Every year, AJ Baucco Coaching helps dozens of athletes become better swimmers. That doesn’t happen by accident. We have constantly altered and improved our swim program. Last year, we spent time putting together an instructional video series outlining correct swim mechanics and demonstrating all of the most important swim drills. This year, we have spent nearly 100 hours revamping our entire swim program. The outcome is an entire program dedicated to not only getting athletes ready for their goal races, but also systematically changing and improving their swim stroke.
Since we started coaching, we have noticed that swimmers make very simple errors in their stroke mechanics. For years, we have developed swim sets that address those errors and try to rectify them. However, this year, we are taking it a bit farther and developing entire programs around solving each swim issue at a time.
So what are these common swim issues and how can our athletes fix them? AJ Baucco Coaching has outlined 9 common issues when it comes to triathlon specific swimming. Not every athlete needs improvement in all of these areas, but it is important that we identify each issue and take steps toward improvement. The following 9 issues are listed in order of importance. If any athlete wants to improve, they need to focus on solving the right issue at the right time. For example, if an athlete is having issues with their glide / arm extension and, as a result, also having issues with their catch. It is important that we know which issue to focus on first. If we attempt to teach proper catch or pull before the arm extension is correct, we won’t even have a chance to make the necessary improvements.
Each of our coaches has helped develop this program and even though we have been implementing this types of workouts on a smaller scale, we are ready to launch this new, systematic, approach to becoming a better swimmer. Athletes can swim as much as they want, if they are don’t know EXACTLY what to focus on, they won’t get faster. Our new program gives every athlete very clear objectives for every swim workout. Every workout has a purposed and even comes with instructional videos done by our staff. This new program doesn’t mean that we will be doing swim drills all season long. It means that every swim, whether it is an aerobic swim, a best effort swim or a strength swim, will have purpose and will have an athletes limiters in mind.
Here are the 9 most common swim issues:
1) Poor Balance / Body Position – While this limiter is typically only seen in newer or poorer swimmers, having a strong body position is more important than anything else. If an athlete’s legs and hips are sinking when they swim, they won’t be streamlined and moving through that water will be incredibly difficult. Athletes with this issue cannot work on ANY other swim issue until their body position is fixed. Fixing this issue will lead to a bigger time improvement than solving any of the other issues.
2) Poor Hand Entry – This issue is typically easier to solve than some of the other issues, but it must be done prior to working on the glide, catch, pull, etc. Where and how your hand enters the water will determine how you catch and pull the water. Athletes with poor hand entry are going to have a lot more trouble with the other parts of the stroke. That is the reason we decided that this issue was second on our list.
3) Poor Glide / Extension – Many swimmers are taught to glide and reduce the number of strokes they take while swimming. While this is an effective way to teach new swimmers balance in the water, it is a very bad habit for triathletes who are trying to improve their open water swimming. The more glide an athlete has, the more they will be affected by current, chop, waves, etc. Another issue with developing a longer glide is that many swimmers glide in an upward motion. From a side view, it almost looks like the swimmer is pushing against the water instead of gliding through it. If an athlete has developed an upward glide, it will be impossible for them to develop the proper catch. That is why this issue needs to be solved early on before we even attempt to solve issues with the catch or pull.
4) Over Rotation during Breathing – Like having poor hand entry, over breathing is an issue that can easily be solved with cognitive thinking and very focused swimming. It is important that swimmers take tight breaths, focusing on keeping one goggle in the water at all times. Athletes that take their entire head out of the water to breathe are almost always going to have issues when pulling with the arm on the opposite side of their breathing. Sine over breathing often causes a “Cross Over” pull, it is important to focus on this issue prior to working on the pull.
5) Cross Over – A strong pull happens after the shoulders and hips have rotated. It happens underneath the armpit, and the hand must touch the athlete’s centerline (an invisible line that extends vertically through the middle of the body) during the pull. Many athletes develop a pull that crosses over that center line. This is a very ineffective way to pull water because it isn’t powerful. Swimming power is generated from the lats, and when a swimmer crosses their centerline, they are only utilizing the shoulder / arm muscles. Even though the catch happens before the pull, we have decided that this issue is more important to solve first. While the catch is very important to develop, the pull is where swimmers generate the majority of their power.
6) Front Quadrant Swim Stroke – While there are many old school swim coaches that would disagree, the triathlon industry has come to agreement that a continuous stroke without a pause (glide) at extension is a far superior way to swim in an open water environment. Since all triathletes race in the open water, it is important that athletes move away from a Front Quadrant stroke. This involves excessive gliding at the front end of the stroke which allows the recovering arm to “catch up” to the pulling arm (similar to the common “Catch Up” drill). When both arms are simultaneously extended, the athlete is not generating propulsion. It is important to constantly generate propulsion with each arm. That means that when the leading arm is catching the water, the recovering arm is half way through the recovery phase. Once the recovering arm enters the water, the pulling arm is already moving through the pull phase. AJ Baucco Coaching coined the term 180 Degree Swimming, which means that your arms should always stay 180 degrees apart during your swim stroke. While this type of stroke isn’t ideal for new swimmers, once an athlete has good balance / body position in the water, they should start working on developing this type of stroke.
7) Disconnected Shoulders and Hips – Not many swimmers deal with this issue, but the ones that do, definitely have an issue moving through the water efficiently. This issue is nowhere near as detrimental to swimming as having poor body position, but it can definitely affect a swimmers ability to streamline through the water. Typically, we see swimmers rotate their hips before their shoulders. The hips and shoulders should always rotate together. This creates much more power and keeps the body streamlined through the water.
8) Missed Catch – While nearly all triathletes deal with a poor catch, it really can’t be addressed until most of the other issues are solved. Swimmers can still get fairly fast without a strong catch, but they will never reach the next level without developing an early vertical forearm. We chose to address this issue after many of the others because the other issues typically yield more of a time savings. They are also MUCH easier to fix. Developing a proper catch is the hardest part of developing the perfect swim stroke. It takes an incredible amount of cognitive thinking and repetition. It is a movement that needs to be learned and practiced outside of the water before it can be developed in the water.
9) Weak Back End – This is certainly the last issue that we want to focus on. It affects the vast majority of swimmers, but developing the perfect finish to the pull doesn’t yield much in time savings. Most triathletes pull their arm out of the water prior to extending it past the hip. This is just a missed opportunity when it comes to continued propulsion. Like the catch, it isn’t where the majority of propulsion is generated, so it makes sense that we deal with this issue once all of the other issues are solved.