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tomtopo
September 22nd, 2009, 09:00 AM
At this year’s ASCA World clinic, I listened to Bill Furniss the coach of Rebecca Adlington. Rebecca is the two time Olympic Champion and world-record holder who broke the great Janet Evans record in Beijing. Furniss talked about Rebecca and her training regime; it was a great session few people will forget and for me, it made the clinic worth every penny.

I’ve often watched underwater videos of Adlington and thought that her pulling pattern was quite remarkable. At the end of his insightful talk, I asked Furniss if Rebecca was born with her amazing Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) pulling pattern. I found out that her great freestyle stroke pattern wasn’t a gift. Adlington has trained endless hours to attain that great stroke pattern and constantly works at trying to improve it.

I thought to myself, what one thing could I offer coaches that would help them improve the pulling patterns for every single swimmer they train? What fundamental thing could developmental coaches do to help their swimmers move toward Adlington’s stroke pattern? Here’s what I came up with:

If developmental coaches would stop teaching beginners the “S” shaped pulling pattern and start teaching them to use a pulling pattern similar to a Adlington, Hackett, Thorpe, Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen and Phelps, their swimmers would improve much faster.

Every freestyle record holder to different degrees uses a “S” shaped pulling pattern. The “S” shaped pattern provides critical lift forces necessary for effective propulsion. The pattern comes naturally to freestylers and it’s an easy stroke pattern to teach, but within these two points lies the problem: a premature movement of the hand toward the midline all but kills an EVF.

The EVF is much more important to effective propulsion but difficult to teach and even more difficult for swimmers to acquire. Many skills are important to swimming success, but when it comes to the most important element for future swimming success, the only skill that trumps EVF is breathing. As difficult as getting a beginner to acquire and effective EVF, it must become a priority every training session.

To most second tier coaches, the “S” shaped pulling pattern becomes a stroke flaw they must correct. Almost inevitably, a beginner over emphasizes that “S” pattern. I’ll go so far as to say a premature movement of the hand toward the mid-line of the body is one of the hardest stroke flaws to correct in a freestyler. I’ll go out on a limb again by saying that; The “S” shaped movement of the hand during the freestyle comes so naturally that teaching it is not only unnecessary but should be avoided at all costs until an effective EVF is established first.

If swimmers are correctly taught the EVF stroke pattern, it becomes a movement that is perfectly safe for every swimmer. When coaches let their swimmers use an EVF stroke pattern that accommodates their muscular differences, in conjunction with a safe and comprehensive dry-land routine, potential shoulder injuries will be avoided.

The freestyle arm stroke has two propulsive forces: a primary force called drag; and a secondary force called lift. There has been some discussion, although not serious, as to which of these forces is the primary force. Pushing the water straight back with the hand creates pressure or drag that allows the body to move forward. Sculling, or moving a hand that is pitched at a 45 degree angle toward and away from the midline of the body, creates a lift force. If you push water backward too hard or in a straight line for too long, the hand loses pressure and becomes inefficient. To maintain peak drag force, the hand must move toward the midline of the body and this is why an “S” shaped pulling pattern is important. With that being said, coaches can’t forget that it comes natural to nearly every swimmer in the universe.

An EVF isn’t a style of swimming like a straight-arm or bent arm recovery. An EVF is a critical step in setting-up the forearm and hand into an effective propulsive position. The EVF comes at the beginning of the “S” shaped pulling pattern, and it must be completed before the hand moves toward the midline and not simultaneously. It (EVF) is present at the beginning and during the transition from the first quadrant and into the second quadrant of the stroke; every nationally ranked freestyler has a completed catch during the first quadrant of their stroke and dismisses the need to categorize a freestyler as a “front-quadrant” swimmer (they all are).

When trying to describe or categorize the style of a freestyler, coaches need to understand the dichotomy of every competitive stroke. That is to say each competitive stroke can be separated into four different segments or quadrants. The front (first) quadrant is where the catch (EVF) “sets-up” the stroke (every competitive stroke) into an effective propulsive position after the arm(s) is extended; the second quadrant is where the transition of power, from a properly set up hand and forearm position occurs; the third quadrant is where the release from the power phase makes a transition to the recovery; and the fourth quadrant is where the recovery makes the transition to the entry and extension. The all-important EVF position (catch) is located in the first quadrant and transitions into the second quadrant of each stroke. When coaches rationalize the need to use the term “front-quadrant” swimmer to describe the difference between two swimmers, it’s more than subjective and not necessary.

Here are some things developmental coaches can do to teach an effective EVF pulling pattern (all these drills are to be done slowly to help develop muscle memory):
• Have swimmers paddle across the pool on an inflatable raft.
• Have swimmers lay down on the pool deck and show coaches the proper EVF pattern done as a static and/or isometric routine.
• Let swimmers bend over and show the coach proper EVF swimming positions
• Instruct swimmers to show you the EVF position in the water as they swim toward you. Let them hesitate for a few seconds, showing you that EVF pattern.
• Let swimmers use a Finis swim snorkel so they can watch themselves perform the correct EVF stroke
• Make swimmers perform EVF exercises every day to help accelerate the acquisition of the EVF skill.
• Force swimmers to use EVF equipment everyday to help them improve their EVF

I’ve heard great swimming coaches say that some swimmers are simply gifted with a great EVF, while others will never get it. The fact of the matter is that effective EVF training can help correct and improve every swimmer’s “feel” for the water. A better EVF can be taught and learned by every swimmer, young and old, beginner to Olympian.
When Bill Furniss says that a great pulling pattern isn’t bestowed on great swimmers, he’s telling every swimmer that hard work, not gifts, is what talent is made of. Good luck.

orca1946
September 22nd, 2009, 11:34 AM
You are correct, this will be a hard habit to change !

geminidragonizer
September 22nd, 2009, 11:32 PM
Coach T - EVF looks extremely shoulder intensive, though I may be wrong. If so, would someone with a history of shoulder problems (torn rotator cuff, limited mobility) avoid EVF?

Thanks.

tomtopo
September 23rd, 2009, 10:46 AM
Every swimmer who moves with a hint of decent propulsion is using a vertical forearm position. EVF runs on a continuum from late vertical (a dropped elbow) to the earliest vertical (a high angle rotation like world record distance swimmer Rebecca Adlington). Every swimmer wants to avoid using a late vertical forearm or dropped elbow.

This next statement is for everyone; a cookie-cutter definition of an EVF is simply not possible. Every swimmer wants to improve the early vertical position of their hand / forearm. How early and to what degree your shoulder muscles can achieve that critical propulsive position is dependent upon the swimmers physical limits.

So the continuum of a vertical forearm will vary from swimmer to swimmer. On one end of the continuum is an Alain Bernard stroke and on the other Rebecca Adlington. The key point to improving swimming speed is to find the position that allows you to maintain peak drag force (leveraging or pressing water) for the longest time. The "S" shaped pattern is an iatrical part of maintaining peak drag force but cannot and should not be the focus for coaches of beginning swimmers.

When you time yourself for 25 yards and find that a certain stroke pattern gives you the most bang for the buck (energy expenditure efficiency), you’re on the right track. Less strokes and faster times is the way you'll find your best pulling pattern. Once you've found the best pattern, duplicate the pattern very slowly in drills so muscle memory can be developed (usually 6 to 8 weeks).

You're using a vertical forearm position right now (every swimmer is), how early you can put that forearm vertically is something you'll want to improve without compromising shoulder health. There’s an EVF position out there for everyone and you’ll never have to compromise your body even a little. Good luck and I hope that answers your question.

knelson
September 23rd, 2009, 10:57 AM
a premature movement of the hand toward the midline all but kills an EVF.

I'm not sure I understand this. Isn't the idea of an S shaped pull to first scull outward, then inward once the hand passes under the shoulder? How does the move toward the midline "kill" an EVF?

tomtopo
September 23rd, 2009, 03:00 PM
I'm not sure I understand this. Isn't the idea of an S shaped pull to first scull outward, then inward once the hand passes under the shoulder? How does the move toward the midline "kill" an EVF?

When taught to beginners who do not know how to set up their stroke with an vertical forearm position (the earlier the better), a premature movement toward the midline all but eliminates a catch. I pointed out that the "S" shaped pattern is vital but when done before an effective catch is produced, you're performing a very poor stroke pattern. Again, every great swimmer and triathlete uses the "S" shaped pattern but they're great because they set their stroke up correctly. When a coach teachs beginners the "S" shaped pattern before a solid catch is built, it's a difficult stroke flaw to correct.

The outward movement of the hand, or beginning of the "S" is so slight that the "S" isn't really an s. You get my drift. Thanks for the question and I hope that I've given a decent answer.

E=H2O
September 23rd, 2009, 08:13 PM
tomtopo

Excellent discussion. While not as experienced as you I completely agree with your views on EVF. However, instead of 6 - 8 weeks this has taken me longer and continues to be one of my prime training drills.

tomtopo
September 23rd, 2009, 10:12 PM
That's a really important point. Improving a stroke pattern should be on ongoing process that should never be thought of as something you can master. If a world record holder says that she is constantly trying to improve her pulling pattern, that should say it all. Thanks for sharing that bit of information.

knelson
September 24th, 2009, 12:37 AM
Thanks for the question and I hope that I've given a decent answer.

Yes, I follow you now.

cantwait4bike
September 24th, 2009, 08:30 AM
tomtopo

Excellent discussion. While not as experienced as you I completely agree with your views on EVF. However, instead of 6 - 8 weeks this has taken me longer and continues to be one of my prime training drills.



I'm on my 3rd week of working on trying to get both elbows up and use the forearm/hand as a paddle (EVF swimming, right?). I believe I am doing it correctly from watching underwater. My observations:

1. much more water pressure felt, feels like grabbing a lot of water
2. both shoulders,biceps, and wrists hurt
3. rhythm is screwed up, but am slowly getting that back
4. can maintain EVF for 100% of time for 100yds, about 90% of time for 400 yds, about 70% of time for 1500yds
5. No gigantic improvement in times or fewer strokes

Giving it 8 weeks and after that if muscles still hurt and no more improvement......forgot it!! I'll just make it up on the bike.

__steve__
September 24th, 2009, 09:24 AM
I'm at a point now that any improvement depends on me buying an underwater video camera.

tomtopo
September 24th, 2009, 11:38 AM
I'm on my 3rd week of working on trying to get both elbows up and use the forearm/hand as a paddle (EVF swimming, right?). I believe I am doing it correctly from watching underwater. My observations:

1. much more water pressure felt, feels like grabbing a lot of water
2. both shoulders,biceps, and wrists hurt
3. rhythm is screwed up, but am slowly getting that back
4. can maintain EVF for 100% of time for 100yds, about 90% of time for 400 yds, about 70% of time for 1500yds
5. No gigantic improvement in times or fewer strokes

Giving it 8 weeks and after that if muscles still hurt and no more improvement......forgot it!! I'll just make it up on the bike.

You don't get it. EVF isn't a style of elbow up, rotation, etc. Early vertical forearm means just that, try to get you arm in a vertical position, the earlier the better. Don't let anyone tell you that an EVF has to be like Rebecca Adlington or the opposite like Alain Bernard. You use a vertical arm position and nothing can change that except drowning. So instead of trying to mold your stroke to a preconcieved template, try to adjust the pulling pattern you had and make some changes if any, that will help you reduce stroke rate and decrease time.
If you dismiss an early vertical position you're replacing it with a later vertical position and any good coach will tell you a late vertical forearm (dropped elblow)position is simply poor swimming technique.

And if you're doing something that hurts your shoulder, as a coach, I'd tell you to stop it. So stop it! Good luck

tomtopo
September 24th, 2009, 01:22 PM
I read my last submission and thought it sounded a little condescending and I didnít mean it to come off that way. I believe a consistent and conscious effort to improve a swimmerís stroke pattern is a never ending battle. And everyone puts their arm in a vertical position, at some point, and how early is the only question. The notion that an overt angle is required or some kind of rotation is a requisite for an EVF is ridiculous but I can see how it seems implied. Good luck!

E=H2O
September 24th, 2009, 01:36 PM
I read my last submission and thought it sounded a little condescending and I didnít mean it to come off that way.

Although not directed to me, I'm glad you cleared the air on that one. It did seem out of character for someone who spent a lot of time providing useful instructional information

PS I tried your link but I was unsuccessful getting to your website. Based on the title I had to wonder if you were selling an EVF training aid. :-)

knelson
September 24th, 2009, 01:42 PM
One more thing about the S-pull. I don't think any coach should even utter that phrase to their swimmers. As Tom mentioned it's somewhat of a natural thing, anyway. There's really no need to emphasize it. Getting your forearm into a vertical position quickly, on the other hand, is not at all natural to most swimmers and definitely requires conscious thought.

tomtopo
September 24th, 2009, 02:48 PM
Although not directed to me, I'm glad you cleared the air on that one. It did seem out of character for someone who spent a lot of time providing useful instructional information

PS I tried your link but I was unsuccessful getting to your website. Based on the title I had to wonder if you were selling an EVF training aid. :-)

Your point really shows how careful you need to be when typing. I like to talk and type away like there's no tomorrow and more is not always better. Again, I appologize to our colleague if it sounded rude. I feel a little bit better with your reply. Thanks

I invented the product but do not own the company. You can find the product at techpaddle.com and there are some distributors around the country who sell them. If you'd like a pair, email me at tomtopo@netzero.com and I'll get in touch with the owner. Thanks again

mikeh
September 26th, 2009, 04:19 PM
If developmental coaches would stop teaching beginners the “S” shaped pulling pattern and start teaching them to use a pulling pattern similar to a Adlington, Hackett, Thorpe, Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen and Phelps, their swimmers would improve much faster.

For years I tried to incorporate the high-elbow pull into my swimming. While I found it very efficient, I could not find a way to sprint effectively with it. The stroke simply took too long, and pulled too much water, to increase stroke rate to the point where I coul sprint 50 yards with it. Any suggestions would be welcome.

tomtopo
September 26th, 2009, 08:48 PM
Here are a couple things you might want to do. I think you could increase speed by timing (separately) your 25 kick, 25 pull (isolated with a pull buoy) and 25 swim. My point is that only by objectively dissecting each component of your stroke can you start focusing on the things you need to improve so you can drop some time. You and your coach should be able to come up with that one thing you can work on to drop some time.

On the EVF side of things, thereís an optimum angle of your EVF. and when you find it, do some isometrics so your shoulders can accommodate the new position. You might also look at your hand position and angles that your wrist creates. A more open but solid hand and less wrist bend can make significant differences in a sprinterís time. Iím rambling so, Iíll stop by saying, Good luck!

mikeh
September 26th, 2009, 10:53 PM
Here are a couple things you might want to do. I think you could increase speed by timing (separately) your 25 kick, 25 pull (isolated with a pull buoy) and 25 swim. My point is that only by objectively dissecting each component of your stroke can you start focusing on the things you need to improve so you can drop some time. You and your coach should be able to come up with that one thing you can work on to drop some time.

On the EVF side of things, thereís an optimum angle of your EVF. and when you find it, do some isometrics so your shoulders can accommodate the new position. You might also look at your hand position and angles that your wrist creates. A more open but solid hand and less wrist bend can make significant differences in a sprinterís time. Iím rambling so, Iíll stop by saying, Good luck!

Coach, thank you very much. I am not sure what an optimal ratio is for a the kick/pull/swim times. For instance, my 25 yard from a push is about a :12. My kick is about a :15 or :14. I have not tested my pull buoy time but I will. What is optimal in your view?

tomtopo
September 27th, 2009, 09:09 PM
Coach, thank you very much. I am not sure what an optimal ratio is for a the kick/pull/swim times. For instance, my 25 yard from a push is about a :12. My kick is about a :15 or :14. I have not tested my pull buoy time but I will. What is optimal in your view?

What is your best 50 yd. Free time? I can tell you a bit more if I knew that time. The push off time needs to be very accurate. I have my swimmers push off when they hear the send-off beep or wait until they see the 00's. I also have them get a partner and have them use a watch. Anyway, please get back to me. Good luck!!!