The Mailbag…

Often people email me with questions about something I have written about or a more general question with a problem they are running into. Some of the mail is very similar in nature, so I said to myself, ” Self, I wonder if it would be useful to publish my answers on some of these questions as they may help others with the same question.” So here goes. I have scraped some of the personal details out of the questions to keep them a little more general in nature.


The biggest problem I think I am having is with rotation of my hips. I swim really flat and despite conscious effort to roll the hips, I’m only able to muster maybe a 10-15 degree deflection from a horizontal plane. When I look around, I see swim team kids rolling their hips (and torsos) at 30-40 and more degrees. There have been times when I felt I was getting it, and could feel the speed improve and effort diminish, so I know it’s the right thing to do, but no sooner do I get there than I’m at a wall and have to start all over. I watch your two-beat kick video once a week but I just can’t put it all together. Now that I’m doing actual workouts, I am learning that my pull bouy splits are about the same as a regular swim split, so my kick is not doing much. In fact, when I first started doing kickboard, I could barely propel myself the length of the pool! I can now do 50’s without dying, so I think that is also a factor.

I’m sure there are a hundred other flaws with my stroke, and would eventually like to get bi-lateral breathing down, but I think if I can figure out the rotation thing I will be able to make some progress. I am open to any suggestions or coach recommendations you may be able to offer.”

Lots of people talk about generating the rotation from the hips, but I don’t think the hips are the starting point. stand up, put your hands in a streamlined position, and rotate from your hips like you would in a tj-kickpool (no arm movement). Basically a twisting motion. Now hop in the water, streamlined position and try and rotate your hips. It’s impossible. The reason is that on land your feet are planted on the ground and your hips can leverage off of that. in the water your feet are not planted to anything, making it impossible to twist. So you need to be able to plant your feet..aka.. have a good kick. A good kick allows your hips to have something to leverage off of. So the fact that you say you have trouble rotating and you have a poor kick are not independant of each other. One is the reason for the other. 

My best advice without seeing you swim is to work your kick. Get some simple, rubber fins (not zoomers) and spend some time flexing your ankles. As you become a better kicker, it will become easier to rotate.


“How do you do your swim training? I am a former swimmer myself and so I really don’t need to work on my swimming  as much as the bike/run. I’ve tried just swimming 2-3 days a week and that makes me lose my feel for the water. Currently I am swimming A LOT and I feel amazing in the water just about every day. I don’t think swimming 4-6 times a week is ideal since swimming is my strongest point by far, but I don’t like losing my feel for the water. How do you balance that out?”

I used to be the same way, but changed the way I do my workouts now. Because I’ve been swimming since the 70’s and have a pretty good stroke, I have almost completely eliminated drills. I also give myself only about 500 yards to warm up, whereas when I was just swimming, it would take me 1500 yards or so to warm up. The main reason I changed was because of the short amount of time we are given to warm up at the races, so I thought I would try and adjust my habits. So now basically I get right down to business. Might not be for everyone, but seems to work for me.

“How do you keep your elbow from dropping during extension?”

Closed fist drill can help. Close your fist and try and swim with your forearms as your paddles. Getting a deeper pull also helps. bend your elbow only about 10 degrees in your initial pull. Other than that, make sure that after your arm enters and extends, that your hand/forearm is the first thing to start pulling and not your entire arm. There are also some gadgets out there that claim to help, but I’ve never tried them so won’t comment.


“How do you eliminate bubbles during entry and pull?”

Think of your hand as a person. You want that person to dive into the water (i.e. fingertips first) just above your head and then extend underwater to shake any remaining bubbles. Don’t let your hand slap the water!


“You seem to have great flexibility during your extension and pull, is this from years of swimming or do you do additional stretching?”

 Both. All the swimming helps but I still stretch the shoulders before every workout. Doesn’t take long, but could be the easiest way to get faster in the water. This  is key for someone like yourself. certainly a top 3 in importance.


“What would be some good main sets for a Half Ironman?”

One of the keys to swimming is consistant pace. Newer swimmers especially tend to be all over the place when it comes to pacing. Swimming 2000 yards without stopping is fine if you are needing to build some confidence, but you won’t learn pace. Repeat efforts with short rest and a tight leash on pace will make you a better swimmer in a hurry.  I would say that repeat 200’s up to repeat 500’s are great. A set I may do to get in shape would be 5X200’s with a 2:30 interval. That means I am pushing off the wall at 2:30. There is no set rest. As you get tired you get less rest. It really forces pace. 5X200’s with 20 sec rest isn’t nearly as hard or focused as you will get the same rest no matter what your pace is. Athlete’s with a running background have a real hard time with this as they grew up with a goal time and a set amount of rest in their track workouts.

eh_strokemaker_paddle“I’ve got a few questions to ask.  If you hadn’t noticed this is my first season, and while it’s too late to improve my stroke for now, I’d like to put in some good time over the winter.  I admittedly haven’t been doing much stroke work since I don’t want to teach myself a drill incorrectly from reading it over the internet.  Right now it seems like getting some paddles and either a pull buoy, ankle lock or both would be a good idea since they seem to be a bit more self-explanatory.  Any advice here for a newbie?  I’m not a complete beginner swimmer, but my experience is very limited.  Also, last workout I was able to get in some good times doing a 2-beat kick, close to my previous times using a 6 beat.  Not quite as fast, but within a minute per 500 yards. “
If I were you I would get paddles and a pull buoy. Paddles can exaggerate your problems, so that is often a good thing as you can catch them. Skip the tube/ankle lock as I think it’s more important to keep your feet free in order to get all the timing down. Any buoy will do, but  I prefer Strokemaker paddles. ( the paddle needs to be as large or larger than your hand or you are defeating the purpose.
Good Luck with training and let me know if I can help.
Got questions? Comments?  Let me know and we’ll try and figure it all out.
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