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Technique and Training

Waffles: Great for Breakfast, Bad for Swimming

Waffling can happen in any stroke and it can be fixed

Scott Bay | September 26, 2016

Although they’re fluffy and delicious at breakfast, waffles don’t belong in your swimming Waffling in swimming is when your hands waver (or waffle) back and forth or there’s rapid pitch change and water slips off the hand. It’s both a strength issue AND a drag issue. If you’ve done sculling drills you know what part of the body controls the pitch of the hand for the most part: the forearms, which is where you feel the effort doing those drills. Drag relates to line, posture, balance, and body type, so it’s wildly different for everyone. The bad news? This affects every stroke. The good news is there are a few tips below to help you hold the water and eliminate the waffles.

Eliminate waffling in all your strokes

  1. Freestyle: There are a lot of different freestyle strokes and the catch is the critical part. Regardless of your entry, the key is to get your hand perpendicular to the direction you’re going and keep the hand path more or less straight back. Changes in the pitch of the hand are typically bad, as the water slips off the hand. Fixing it requires awareness and patience. Many swimmers aren’t aware of the water slipping off their hands, so a good trick is to rub your hands on the pool deck or with a towel in between. This makes the palms sensitive. Also, swim easy with a pull buoy or fins and feel the way your hand anchors into the water rather than slipping off.
  2. Backstroke: Waffling in backstroke is more a matter of body position. If you have to reach behind you on the catch, that’s a position of weakness. The hand will waffle a bit as you try to apply force behind your body. The fix is to keep the collarbones and upper arms in the same line by rotating the hips. Then you’ll get a better hold of the water and have more power. Use fins to practice and concentrate on the feel of grabbing an armful of water and throwing it to your feet.
  3. Breaststroke: This is trickier. Your hands will waffle when you accelerate the hand speed if you don’t control the pitch of the hands or are too slow to initiate the pull. If you slow down from your kick and glide too long, you have to muscle the stroke on the front end, which will cause waffling. Breaststrokers call this “spinning out.” The fix is to adjust your timing. Experiment with different rhythms and find what works for you.
  4. Butterfly: Just like breaststroke, this is subtler. The best swimmers in the world anchor and pull almost straight back. Many of us were taught the keyhole method as kids. The waffle will happen in the middle of the catch as you pull yourself over the hands. The fixes are more strength and experimenting with how wide you pull. About how far apart you place your hands on the pool deck when you get ready to push yourself up out of the pool is about where your hands should be in butterfly as well. Here again it might be a good idea to use fins so you can concentrate without wearing out.

As mentioned earlier, strength is a component and strength training from a qualified trainer is a great idea. But strength is just part of it—there are plenty of strong swimmers who have waffling problems. Also, take a minute to think about your kick. Fins are mentioned several times here because they provide stability and power and allow you to focus on holding the water properly up front. So if you successfully eliminate waffling when using fins, but it comes back when you take them off, work on your kicking strength and technique so that your kick is propulsive and maintains momentum, thus making it is easier to hold the water up front.

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About the Author—Scott Bay

Scott Bay is a USMS-certified Masters coach and an ASCA Level 5 coach and has been actively coaching and teaching swimming since 1986 to swimmers of all ages. The Masters swimmers he currently coaches include national champions, All Americans, and world record holders, who have swum to more than 300 Top 10 swims and 30 world records in just the past 5 years. Throughout his career Bay has taught thousands how to swim or how to swim better. He’s also written numerous articles on technique and coaching and contributed to USMS’s coach certification curriculum. Bay presents at clinics across the country and has written an instructional book, “Swimming Steps to Success.” (Human Kinetics, 2015). Bay is the past chair of the USMS Coaches Committee, and the Head Coach of YCF Masters.

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