Body position is key
For competitive swimmers, one of the biggest areas of opportunity for improvement is in streamlines, transitions and breakouts. An effective way to coach this technique is to break it down into three parts, teach each component, and then work on putting the whole thing together. Make adjustments to everything based on the athlete who is in the water.
Part 1: The Push-off
Teach and preach coming off the wall the same way every time. The position on the wall is head up-knees up-toes up. This is just a verbal cue that tells the swimmer where those parts should be pointing. From that position on the wall, let go, stab the water and sink, hands together and stretch to the streamline position before pushing off: sink-touch-push. Encourage your swimmers to get in the habit of having the hand that they will pull with first be underneath the other hand. The streamline position is also a subject of debate. Should you go with “squeeze the ears with the biceps” or “head under the arms and try to touch your elbows together”? This depends on a number of factors, like flexibility, body type and stroke. Either way, try to make sure that the streamlined shape you are trying to achieve works best for that swimmer. After the push-off, go right into high frequency, low amplitude kicking. The objective here is to conserve momentum generated by the push.
Part 2: The Transition
The transition from the streamlined position to a swimming position is when a lot of swimmers fall apart and lose velocity. This is most dramatic for “head under the arms” streamliners. Cue your swimmers to gently push the chin forward, NOT lift the head. The difference is subtle, but one keeps a long relaxed neck and the other causes a really big drag-producing angle in body position, sometime even causing the swimmer to spear or pop up out of the water.
Part 3: The Breakout
Good breakouts are the product of doing steps one and two well. This step includes finishing the transition, beginning to break the surface and simultaneously taking that first stroke. The key elements are to get a great grip on the water first, and then maintain that streamlined position as much as possible, even when one of the arms initiates the stroke. What you don’t want is the swimmer relaxing that streamline position and opening up a gap between the head and the arm, which makes the swimmer larger and increases drag. Those first transition strokes while breaking the surface have to be powerful to maintain momentum.
The block or the walls will be the only times when swimmers get to push off of something solid. Every bit of energy put into the push becomes velocity. Don’t let your swimmers lose that velocity with poor body position.