Float, Learn to Hold your Form

Triathlete about to start an Ironman
January 25, 2017

Mike Ricci


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Race morning—the gun goes off and you are cruising through the water. You've got your pace and nothing is going to change that. Until you get into the herd at the turn buoy. You slow down a little to avoid the thrashing of the pack, change direction, and then find your legs sinking, despite your wetsuit, and feel a shift in energy from going forward to just staying on top of the water. You’re going slower—shouldn’t this be easier?

The inability to float without motion is not an uncommon problem. As a coach, I've seen in athletes with all abilities that it’s difficult to go slow and hold form without a pull buoy or fins. There is a tendency to get so focused on speed or endurance that we lose time and energy on just trying to stay in line, rather than moving forward and the easy swim becomes a regression in stroke efficiency.

My answer to this issue is this: go be-a-dead-guy.

Seriously, next time you’re at a less than crowded pool, with a lane to yourself or a spot that you don’t hamper anyone else’s progress, go float. Relax and just BE in the water. See if you can float on your stomach without sculling. Try floating on your back without kicking. Hold your legs up with your core and not your movement. Get a quick breath with only minimal movement. Five minutes understanding how your body just is in the water can really enlighten you to what you’re missing when you’re moving. I also believe this helps with a personal comfort level in the water by taking the time to understand how your particular body works within the water. When you’ve managed to do the float and feel comfortable, take on the “dead missile.”

Push off the wall in a tight streamline and glide out as far as you can without kicking. Let your body rise to the top and work your way to being able to hold a float in streamline without any speed. I also like athletes to do a snail’s race. See how long it can take, with perfect form, to get down the pool. Best stroke and most time wins. These non-movement drills are especially helpful when you travel, as hotel pools are normally small and too warm to train in. These floats allow you to keep your feel on the water when you are without a decent facility.

The physics behind this are rather simple, and it’s important to take the time and figure it out during practice. You will get caught behind a slower swimmer in a race or meshed up in a pack going around a buoy. When that happens in a run, you don’t give up good form to go slower while you work your way around your competitors because you’ve practiced the slow steady run and learned how to be “on your feet” (luckily everyday life helps in that regard). You may also encounter water temperatures being over the legal wetsuit limit and you will still need to race. By knowing how your body works in the water in a static state, you’ll be more in control of YOU and able to battle the uncontrolled factors that come with racing or training.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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