Your Aquatic Signature (Boomer, Nelms, Gould) is the way your body naturally shapes itself in the water, due to the amount and location of buoyancy in your body. Your lungs are buoyant air pockets that float and will allow you to rise to the surface. Everything above and below the lungs are dense and heavier than water and therefore sink. If you were to hold your breath and completely relax and just hang in the water you would rock until stable exposing a portion of your back to the surface and everything else sinking. This is your Aquatic Signature (figure 1). Unfortunately, this position is not efficient for swimming.
The goal to swimming efficiently is understanding how you float naturally and correct it to a horizontal position that is hydrodynamic or in lay terms as level and close to the surface as possible. It is however important to understand your Aquatic Signature to identify your centre of mass and fulcrum point as this will play a key role how you sustain your horizontal body position while swimming.
To move from your Aquatic Signature to a horizontal position, the simplest action is kicking and lengthening the body. In figure 2 the arms are positioned by the side but stretching the arms overhead allows you to lengthen the body and increase the distance forward from your balance point or fulcrum (area of buoyancy – lungs figure 3).
If you have been swimming for long enough you would have heard the term “swimming downhill”. This concept relates to feeling like you have momentum that is effortless, just like freewheeling on a bike downhill. Its meaning is a little more complex, but for now just imagine how a good horizontal position can propel you forward without any stroking action. A good body position will use the energy of the water for propulsion. Your ability to remain horizontal is your balance in the water.
Specific drills teach you alignment, balance and connection or “feel” of swimming efficiently. We will help you understand how using a kickball in training will improve your swimming efficiency. The drills will target alignment that will mimic “swimming downhill” and allow you to understand what that actually feels like so you are able to apply it to all swimming strokes. With consistent practice, you will improve your speed and stroke efficiency. Our drills include kicking in various positions, swimming and pulling. At first the drills may be difficult to master but keep working at it, be diligent and keep it simple. Do the drills often and master each drill before increasing the difficulty or intensity of each.
The Kick Ball is constructed of durable closed-cell EVA foam, and provides a specific amount of lift for balance and control while kicking or pulling, but not excessive buoyancy, which affects proper streamline, head, hip and core alignment. For the purpose of this article we will focus on alignment and core stabilizing kicking drills and pulling drills for freestyle.
Kicking Drill 1: Streamline Kick on Front
Equipment: Kickball and Snorkel, Fins optional
Goal: Align the body at the surface, arms overhead and head slightly under the water surface. Feet kick at the surface.
1. Kick with both arms extended overhead and biceps pressing into ears.
2. Hold the Kick Ball in one hand by allowing the hand to rest over the rounded surface of the kick ball with fingers relaxed and pointing down, the indentations are to the side and the thumb locks into the indentation. No need to squeeze the Kick Ball stay relaxed.
3. The opposite hand thumb should rest against the thumb of the hand holding the Kick Ball.
4. Lengthen the body by reaching the arms. To engage the core focus on the extension coming from the ribcage pushing the shoulders closer to the ears.
5. Without folding at the waist, tucking the chin or bending the arms press down slightly on the kickball until you feel the water over the top of your head and kick.
6. Maintain consistent pressure forward so you remain aligned and prevent any rocking motion.
7. You can switch the ball between hands every 25 or 50 meters depending on the length of your repeats.
EASY – Add Fins and kick 25 meter each hand
MODERATE – Kick without fins at a consistent speed switch hand by 50m.
HARD – Kick with or without fins each 50m build to maximum kicking speed.
Goal: Align the body at the surface in a rotated position.
1. Kick with one arm extended forward one arm by your side. It is important to understand alignment and positioning of each arm. The arm at your side rests comfortably along your body, hand resting just below your hip on your thigh. DO NOT pull back on the shoulder, keep your shoulder relaxed. The forward arm holding the Kick Ball must be neutral meaning the thumb must be slightly lower than the little finger resting on the round of the ball palm facing bottom of pool. DO NOT let the arm rotate so the little finger is toward the bottom of the pool and palm facing sideways.
2. Rotate your body so the shoulder of the arm on your side is out of the water.
3. Relax your neck so your head stays neutral, do not lift up or tuck your chin.
4. Lengthen the body by reaching forward. To engage the core focus on the extension from the ribcage, be sure not to arch your back as you reach forward.
5. Lean through the armpit and feel your hip rise to the surface and notice your body tilting forward onto the Kick Ball. Be sure to keep the Kick Ball arm in alignment with your body as pictured above, the Kick Ball will be submerged and will match the depth of your downward kick.
EASY – Add Fins and Snorkel and switch side by 25’s or 50’s
MODERATE – Fins optional but no snorkel. This will engage breathing whilst maintaining alignment. Switch side by 50’s
HARD – Lift side arm to vertical and form a 90 degree angle to the forward arm.
NOTE: If the Kick Ball crosses your midline you will either arch your back or find it hard to kick in a straight line. Point the ball where you need to go in alignment with the body and you will stay in a straight line and correct your body position more easily.
Pulling Drill 1: Kick Ball at Knees:
Goal: Tighten core, balance forward, lengthen stroke and tighten kick.
1. Place the Kick Ball between the knees using the side divots. Squeeze. Squeezing the Kick Ball tightens your core and aligns your body like a plank.
2. Swim freestyle.
3. DO NOT lean back on the Kick Ball. Squeezing the Kick Ball to keep it at your knees will instinctively signal you to move your body weight back. Instead lean forward by pressing from the chest area to help lift your feet closer to the surface. Remember your Aquatic Signature and the balance point created by the lungs. This is your fulcrum like a see-saw. Pressing forward of the fulcrum will shift your balance because your core is tight and you are connected from your knees through your shoulders.
4. To help extend the length of the lever from the fulcrum forward be sure to enter each stroke as far forward as possible. We will talk about swimming in quadrants another time but it’s important that your entry is forward.
5. To help with balance you can use a small kicking motion. You will naturally use a small tight kick with more ankle flexion otherwise you will lose the Kick Ball. Over time you will improve the kick to be more narrow and efficient within the lines or shadow of your body.
EASY – Pull with snorkel to limit focus on breathing timing. Keep Kick Ball at Knees
MODERATE – No Snorkel add Paddles, add Flip turns. (If you are able to flip turn and push off without losing the Kick Ball you will create a much better streamline off the wall for efficiency.
HARD – Place the Kick Ball at the ankles and practice the same alignment and forward balance skills.
NOTE: This post concentrates on some basic freestyle drills. These drills can be applied to all strokes but will be covered in later postings.