Shoulder rotation in Front Crawl is essential. For a swimmer to be able to get the full benefit from all the muscles that connect the arms to the body they need to rotate their shoulders with their arm stroke. Like the great Russian coach Gennadi Toureski I like to use the analogy of a boat/paddle to have swimmers understand how the arms affect the movement of the body. Toureski called it kayaking. I have found a great drill which I like to call the ‘Popping Drill’. I have found it improves shoulder rotation and timing. Once it is learned it is easy to do, easy to remember and easy to observe if it is being done correctly.
If your arms are your oars then it is very important for swimmers to understand that the arms are not ‘stroking’ the water, but like an oar, the hand and arm enters the water, locks in place, and the body moves past the arm.
The shoulders link the arms to the body. They play a pivotal role in transferring the kinetic energy into movement. I have found that many swimmers don’t use their shoulders in a dynamic enough way to recruit their shoulder muscles to get the most benefit. So they slip water or simply get poor distance per stroke.
There is a drill that I like to call the ‘Popping Drill’. I use it to force a swimmer to twist and rotate on each arm pull with correct timing. It engages the shoulders and maximises distance per stroke.
The Popping Drill is part of a sequence of drills that are a progression towards full stroke front crawl (in this illustration the swimmer is wearing fins which is optional):
The popping drill is actually more commonly known as front crawl with a two beat kick. This will be familiar to most swim coaches. However many coaches don’t realise that the full kick of a ‘six-beat’ kick is actually (exactly) part of the two beat kick and so swimming front crawl with a two beat kick is an excellent drill.
The Popping Drill works because it becomes a six beat kick stroke (or full kick) when you add two quick kicks between the single kicks. On each full arm rotational cycle (ie right arm entry to right arm entry); the kick timing of full six beat kick is 1-2-1-2.
In the Front Crawl progression the sequence is:
- Flee Drill
- Single Beat Kick Drill
- Popping Drill
- Multiples of above and full stroke
In Flee Drill a swimmer swims Front Crawl with dolphin action (FLy with frEE). The trick is to have the dolphin kick in the downwards phase on each hand entry. It is often a shambles at first but once a swimmer gets it, they don’t tend to loose that feeling of correct timing. This is a great drill too.
After teaching the Flee Drill I found it wasn’t too hard for swimmers to move to emphasising one leg more than the other which evolves into a single beat kick drill. Once the single beat matches the timing of the Flee Drill the kick can become bigger and then it is easy to feel. By bigger I mean the foot will exit the water on the upward part of the kick. This is why the Popping Drill is next after Single Beat Kick Drill because you can feel the ‘popping’ of the downward kick on the surface.
This ‘pop’ makes the drill easy to see and hear, so for coaches the drill is great for making sure everyone is doing correct timing.
If you have some swimmers who can’t do the popping drill can you can ask one of the swimmers who were doing the drill particularly well to demonstrate. With everyone either watching both under and over the surface (I recommend under the surface in almost all demonstrations), then the swimmers can learn from watching rather than verbal explanation.
The drill sequence is beneficial to the traditionally labelled ‘Two Beat Kick Swimmer’ too because it will teach them how to get the six beat stroke just as it also teaches the six beat swimmer how to do swim with a two beat kick.
Some very naturally talented swimmers can do both kicking styles and use it in race scenarios. One of the best I’ve seen is Janet Evans. If you watch some of her 800m and 400m Front Crawl wins in Seoul ’88 you will see her switch her kick after her turns to make sure her velocity is correct. If you don’t have the ability to switch between 2-beat and 6-beat you will have to learn how to do a ‘soft 6-beat’ and a ‘hard 6-beat’..(Ian Thorpe) which requires a freakish kick talent, but that is a different topic all together….
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