Most people don’t really appreciate how heavy water is. Two exceptionally important concepts pivot on this understanding for swimmers. So teaching an appreciation for waters’ weight is in your best interest because water both slows us down and speeds us up.
If you are trying to teach better ‘distance per stroke’ then the idea of ‘holding water’ must be introduced by showing a swimmer that your arm ‘paddle’ is both your hand and your forearm. A bigger paddle holds more water…heavy water! Just like your foot getting planted on the ground when you’re walking or running, and your body moves forward while your foot stays in place, so too should your paddle press & push heavy water to move your body forwards. Once you have a good hold on the water then you just need to add tempo.
Equally import is the ability to streamline well. To excel in swimming there must be an appreciation for streamlining. Moving through heavy water requires a very tight and narrow body position and the heaviness is what is holding the forward movement back.
Stroke length and streamlining becomes clear when a swimmer appreciates the heaviness of water. So this idea is a key aspect to swimming fast.
To get the swimmers to understand waters’ weight I use these ‘tricks of the trade’:
Firstly I have them do a running race…in the water. Hands can not be used so the race is ‘arms in the air’ running through shallow water and then progressively deeper. I can assume that everyone has probably done this so you can also appreciate how hard it is. I have heard that Usain Bolt does some of his training running in water, I can’t confirm that but its a good story! I have even incorporated pool-running into a programme that I was covering for six months while the original coach was being investigated for abuse. We added running sprints in the shallow teaching pool, which was unused at that time in the morning, which was a fun training addition for these swimmers who were in an endlessly boring programme.
Another memorable learning experience that teaches an appreciation for the weigh of water is ‘the bucket’. Often around a pool you will find large buckets in storage areas. I take one and ask the swimmers nonchalantly: “Can someone fill this with water and put it on the poolside for me? Just use one hand”. A volunteer is always close at hand, and they proceed to fill it and can not lift it. Once the bucket is raised high enough the bucket becomes a few stone in weight. Then everyone wants to have a try. It becomes an excellent learning moment.
Of course using paddles or fins will also get the same point across. Bigger ‘hands’ or bigger ‘feet’ has a heavy feeling. A heavy feeling for your pull is the correct feeling.
I can then always refer back to these simple demonstrations & experiences, for example: remember how hard it is to run through water, remember how heavy the bucket was, does your pull feel heavy, do your feel heavy resistance when you streamline?
An understanding of the weight of water is essential so I recommend introducing this idea at your next opportunity.