How much should I kick my legs?

This is question I’m asked very often. It’s normally asked by a swimmer who’s having a hard time getting their legs to float. Consequently, they resort to kicking harder. Then, because the leg muscles are the largest in the body and use up the most energy, the swimmer gets exhausted very quickly.

In open water swimming, the legs should be used to help balance the swimmer. This often means using a two-beat kick, which means each leg kicks only once for each arm cycle.

But what if I need to kick more to keep my legs up? Well, then you probably have a problem with your body position. When suspended in water, your body will imitate a seesaw. If you push your chest down and forward — as though you are swimming downhill — your legs will rise higher. Voila! Now you can focus on a balancing your stroke using a gentle two-beat kick.

Just make sure that, when you swim “downhill” you don’t bury your head in the water. Push your chest bone down and forward, but keep the water breaking on the crown of your head.

Swim well! Have fun!

How to Avoid Shoulder Problems

Swimming can wreak havoc on shoulders. It seems that “swimmer’s shoulder” is as common as “tennis elbow” these days.

There are many potential causes for swimmer’s shoulder but I have found that there is a common stroke habit that can become a potential source of shoulder problems.

When the hand enters the water, it’s important to reach through the water — rather than over it — and extend the arm.  This lead hand glides, while the back hand pushes water and creates forward momentum. In addition to gliding, the lead hand is “catching” the water. This is the act of finding stable water to anchor the lead hand into.

Swimmers who try to apply pressure on the water too early, often suffer from shoulder problems. I encourage swimmers to forget about generating forward momentum with the top 12-18 inches of surface water. Pushing down with a straight arm places a tremendous amount of pressure on the fulcrum…i.e. your shoulder.

Go ahead and extend your arm as you glide and catch the water. But the pull doesn’t start until you bend your arm — keeping a high elbow — and start moving water towards your feet with you hand and forearm. That’s when to apply pressure on the water.

As always, if you continue to have shoulder problems. You should consider seeing a sports therapist or someone who can diagnose your problem.

Stay healthy!


Swim for a Cause

Open Water swimming is so freeing, to me. There’s something about being “out there” in the natural elements can be quite soothing. Although I always swim with a group, when I swim I’m alone. I am focused and closed off from whatever is happening on land and in my digital life. It’s liberating.

But open water swimming is also about community and bring people together. There’s nothing quite like socializing with fellow swimmers after a hard race. These people share a common passion to swim faster and support each other in this endeavor.

The sport is filled with bonds of community. One example of this is Swim4Good. The group was formed by Emily Kunze, Susan Moody and Mauricio Prieto in 2012. Their initial goal was to use their passion for open water swimming to raise money for Worldreader, which helps children in developing countries to become avid readers. Swim4Good raised almost $110k for Worldreader. They have continued (and expanded) the group to include several swimmers throughout the world raising funds for many worthy charities. You can learn more here.

If you are training for an upcoming race, consider how you might fold in a social cause. Sites like CrowdRise and GoFundMe have made it easier than ever for people to contribute. And your social media channels are filled with friends and family that are willing to show their support for you, your sport and your chosen charity.

Swimming with Distance Per Stroke

During each workout, I make sure that I am thinking about my distance per stroke.  I want to make sure that I am getting the most efficient use of each pull. I focus on keeping my lead arm extended — gliding — while my pulling arm is generating forward movement.

One of my favorite sets I use to practice distance per stroke is called Pool Golf. I might do, say, 8 x 50s on 1:30, which gives me plenty of rest. I count the number of strokes I use to complete the 50, counting each arms stroke as one. I then add this number to the number of seconds it took me to complete the 50.

So, if I swam the 50 in 35 seconds and 25 strokes, my score is 60. I will try to improve this score by, either, swimming faster but keeping my stroke count the same or swimming the same time but reducing my stroke count. Ideally, I’d reduce both my time and stroke count.
I am looking to establish a long but powerful stroke. I want to make sure that I am making the most of each pull, by finishing through to my thigh while my lead hand rides the momentum.

Try it! I hope it helps.

Try this freestyle set for buoy spotting

One of the most challenging aspects of open water swimming is taking a direct route. Unlike a pool, there aren’t visible lines running underneath you to help you swim straight. Open water swimmers must lift their heads, occasionally, to spot a buoy or landmark.

Keeping the head in the water during freestyle helps maintain a correct body position. Lifting it, however, causes the feet to sink…especially if the swimmer is not wearing a wetsuit, which helps buoy the swimmer.

If some of your swim practices are in a pool, consider a set of 100s. Three times each 25 — or six if you are swimming in a 50m pool — lift your head and spot the end of your lane. Then, focus on returning to a good body position. To make it a little harder — and a bit more fun — think about spotting things that you know are on deck…but move around. For example, I’m going to spot a 3 kickboards, Coach John, objects on starting blocks, time on a pace clock, etc. This adds a little more realism, as you search for an object.

But, remember, the purpose of this exercise is for you to practice returning to a good body position after lifting your head to spot the buoy. Have fun!