When it comes to swimming the body is a remarkably adaptable piece of machinery. If encouraged into a position of reduced ability where it needs to compensate then it works harder to achieve previously similar levels of ability. By improving a specific movement, having removed or reduced another that was previously adding propulsion, can produce tremendous results. Resident swim coach, Dan Bullock, shows how compensation can advance your feel in the water and ultimately improve your stroke.
A common drill that runs along these lines would be the clenched fist drill. I am sure many throw this into a workout knowing it is one of those things we need to do from time to time, but have you thought about what it is really doing? Diminish the size and shape of the hands, and other areas of the body can be enhanced to make up for the deficiency. Through my work with some disabled swimmers this idea really struck home. I am particularly fond of working with the Paralympian group I volunteer with. Attempting to swim with a disability creates a whole host of challenges for the swimmer and coach. New pathways have to be found to create propulsion.
Compromises are made to enable the swimmer to remain stable and balanced while a single limb moving is constantly driving them off balance. I draw on all my coaching experiences whether it is with swimmers or triathletes, young or old, improving or elite. For the adult that has not had the luxury of many years involved in regular swim training these ideas can be useful to speed up the mechanics of good technique. We have used compromising drills extensively in the past 18 months to help those that don’t have the swim background needed to formulate an efficient stroke. These also help people identify weaknesses by isolating areas within the stroke and allowing accelerated development by reinforcing the deliberately weakened area.
I refer to this style of swim technique work as compensation work. I noticed how effective one of my favourite drills proved when incorporated into a small progression set. As a subset we would swim 4x100m with fins and central snorkel. This would be swum as the torpedo drill for 25m followed by single left arm for 25m, single right arm for 25m and into a final 25m of full stroke.
Torpedo is a legs only drill with the arms by the side while rotating the upper body. Essentially it’s swimming front crawl without using your arms. The single arm drill for best effect should be swum with the unused arm down by your side (more on this later). At no time will your full stroke for the last 25m feel so strong or accurate in the water after performing these three drills.
Doing such a drill set is designed to create a behaviour that develops subconsciously and eventually offsets a real or imagined deficiency. We are deliberately taking something away to make the body work harder to create propulsion from the reduced surface area of a body part or limb involvement.