The Pros and cons of Front Crawl swimming drills
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
The pros and cons of swimming drills
When looking to perfect the skill of swimming Front Crawl we tend to jump at the chance of using a plethora of swimming drills in the hope they will deliver on their incessantly reinforced promises. This can often be without consideration of their benefits or appropriateness in accordance to the stage of our technical ability. On occasions the drill itself may even prompt the onset of a technically poor habit.
With this in mind, I hope to highlight some of the considerations we should make before using some of the main drills, and in turn, increase the awareness of their main purpose and any possible restrictions they may evoke.
Hand Paddles - An effective item to use when looking to emphasise strength of pull in the underwater phase of Front Crawl. It can also heighten awareness of technique and positioning for the catch phase and remaining pull.
Considerations - Again, encourage a gradual build up of distance covered when using hand paddles. Due to the increased surface area of your hand while wearing them, you're able to obtain a greater leverage with more strength applied for each stroke. Over use without good technique can encourage greater risk of shoulder injuries. It can also lead to the stroke feeling ineffective when you come around to removing them, which in turn could potentially knock your confidence regarding your stroke output.
Catch Up - A drill used to help establish and manage stroke timing as well as to emphasise distance per stroke. By having to wait with one arm out stretched in front until the other completes its pull, it forces a strong pull to ensure enough power and momentum is achieved between strokes.
Considerations - Due to the prolonged wait between strokes it may disrupt the flow and rhythm as well as alter the frequency of breathing, both of which can feel uncomfortable and unnatural. As most swimmers will aim to place one hand on top of the other, this drill may also encourage an entry point that's goes across the centre line when returning to full stroke. A way of avoiding this can be to still perform the catch up timing but to instead place hands alongside each other in line with the shoulders.
Shoulder Touch - Incorporating a shoulder touch into each recovery phase is effective in encouraging a high elbow recovery, ensuring an efficient route back to the starting point of the pull. This is performed by aiming to touch the shoulder with the hand as it passes by over water. It isn't essential the shoulder actually is touched, instead just attempt to get as close as possible.
Considerations - Some swimmers can rush into using this drill without firstly ensuring there is enough reach and roll of the body within their Front Crawl technique. Aiming to touch the shoulder without adequate body rotation can create unnecessary stress on the shoulder joint which can then lead to discomfort / prolonged injury. This drill can also lead to shortening of the underwater phase of the pull. It is easier to achieve high elbow recovery when you don't complete the pull all the way back to the thighs (as you should), instead exiting the water too early when the hand is by the hips, missing out on a powerful section in the final phase of the pull.
Arms only (using pull buoy) - Where a float (pull buoy) is held in between the legs often by the thighs. Designed to allow you to focus solely on the arms as well as give extra lower body buoyancy to those struggling to lift their legs.
Considerations - If the core isn’t being used and engaged as it should be, it can feel as though the buoyancy of the pull buoy will over turn you. This in itself can help to create a greater core awareness but be sure it doesn't create over rotation while doing so. Sometimes swimmers tense and straighten their legs in holding the buoy in place which can cause the legs to lower in the water, defeating the objective of using it in the first place.
Hypoxic swimming - Swimming while restricting the presence of oxygen. Often performed by limiting breathing to a lengthened quantity of strokes. For example breathe every 8 or 6 strokes as opposed to the mainly used 2 or 3. The benefits amounting to that similar to altitude training whereby you're encouraging intensity while depriving oxygen, hence increasing the body's affinity to using oxygen. When returning to more frequent breathing, swimmers enjoy the benefits of what can feel like an over abundance of available oxygen resulting in an ability to swim faster, further or both.
Considerations - Slowly increase the stroke delay with your breathing over time. Increase the total amount of lengths swam hypoxic a little in each session. Trying to restrict breathing for too long too soon can encourage an increase in stroke rate for the sake of rushing the next breath, detracting from distance per stroke and swimming efficiency. Exercising while restricting oxygen can also be dangerous, so be sure to incorporate regular rest intervals when using this.
Using swimming drills is often an encouraged and positive step toward improving effectiveness and efficiency in swimming. Remember it is always worth seeking professional coaching help if you are ever unsure of which drill to use and when you should begin using it. Providing we are consistently rehearsing a movement pattern that helps to increase propulsion while reducing effort and drag, we can generally assume it will be worthwhile in helping us to become better swimmers.
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