over. Return to the wall and repeat several times, trying to pass your tile. If you do pass your tile, move it to your new stopping point. Your goal is to someday reach the other end purely by gliding from an awesome push-off.

Why do this drill? At first it may seem that trying to glide to a complete stop isn't applicable to swimming because all we'll ever want to do in swimming is glide till we've slowed to swimming speed. However, striving to reach the other end of the pool without stroking or kicking has a very real application. You say it's not possible to reach the other end purely on a glide? We've had swimmers who routinely P&G nearly to the far flags. The far end isn't too much farther away.

This drill gives you great feedback about the effectiveness of the early stages of the glide—the part you will do every time you leave a wall. If that part isn't excellent then lots of kinetic energy is squandered early and the glide will be short.

It also gives you lots of "dwell" time in the streamlined glide position. The more time you spend in your best streamline position the easier and more quickly you'll be able to get back into it in the future.

Plus, the time spent gliding at the slower speeds helps to increase your sensitivity for how you interact with the water, a vital skill for excellent swimming.

I have great confidence that one day we'll have someone go the whole 25-yard length.

Push & Glide & Kick for Max Distance (#2)

While fresh and rested and with a tile in hand do a single push and glide with no stroking. At some point early in your glide (certainly before you break the surface) do 10 high-intensity flutter kicks and keep gliding till you come to a complete stop. Place your tile on the bottom at the point directly under your nose. Return to the wall and repeat several times, trying to pass your tile. If you do pass your tile, move it to your new stopping point.

Why do this drill? Same as the reasons for the first drill, plus this gives great feedback about the effectiveness of your kick during the glide. If your kick is ineffective you'll go a shorter distance than on drill #1. If your kick is moderately effective you might go roughly the same distance as in Drill #1 (but you'll likely be more starved for oxygen). If your kick is very effective you'll likely travel significantly further than in Drill #1.

Push & Glide for Max Distance to Surface Break (#3)

With a tile in hand, do a single push and glide with no kicking and no stroking and keep gliding till you break the surface. Place your tile on the bottom at the point directly under your nose when you hit the surface. Return to the wall and repeat several times, trying to pass your tile before breaking the surface. If you do pass your tile, move it to your new breakout point.

Why do this drill? You know, or should know, that there is less resistance to your glide under the surface than at the surface. As such, when swimming, you don't want any of your glide, kicking or not, to be done on the surface. Your glide phase should end just as you are approaching the surface for the first stroke. And since you understand that "steering" using your hands or arching your back gives up lots of kinetic energy, you want to rely, instead, on buoyancy to get you to the surface at the right time. You'll find that, to push that breakout point out further on P&G drills you'll have to avoid steering, hone your sense of depth and get better at controlling ascent with lung volume and launch angle—all good things for your swimming pushoffs.

Variations on a Theme

With two or more tiles placed you can rotate through several of the P&G drills to improve the possibility that you will put several pieces of this puzzle together at once.

Each of the above drills can be done as Turn & Glide or Dive & Glide activities, with and without kicks.

On T&G, your goal is to be able to outdo all of your P&G performances as a result of capitalizing on your momentum coming into the wall for your turn. And, of course, to do that you'll still need to get properly lined up for an explosive pushoff into a well-streamlined glide position. If, when you T&G you find that you come up short of your P&G marks, you are likely not coming off the wall in the same manner as when you do P&G or not getting into the correct streamlined position.

And D&G should outdo all T&G and all P&G performances as a result of even greater momentum carried into the glide. (Did you know that the Dive and Glide used to be an Olympic event? Officially called Plunge for Distance, the world record of 86.75 ft. set by Frank Parrington in 1933 has never been broken - the event was removed from international competition in 1947.)

Tiles Are Not Just For Drilling Anymore

Using your tiles for the specific drills detailed above gives you objective reference points to work with while doing the drills. Your tiles can also be useful during the rest of your practice session. Just as fatigue has a tendency to encourage you to shorten your strokes, so too does it play havoc with your pushoffs. As a practice progresses and you are getting tired, or you are simply focused on other aspects of swimming well, it is easy for your pushoffs to get shorter and shorter.

Try this next time you go to the pool: Early in your session, do some of the drills above. Then do several turns where you are really focused on executing an excellent pushoff, a streamlined glide (and kick, if you have determined it is a face card for your swimming hand) and a properly timed breakout. Note the spot on the pool bottom that your nose is directly over when you begin to separate your hands for that first stroke - that's where you want to drop one of your tiles. Then drop your other tile the same distance out from the other end. You have now set goal/reminder points that you can use throughout the rest of your practice session.

Another thing you can do during a practice is to place your tiles during warm-up at a point that is only moderately challenging to hit consistently. As the practice progresses, say after each set, move the tiles out a bit further, till, at the end of practice they are in very challenging (yet doable) positions. This helps to reinforce the concept I wrote about in Training the Right Stuff—that your training should encourage you to seek greater efficiency and improved techniques as fatigue sets in, rather than letting fatigue consistently deteriorate your skill performances.

How Soon The Harvest?

How quickly should you expect results from consistently and persistently using these drills and ideas? Most people find that, almost immediately, they reduce stroke counts a bit when focused on excellent pushoffs (likely because absence of such focus is usually accompanied by significantly shorter pushoffs). But the real benefits—more powerful pushoffs, better streamlines, reduced energy consumption, faster glide speeds, longer FTS glide times, faster swimming times, etc.—will continue to accrue over weeks, months and years.

Rowdyness or Ignominy?

Don't have two tiles? How about 2 quarters? Rowdy Gaines, arguably one of the best turn/breakout artists in the history of swimming, started placing quarters on the bottom to gauge his turns at an early age and never quit. ¨

© 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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