The purpose of the recovery swing
by Coach Mat Hudson
by Coach Mat Hudson
At this stage, if incorporating the 2-beat press rhythm is difficult for you to do in whole stroke, we recommend that you work on this separately from your other stroke skills for a while. You may spend part of many practices doing drills (without whole stroke) to give your body time to recognize and easily slip into the basic pattern and rhythm, then switch over to working on other aspects of your stroke without trying to make the 2BLP happen. Once you are consistent with finding and holding CBP in drills and you feel ready to challenge yourself, then you can try pulling that skill into your whole stroke swimming.
We recommend that you spend several practice sessions on each step, as many as it takes to feel like you’ve established that skill in your nervous system.
First, establish the ability to lock your legs into the CBP on every stroke, without trying to ‘press’ deliberately on each switch. Just learn to find that position immediately on each switch and to lock that position while the body remains in streamline. Just keeping the legs in CBP on every stroke will greatly improve your streamline and ease.
Once that ability is established with consistency, then work on applying more of a press on each switch to add some emphasis to the torso rotation.
Then, work on refining the timing of the press. Try slightly earlier and slightly later and feel the difference it makes in how well it helps enhance the torso rotation.
Then, work on refining the way you press on the water to form that press in a more compact space.
To make it easier to get control over this in your initial practices, first work on positioning or moving just one leg at time, in and out of position. The other leg may or may not know where it needs to be; practice not paying attention to that second leg for a while and then try holding it in attention as well in order to pull it into its counter-balanced position under the streamline side leg. Notice if one side is easier to control than the other, and use that stronger side as a template for the other. You may spend some minutes focused on just one side, then switch focus to the other side.
Then practice alternating from one side to the other. Try single movements, starting on one side and finishing on the other, with just one switch. Try starting on the left side and switching to the right. Try starting on the right side and switching to the left. Be patient and work with single switches like this until you are able to make a smooth switch and immediately find the CBP each time.
Then try two switches in a row, and then three switches. These switches are not ‘swimming’ but more of a transition from one streamline side to the other. They are about maintaining balance and finding your best position, not about moving forward. So you will be pausing and holding streamline for a few seconds on each side in order to check your position and test stability.
When you can do three clean, smooth, precise switches in a row, consistently, then you can move to doing actual strokes, but do those in slower motion so you have time to notice and control what your legs are doing. Do these in short segments that do not involve breathing (yet) because the breathing action can easily throw off the stroke timing and the legs.
Once you can switch smoothly and find CBP on every switch in these short, non-breathing whole stroke segments, then you can try inserting a breath into the pattern.
Choose three or four of the drills to work with and do them in the order of increasing challenge. Spend a few minutes on each drill. Choose one or two cues to work with and alternate which one you use from time to time.
We recommend developing the 2-beat press skills in the following order….
The first step is to train the lower body to be connected to the upper body and form one long, straight, firm frame or fuselage (referring to the fuselage of a sleek sea kayak, jet plane or submarine). Hopefully, you developed this skill in the Freestyle Fundamentals stage of your training.
We’ve recently started referring to this as the counter-balanced ‘leg position’ rather than the ‘foot position’ to take attention off of the feet and onto the legs as a whole.
We sometimes introduce this skill in the Freestyle Fundamentals course, if a swimmer appears ready for it then. Otherwise we leave it for this course.
We first want to train the legs to find their counter-balancing position while the body is in streamline position. This is the start and the finish position for each leg press. This is the position the legs are locked into while the front of the body is locked into streamline position. This is why you want to develop this skill before the movement part – the legs need to know where they belong so they can find that position immediately on each switch.
As you can see in the side view in the photo below, the streamline side leg is straight and reaching up while that side of the body is down (they are counter positioned to each other). Meanwhile, the recovery side of the body is up, while the leg on that side is straight and pointed down. This counter-balanced position makes it feel like the legs are almost (but not quite) twisted around each other.
Looking at the rear view you can see how this places the streamline side foot higher than the recovery side foot. The feet are angled opposite to the torso’s angle. In your brain it will feel like the feet are ‘stacked’ on top of one another vertically, when in fact they are slightly apart and angled like this. However, you can’t see your own feet this way!
As you become more refined in this leg position, you can make it even better by rotating the streamline side foot inward, in what we might call ‘pigeon toe’ position. This turn of the ankle places a little torque inside the hip joint on that same side and supports the rotated position of the hips. The recovery side foot remains comfortably pointed. The upper thighs should be lightly touching each other. The knees should be close but not touching each other. The legs should remain close and almost wrapped around each other, maintaining an extremely low profile, hidden behind the torso.
The legs will have a tendency to spread apart when the brain detects instability in your upper body – the legs spread to stabilize. The stronger you are in the fundamental skills, the more stable your upper body will be in streamline position and the less your legs will be pulled away from this slender counter-balance position.
This is the position your legs will hold while your body is in streamline, and there should be no additional motion of the legs whatsoever until the torso rotates and the streamline side leg presses to assist it. When the upper body locks into its streamline position, the legs lock into their counter-balanced position and stay there. When the legs switch they go directly into the opposite counter-balanced position.
If you insist upon bringing the feet back together between switches, you’ll notice the legs sway from side to side on each stroke. The legs in CBP absorb the rotational force of the torso and keep the legs sliding straight behind. The parallel legs magnify it and sway in reaction.
If the legs are in the counter-balanced position, the upper one is poised for the press motion. The streamline side leg is poised up, and awaits the entry of the arm on the other side of the body. The other leg is underneath and pointed, ready to counter the press. As the torso begins to rotate, the entry arm starts to slide into the water in response to that rotation, and the leg begins to press downward. The whole body rotates around the axis of the spine. The leg pressing down against the resistance of water creates leverage which supports and enhances the power of the torso rotation, making it stronger. That rotational force is transferred into the entering and extending arm and propels the body into the streamline position and slides forward in the water. When the rotation, entry and press of the leg are all synchronized this creates a tangibly (pleasing) smooth flow of force through the body and it adds to the sense of acceleration in that moment.
In the basic sense, the streamline side leg is pressing downward and the recovery side leg will drift upward to it’s next CBP. The idea of ‘drift’ is important because this is not a two-legged action, and there is definitely no ‘scissor-like’ action of both legs moving away from each other by muscle activation. Instead, one leg is actively pressing down and the other leg is passively sliding up in response. (If you reach out with both straight arms in front of you right now, then reach farther ahead with the right arm, you’ll notice the left arm pulls back passively, without you having to pull back on it consciously – the reaching of the right arm causes the left arm to retract through the rotation of the torso).
In the more refined sense, the streamline leg is arcing with some pressure downward and the recovery side is arcing passively upward. Because the hips are rotating as part of the torso unit, the hip socket is rotating and the leg is rotating with it and the foot is rotating with it. Notice in the photo below how the feet are turned inward slightly. And notice the arcs drawn over it – that is the approximate pathway the feet trace when switching from one side to the other.
The movement is 3-dimensional – while the leg is pressing down it is also rotating and when the legs are held close to each other, this creates an arcing pathway, which we affectionately call ‘crescent moons’. This pathway can be accentuated by conscious thinking of turning inward into a ‘pigeon toe’ on the upward drifting pressing foot, or flicking the big toe outward of the downward pressing foot.
At this step the main objective is to just get the basic motion and the basic timing. The press of the leg is generally downward and it happens just after the torso starts to rotate in order to assist and enhance it. Up to this point we may advise that you keep the leg straight and fairly stiff. Just get used to pressing the straight leg in order to lever the rotating torso. Notice the general effect of moving the leg mass in how that helps shift the torso mass.
Lastly, try to avoid pulling any air down into the water on each press. This means the leg has been reaching too high and trying too hard to push downward. Those bubbles create voids in the water and actually decrease water pressure and make the action less effective.
Now we want to work on getting more refinement and pressure under that press. You do this by allowing a slight flex in the knee (but definitely not a bend) and an outward flick of the toes. You manipulate these two features to create a bit more pressure (water resistance) against the lower leg and top of the foot. The more pressure you feel the more leverage there is.
At this point the temptation is to kick or snap the leg to get more pressure by faster motion. This is a misleading shortcut that gives the false impression of being effective when it is not. Instead, use the minor flex of the lower leg and the curve of its path to create more pressure without increasing the rate of movement too much. The flex and curve is a little like sculling with the hands to feel a grip on the water.
You may also start to notice that the flow of force from the leg press into the torso is not instantaneous like a bolt of lightning. It is slower, like a wave flowing toward the shore. When you press with the leg there is a lag, and it takes a few microseconds for that wave to flow up the leg and into the torso and across to the other side and into that extending lead arm. You have to be patient for that flow to finish its journey – so the longer you can extend that press of the foot (making it more steady and less ‘snappy’) the more it will add to your forward propulsion.
There may still be a lot of details we can improve and refine in the previous steps. But at some point you’ll be swimming at different tempos (different stroke rates), at when the tempo changes enough you’ll notice that the timing of the leg press seems like it needs to change a little too. Yes, it likely does!
The general idea is to have the 2-beat leg press happen with the torso rotation, but at extremely slow tempos (when rotation is happening more slowly) you’ll notice that you have a big window there where the timing could be a little earlier or a little later – which is best? You may find that at slower tempos, you’ll time that press a little later, to assist with the finish of your extension of the lead arm into streamline.
At extremely fast tempos (what is ‘fast’ for you) you’ll notice that you’ll have a hard time getting your torso to rotate that fast. You’ll be looking for a way to get it moving sooner, faster. The leg press can help with this. On this extreme you may find that at faster tempos you’ll time that press a little sooner, almost as if the press of the leg is helping the torso start to turn.
This takes a lot of awareness and a lot of experimentation to find the best timing for your stroke tempo and your level of skill. As you become more skillful, and your abilities to handle extremely slow and extremely fast tempos expands, you’ll be refining the timing of the leg press further.
Choose 2 or 3 of the cues above to work with today.
For each cue, work through these activities, as far as you can go successfully. Take one cue and work through the list. Then take the next cue and work through the list again, and so on.
Do one set of repeats for the left side and then one set for the right side.
You might be expecting us to describe how to ‘kick’, but instead we’d like to show you a different way to view the role of the legs in freestyle.
Here are some of our observations…
We propose a better way to use the legs…
Once you have connected the legs to the torso frame and have learned to establish balance in the body in the fundamental skills, the legs no longer need to kick to hold the lower body up. The flow of water under a straight, unified bodyline will take care of most of that.
With the legs freed from lifting the lower body, we propose these roles for them instead…
The legs coordinate with the movement of the upper body while minimizing motion which would increase turbulence and drag around the body. This minimalist approach to propulsion saves enormous energy and lowers the rate of fatigue during intense swimming efforts.
First, you may appreciate a view of the 2-beat leg press in action. [insert link to Mat demo]
The flutter kick is meant to provide linear thrust; it is meant to push backward on the water to push the body forward. In contrast, the 2-beat leg action is meant to provide rotational thrust – the press is meant to push downward on the water to lever that side of the torso upward, rotating around the spine. The two kinds of leg action have quite different purposes. If you lay with a kickboard in the water and flutter, it will move you forward, more or less. If you use a 2-beat press pattern you will notice that it does not push you forward; it rocks the body from side to side instead.
The decision to use a flutter kick or a 2-beat press is a matter of trade-offs. In the flutter kick the leg action must be disconnected from the torso action in order to produce linear (rearward) thrust that is added to the torso rotation and the pulling action of the arms. But those are two separate actions in separated sections of the body. The body is divided at the waist so that the lower part (legs and pelvis) can move in a way that serves the kick and the upper part (arms and shoulders) can move in a way that serves the arm strokes. And, even for those with suitable physique and good kick technique, flutter kicking takes a lot more energy for a modest increase in thrust. It may be worth the expense for experienced short distance pool swimmers, and it might be tactical to use it at the very last meters of a longer race, but it is a questionable expense for long distance swimmers, especially those who are not set up with good kicking features, fitness and technique for it.
More recently we’ve begun to use the term ‘press’ instead of ‘kick’ to emphasize the intent of the leg motion – we’re not kicking the water like kicking a ball. One leg is pressing downward to enable the torso to more easily rotate in the opposite direction – a basic lever. On that downward press, the lower part of the leg is seeking water resistance against itself (to have something to press against) and the rate of the press is meant to be proportional to the rate at which the torso is rotating. A swift kick would be much faster than the torso is turning and thus the wave of force it sends into the body would pass through before the torso can make use of it. A slower press against sufficient water resistance allows the leg to stay engaged over a longer period of time, allowing more force to be transferred into the torso.
This slower press and downward direction makes the 2-beat action more suitable for rotational thrust and makes it less suitable for linear thrust. A small rapid flutter kick is more suitable for linear thrust and less suitable for rotational thrust.
We recommend and teach (in this course) a ‘2-beat’ leg press, which indicates that there is one single action of the legs for each torso rotation, or 2 presses of the legs for the two torso rotations per stroke cycle, hence the ‘2-beat’ name. Any other movement of the legs than this would be increasing turbulence, and working against the stability of the torso in streamline position. Any other movements are not only unnecessary they are costly.
A flutter kick is where there is 4 or 6 beats per stroke cycle. (Note that there are different ways to make a flutter kick and they are not equal in their cost and effect.) A flutter kick could be used, if done skillfully, but those who can do that tend to be swimmers from an early age where their bodies were able to develop the features that make for an effective kick. It is rare to see later-onset swimmers develop a useful flutter kick, but it is possible. There could be reasons to develop a good flutter kick and we would be glad to help one learn how. But in this course, we teach a 2-Beat Leg Press as a core skill for swimmers seeking efficiency skills. It becomes an excellent foundation for learning an efficient flutter kick later on.
Below are various drills we use for developing the 2-Beat Press, what we formerly called the 2-Beat Kick.
A standing rehearsal for practicing foot-hip torque connection.
A drill for practicing bi-lateral foot and hip connection, in Superman position.
A drill for practicing the connection of foot and arm extension, one side at a time, in Spear Switch.
A drill for practicing the set up for 2 Beat Kick on one side, in Skate position.
A series of drills for practicing the connection of foot to core rotation.
In this lesson you will work through a series of drills to help you:
The cues below will help you create and improve these three features in your catch action.
The entry and extending arm is the main actor, while the catch arm is the supporting actor. Set a good catch and then focus upon transferring force across the body, forward, into your best Streamline Position. The better your Entry, Extension and Streamline, the farther you will slide forward on each stroke!
• To maintain recovery swing skills and…
• Have the entry arm be pulled in by gravity
• Connect the entry and torso rotation
• Have the entry arm slide in without a splash, no waves
• Have Lead Arm hold extended position until Entry
• Slide into your best Streamline Position
Choose 2 or 3 of the cues from the lesson to work on today.
Then, for each cue, work through these activities, as far as you can go successfully. Take one cue and work through the list. Then take the next cue and work through the list again, and so on.
• 4 to 6x, for each side, Standing Entry To Streamline
• 4 to 6x, for each side, Streamline Swing to Balance Position for 6 seconds (time of comfortable breath hold)
• 4 rounds of ‘4 to 6x Streamline Switch with pauses’
• 4 rounds of ‘4 to 6x Streamline Switch without pauses’
• 4 rounds of gradually faster swing, gradually bring forearm out of the water
• 4 rounds of ‘6 to 8x whole strokes’ holding the same cue (no breathing)
• 2 rounds of ‘4x whole strokes, Interrupted Breathing, 4x whole strokes’
The human body is designed to use rotational force to empower many movements: walking, running, throwing, kicking, punching, rolling, and swimming too. The spine creates an axis from top to bottom which the mass of the body rotates around. The rotating body, with appendages attached can generate a lot of force in a rhythmic manner, which increases efficiency and endurance of movement. A single rotation of the body creates the wave of force which travels down one of the appendages to reach the point where it can do some work like throwing or kicking a ball, or swinging the leg forward in running. The arm or leg receives and directs more force from the rotation than it could generate on its own. The torso has mass and it has the prime mover muscles which can do the main work of swimming for longer periods of time. The arm muscles are put to work directing this rotation force. When the arms are in this cooperative role with the body’s rotation they can tolerate work a lot longer than if they were trying to work independent of it.
Ideally in swimming freestyle, you will use the rotation to empower both the entry/extending lead arm as well as the catch and hold on the other side of the body. In order for the single rotation to empower both of those actions at the same time, those two need to happen at the same time, with rotation. When the catch and hold is connected to the rotation it generates force that is taken into the torso. When the entry and extension is connected to the rotation at the same time it receives this force and directs it into the streamline shape where it is converted into forward motion.
The problem is that humans are not natural swimmers and the body is not shaped ideally for it. The land-mammal instinct in water is to pull and push with the appendages and not use the rotation power of the torso rotation in a coordinated way. This instinct almost always disconnects the catch and pull arm from the torso rotation, and because of this humans, even many elite swimmers, tend to be shoulder-powered swimmers more than torso powered.
Why? They are not timing both arms to move with the torso. The rotation will wait for the entry arm, because it’s rotated position is holding that arm above the surface of the water. The untrained human swimmer, meanwhile, will impatiently pull with the lead arm before the body is ready to rotate (because its still waiting for the recovery arm to come forward!). When they do this, they are pulling without the empowerment of the rotation and so that arm has to pull against the water using the smaller, more quickly tiring shoulder muscles.
It is possible to swim fast and far without using the rotation to empower the catch and hold, but it is very tiring, and greatly increases the risk of shoulder injuries.
There is only one moment where the two actions – the entry/extension on one side and the catch/pull on the other side – can be synchronized to tap into the torso rotation at the same time. Right here…
The lead arm must wait (rather, it must keep extending forward) until the recovery arm has come all the way forward into entry position. Only then can the two sides be empowered by the rotation. There is a little room for adjustment on this depending on how fast and intense you are swimming – it could be slightly sooner or slightly later – but this is approximately where the arms need to be when the body starts to rotate.
If you set the catch too soon, then the shoulder muscles are taking the entire load. If you do this, once moving through the catch phase without that initial connection to the rotation, you cannot connect to its power later in that phase. You’ve lost the opportunity. In most untrained swimmers observed, most of the catch phase will be finished before the body even starts rotating. If you set the catch too late (as if coming back into Balance Position before setting the catch), then the body has finished the best part of its rotation and not much rotation is left to empower the catch phase. Most untrained swimmers fall into the former category. Some swimmers who were given some clue about this may end up exaggerating it and falling into the latter category. Both need to be brought closer to the optimal arm switch timing.
The rotation-empowered stroke requires what is called asymmetric stroke timing or in other words, overlapping the arms in front of the head before they switch. This general concept is also known as ‘front-quadrant swimming’ but that is a vague term which can mean different things to different swimmers. This asymmetric stroke timing does not come instinctively, but once you take the time to train this into the stroke choreography it opens up a great deal more control over energy and pace. Once you can control the connection of the arms to the rotation, you can begin to control your stroke length, which is the foundation of building speed.
You may view this video to see the optimal arm switch timing applied to this stroke at 1.03 second tempo.
Without focusing on it directly, the drills for the Recovery Swing also set up the critical timing of the arm switch. As you were doing in the drills, your streamline side of the body remain long, firm, and the lead arm should continue extending forward, until the recovery hand arrives at the entry position. This is the best switch moment. Switch a little too early or a little too late and you lose the effect.
You may notice the feeling of acceleration on each stroke when you shaped the entry and timed the arm switch like this. This is exactly the magic we are looking for as these pieces come together!
Memorize this entry position and timing (in the picture above). This is where your recovery arm should be when you set the catch on the lead arm. That lead arm needs to learn to keep extending forward until the other arm reaches this position.
This will get you very close to tapping into the longer lasting muscles of the torso. However, just because the arms are timing with the rotation does not mean they are tapping into that muscle power as much as they could be. Deeper perception of fine timing and muscle activation is required. During the lesson we will look for this connection and help you begin to feel it. Yet, this touches on skills you will study more thoroughly in Freestyle Advanced and after that, the Master Class Synchronization.
This introduction refers to the third of our Four Essential Features of the freestyle stroke: Generate Forward Momentum.
In traditional swimming and land-mammal thinking, the main action of the stroke is pull-pull-pull back on the water with the arms. It is not so important how the arms get forward to get back into position to pull again. But understand that the recovery and entry and slide into Streamline Position is the most important moment of the whole stroke because this is where you deliver force into the most effective place to make your body accelerate forward.
So it is extremely important to bring the arm forward in a certain way to create this acceleration effect.
Imagine how a baseball pitcher winds up and swings his torso and arm in a special choreography in order to throw a ball extremely fast with great precision in a certain direction. His rotation and arm swing generate a wave of force that travels down his arm and reaches the fingers at the moment he’s ready to release the ball. The ball receives that waves of force and shoots forward out of his hand and toward the target.
So too, you are using the carefully shaped and directed swing of your arm and the torso rotation (at entry moment) to send a wave of force down your arm as that arm enters and extends under the water, in the direction you are traveling. Whereas the baseball pitcher delivers force into the ball and then the ball travels away, in the case of swimming your body is the projectile. This wave of force drives into the water molecules ahead of you and gets them moving out of the way so that your body can occupy that space ahead. That is how you move forward.
The primary purpose of the whole stroke is about generating force that flows through the body and into that streamline shape, in order to part a path through the water ahead of you. The shape, motion and direction of that recovery swing is the start of this action. How you swing that arm, and direct it into the water have a tremendous effect on how well your body moves forward, at what energy cost. You must create a wave of force in the direction you intend to travel.
The ‘wind up’ or delivery of that force-forward in the forward direction requires the recovery arm to come forward in a particular manner. The shoulder slides and arm swings in such a way that they move parallel to the spine, never pulling or pushing it. That arm lifted up into the air draws gravity, and it builds momentum as it swings its weight.
At the entry moment, that force of gravity pulling downward is used to pull the arm and the high side of the body back down into the water, and the forward momentum is channeled into that arm extend forward underwater, parting water molecules. The whole body then slides behind that extending lead arm.
This is the ‘wind up’ for delivering force forward, into the water to cut a path ahead. The body slides into Streamline Position as the wave of momentum travels through it, sliding it forward, until the other arm is ready to enter on the other side, repeating the same process again.
Overall, we want to create three main features in the Recovery swing movement:
1. The shoulder joint ‘opens up’, sliding parallel to the spine, to swing freely, with the least tension or internal resistance.
2. The elbow leads the way, fingers hanging below, barely brushing the surface.
3. The swing of the arm builds momentum in the forward direction, no other direction.
4. The swing of the arm is fluid, almost weightless feeling
In this video you can observe the characteristics we’re trying to achieve in at normal stroke rates.