The off-season should be your favorite time of year to get into the pool and work on your stroke. If you have technical elements that need attention, the early off-season is the perfect time to work on them. Check your ego at the door and swim slowly. That‚Äôs right, drop a lane or two at your masters workout and give yourself permission to swim slowly on your own. Following are drills that will make you more efficient come springtime if you‚Äôre willing to make the investment now. If you want to make significant improvement, get in the water as often as you can. Aim for 4-6 swims each week if you want to make major changes. Even a 20 minute session will be helpful.
Early vertical forearm. An effective catch is critical if you want to swim quickly and efficiently. As soon as you extend after entry, your fingertips should start heading slightly downward‚Äìyou‚Äôll have a little break in your wrist to initiate the catch. Two very effective drills will help you get into the right position.
Hinge: Streamline off the wall. When you break the surface, open your hands to shoulder width (superman position) and continue kicking. Fins can be helpful for this drill. Start with your right arm‚Äìkeep you elbow in place as you drop your hand and forearm straight down. Your arm will be in an ‚ÄúL‚Äù position with your fingertips pointing at the bottom of the pool. Do not start your pull‚Äìthis is simply a hinge motion at your elbow. Now do the same hinge with your left arm. Repeat two more times (total of 6 hinges). You‚Äôll need to hold your breath during these 6 hinges. Then swim to the other end of the pool with a focus on starting your stroke with the same hinge motion. Repeat 4-8x 25.
Tennis balls: Hold a tennis ball in each hand. Swim with a focus on high elbow at catch. This is like a fist drill but the tennis balls don‚Äôt allow for any cheating. (Not that you‚Äôd cheat on a fist drill, now would you?) If you have to rely on a hard kick to move forward, you are not getting into an effective early vertical forearm position. When you reach the pull phase of the stroke, pull straight back to your hip‚Äìno sweep or s-curve.
Weak side breathing. Practice weak side breathing by looking at the same side of the pool for every breath. On the way down the pool you‚Äôll be breathing to your strong side every stroke cycle and on the way back you‚Äôll be breathing to your weak side every stroke cycle. You still get the muscular balance of breathing to both sides that bilateral breathing provides, but you‚Äôll get focused repetition on your limiter‚Äìweak side breathing. Pay attention to your hips‚Äìhip rotation should be the same on your strong side as your weak side.
Head position. Keep your head down! Okay, you‚Äôre not looking straight down but your forward field of vision (looking with your eyes through the top of your goggles) is only about two meters ahead (in a pool that‚Äôs four to six feet deep). And don‚Äôt worry about running into the wall because you‚Äôll see the big black line come to a ‚ÄúT‚Äù when you need to turn. Getting comfortable in this position takes time and practice, but it‚Äôs definitely faster and is worth the investment.
Coach Dave swims slower every off-season but faster every spring.