Do you swim like a pantomime horse?

Are you one of those swimmers who has a good arm action, great feel, floats high in the water and kicks well with a kick board – but somehow does’t go as fast as you feel that you should when you put it all together?  it could be that your arms and legs, a bit like a pantomime horse, are doing their own things.

And it could be worse than that – they might even be undoing each other’s good work.

So how can two rights make a wrong?

We tend to think that our arms pull us through the water like a set of paddles, and that if we kick too our legs push like motor at the back.  More kick is more push.   But that view overlooks a couple of key things.  

Our arms and our legs connect to our torso, and so do the powerful muscles that move them.  

And that the laws of physics don’t take a break while you’re having a swim.  You know… equal and opposite reactions, forces applied to masses and all of that…  

Fundamentally, in order to swim powerfully, efficiently and sustainably we must use the big muscles that connect our arms and legs to our torso:  our ‘lats’, our ‘glutes’ and our hip flexors.  

Latissimus dorsi – ‘lat’
Gluteus maximus – ‘glute’

Iliopsoas – hip flexor

But the even the strongest muscle is only as good as what’s holding on to each end.  If the torso can’t hold onto one end of the lat muscle there won’t be any force at the other – and therefore no power in the arm movement.  

A pantomime horse can’t move like a thoroughbred horse (or, indeed, any horse).  Its arms and legs are connected by a piece of cloth and a pair of loosley attached human arms.  It has no torso for its muscles to hold onto.  Its movements have no force.  It has no power.  Sure it can walk, but real horses can run seriously fast. The two people inside a pantomime horse would run faster on their own.

So if you’re finding that your swimming feels great while it’s easy, but seems to drop off or lose power when you try to speed up, you could be like that pantomime horse.  Except that, unlike the pantomime horse, you’re not doomed to stay that way.

I’ve not written much about swimming. The Internet is awash with great content on almost every aspect of swimming technique and coaching. Unfortunately applying any of it to yourself is rather difficult. As humans we can only really concentrate on one thing at a time – so while we concentrate on that one thing everything else has to take care of itself. Focus on your kick for a while and you’ll soon (very soon) realise that you’ve forgotten to breathe. And then you’ll forget to think about your kick…

Of course there are many ways to work on just about every aspect of swim technique, mostly drills of some kind, but they only really make sense if you understand what they’re for – and if you make the effort to do them correctly. Most drills are easier than full stroke, but most of them still require practise to be of value and it’s the practise that returns the value. Once you can do the drill perfectly you have aquired the skill and achieved the goal – but until you can do it perfectly there is a weakness in your swimming. Technically excellent swimmers find drills easy because they only require the skills that they use all of the time when they swim. As a coach I use drills as diagnostic tests in the same way as physiotherapists, mechanics and software engineers to pinpoint issues, as well as to address them.

I offer individual swim coaching in an endless pool. The endless pool is an excellent environment for analysis and diagnosis, and for working on many aspects of technique. I work with swimmers of all ages all abilities.

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