Mary Anne

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5 Things Your Mother Told You About Swimming Technique. (Were You Listening?)

We’ve all grown up with an expression or two seared on our brains. You know what I’m talking about! Expressions like “Haste makes waste,” or “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

There are a few of those sayings that make sense today when thinking about them in terms of swimming technique. (OK –probably not exactly what your mom was thinking but maybe an easy way to grasp a few really important concepts and remember them when you are in the water.)

So, in no particular order:

1. You snooze, you lose.

I’m going to lay off the science on this one because there are almost 50 years of research – from Doc Counsilman to Ludovic Seifert – that definitively prove that catch-up stroke has no business in a competition pool. Instead, just close your eyes and visualize taking your best freestyle stroke and then holding your arm/hand outstretched until your other hand catches up with it. What just happened? Were you resting for just a moment? Yes. You were! And while you were “snoozing” you were “losing” velocity.  You were also delaying the beginning of your next stroke (creating a gap in propulsion) while adding stress to your shoulders. If you want to swim fast, you’ll need to go in the opposite direction: start your next stroke before you’ve finished with the first one.  (i.e. begin the pull before you finish the push The scientific term is positive “Index of Coordination” or positive IdC.)

2. Keep your head up.

Every week – including during Trials – you can find print and video images of swimmers who either are in – or will soon be in- excruciating pain because they have dropped their heads below the plane of their shoulders. (The image below is of butterfly technique.) Why would anyone think this position could be advantageous? Of course it isn’t: it increases drag, causes shoulder impingement, and makes breathing far more difficult.









3. Drop the attitude.

Actually, this one should be drop the altitude. Swimmers who come up this far out of the water on every breathing stroke are doing several technique no-no’s. The near-vertical position increases drag. (As anyone who ever held their hand out of a car window and noticed the resistance difference for a hand held vertically vs horizontally could tell you.) It exaggerates the

up and down motion of each stroke – and that excess motion slows you down. (Simple physics tell us that the shortest distance between two points is a straight – not undulating – line. All that up and down adds time to every stroke.) While some vertical motion is inevitable, swimmers who are able to minimize this on both breathing and non-breathing strokes will have a time and energy advantage.








4. Practice makes perfect.

While this may be somebody’s rational for mega yardage, it actually has very little to do with perfecting technique. UNLESS the swimmer (golfer, runner, tennis player, etc.) is practicing effective technique they might as well be doing any strength/cardio/endurance activity. The practice that makes perfect is focused on a single technique element at a time, is accompanied by immediate feedback and adjustment, and stops when the technique can no longer be maintained at the chosen speed.  Even 10,000 hours of doggie paddle will not make you a better competitive swimmer! If you want to improve your stroke, you need to first identify what needs to be adjusted, learn exactly what you need to do to adjust, and practice that adjustment at slow speeds until it becomes automatic.  (I guess this expression needs to be “Practice perfect to make perfect!”

5. Knowledge is power.

The first step toward improvement – for anything – is to identify what needs to change. Once we know that, we can begin the work to improve. Swimmers have a number of ways to identify needed technique changes. First and most important, a coach can observe a swimmer and quickly identify needed changes for most of the basics and some of the advanced elements of stroke technique. At first those technique elements may be simple, like perfecting breathing on both sides in freestyle or keeping the water level at the hairline.  At some point, however, every elite swimmer will need ever-smaller and more difficult-to-accomplish adjustments. Those adjustments demand better and more accurate diagnosis tools and expertise. (Underwater video and force analysis are tools that some coaches and scientists are now regularly using.) This is also why it is so dangerous and discouraging to model technique after anyone else. (I personally know a talented high school runner who was sidelined for a significant portion of his junior year after “adjusting” his technique in an attempt to mimic his running idol.)

So, just one question:  when is the best time to take mom’s advice?

Let’s not wait “until pigs fly….”

By | July 21st, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Have you made your choice?

Yogi Berra, the NY Yankees legend who died in September at the age of 90, was known as much for his sayings as for his actions on the field. One of my personal favorites is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  And, while all of us have certainly been following that advice our entire lives, I think there is a special message here for any aspiring athlete.

There are so many “forks in the road” for anyone who wants to be great. Many of the choices made seem inconsequential while still others seem to tie us to a path as surely as with concrete. In the swimming world, coaches, athletes (from beginner to Olympian), sport scientists of every discipline, parents, and even casual observers of the sport have been quick to identify the “one true way” to success.

Sometimes those ways clearly contradict one another. At other times, those contradictions seem clear only to the champions of the differing approaches. As an avid fan of the sport of swimming as well as a swim parent married to a sport scientist, I have been alternately dismayed and excited to observe several current events that seem also to require the swimmer as well as the swimming community to make a choice.

There are three “forks” that many coaches and swimmers are considering at the moment. Each supposedly implies a choice and a clear path once that choice is made.



Fork 1: Swim coaches are inundated with information and opinions from “outsiders” who can’t possibly have anything valid or important to contribute to the sport.  Coaches should listen only to other coaches. The opposing path: Science and research-based technique adjustments and strategies are critically needed to support individual swimmers, coaches and teams.  



Fork 2: USRPT (Ultra Short Race Pace Training) is the only way to top tier swimming. The fork in the road: Swimmers cannot succeed without mega-yardage (15,000 -20,000 yards per day) beginning at around age 12.





Fork 3: Athletic success is based primarily on genes, i.e. Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin physiques. And yes, on the other side, champions are made, not born. While the first clearly favors the physically gifted, the second choice gives added weight to effort (deliberate practice) and opportunity – including the resources to select a coach and even a country to train in. (How many Olympians from other countries train in the US?)

Are any of these truly clear choices? Let us know what you think and why. The first 10 people to weigh in will get a free copy of MONA Cue Cards. We’ll share responses in a future blog.

P.S. Yogi also is supposed to have said: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” The decision to teach technique based on another athlete’s accomplishments presents one more fork that, thankfully more coaches are making every day: a place on the podium does NOT necessarily mean that a swimmer’s technique should be modeled!


By | December 4th, 2015|Uncategorized|10 Comments