By Brett Sutton
We DO NOT feel the water
We do not focus on trying to ‘feel’ the water, Sorry folks, but finding a feel for the water is not going to happen…., in 30 years of coaching I have yet to see one triathlete who can feel the water. Of the 24 Olympic Swimmers I have trained, 4 were able to ‘feel’ the water. Very, very few of the top swimmers in the world will ever feel the water.
We teach our athletes to use their whole body to create force. The power comes from the body – not the arms. The force we generate initiates from the hips, transfers through our body with our arms simply being the levers. Just like throwing or hitting a ball, or throwing a punch in boxing; in TBF swimming, the force also starts from the rotation of the hips.
To generate the force, the hips roll to the breathing side and then back to the centre. We think of it as pole through the top of the head (or like a chicken on a skewer at a rotisserie!) – we turn on the pole to breathe…, and then bring it back to the centre.
Many age group athletes attending our training camps have the pre-set notion they MUST bilateral breathe. Whilst we have some great swimmers who do bilateral breathe, NOT EVERYONE NEEDS TO DO THIS. Bilateral breathing suits the needs of some individuals, however the majority of age group athletes tend to be more suited to a one side breathing pattern.
Once a breathing pattern has been established, always keep it the same. We use the term, ‘pick and stick’. Whether it be fast, easy, short speed, long endurance, training, or races…, athletes should concentrate on always maintaining the same breathing pattern!
Rhythm and Balance
TBF swimming gives both rhythm and balance. This is the ‘X’ factor to improving the overall speed through the water. How we do this is specific to the individual.
As mentioned above, our swim stroke is dictated by our breathing pattern. Whether it be one side only or bilateral breathing, or a 2/2/4 pattern…., the breathing pattern is critical to helping us find both balance and rhythm in the water.
To find balance in the water we DO NOT need to be doing the identical action on both sides of the body! Letting go of the false conception that we need to be symmetrical in the water, has paved the way for many swimming breakthroughs. Both of our arms DO NOT have to go under our body – we often have one arm tracking a lot wider than the other and that is OK.
We DO NOT have to swim with 2 bent elbows above the water. For many age group athletes we find the best fluid dynamics come when breathing every second stroke with one straight arm recovery. The straight arm can be either the breathing arm or the non-breathing arm dependant on the athletes natural side. How the arm moves through the recovery (e.g: a high bowling action or a low grass-cutting or helicopter action) is determined by both the breathing pattern, the natural efficiency of the movement, and the flexibility of the athlete.
- To be crystal clear – flexibility is not important in TBF swimming. We advise a stroke technique to suit the flexibility of the individual athlete. We do not try to make the athlete more flexible to try to swim a pre-determined text book stroke!
We enter our hand into the water in line with our shoulder (not our nose). This way we avoid the fishtail we see in so many age group athletes. If we enter our hand in line with our nose, given the momentum of the entry, the hand will cross the midline. There is no way around it; it will not stop at the nose. If we make an action at the front of the stoke (ie: cross the midline), it will have a reaction at the back of the stoke (fishtail).
Last but not least, we do not point our nose down at the bottom of the pool. We break the water in line with our forehead and look forward to watch our hand enter the water before turning to breathe.
Determining the stroke and breathing pattern that is most efficient for an individual is not commonly achieved in one single swim workout. It is a process of experimentation and trial and error. Timing a single 100 interval is not a method we would recommend to decide upon a stroke. A stroke an athlete can maintain for 1500 – 3800m is preferable to one that is great for 100m but then falls apart – especially under pressure of race day. For us, Technique Under Fatigue (TUF) is the key.
A coach on deck with an eye for fluid dynamics is ideally the best way forward here. Once the stroke is decided upon, the athlete can then go away and confidently swim, ideally without the need to over-think. Incorporating tools such as pull buoys and paddles will further assist us in developing the stroke.
These tools can be used to develop swim specific strength, but the choice of shape and size for each individual swimmer is critical to TBF swimming. The correct choice of paddles can help correct swim technique without the athlete thinking, and hence avoiding analysis paralysis – one of the main killers of age group swim performance.