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December 9, 2019

Here are our most-read articles from the year

With 2019 coming to an end in a few weeks, we wanted to collect our most-read articles from the year in one place, so you have easy access to some of our best content that you can take with you to the water in 2020.

1. Four Ways to Make Butterfly Easier

Butterfly doesn’t have to be the hardest stroke to do, but there are elements of the stroke that make it challenging to learn at times. Follow these four points of emphasis to make learning and mastering butterfly as easy as any of the other three strokes.

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2. How to Fix Common Breathing Mistakes in Swimming

The head, spine, and core are directly connected with everything you do in swimming; when one is out of alignment, so are the other two. Correct breathing technique is vital to maintaining this alignment. If you pick your head and look forward to breathe, or rotate too much (aka sky breathing), your head is no longer aligned with your spine and core, which affects the entire stroke, including your kick.

Rotation in swimming always starts from the core. Many swimmers who don’t breathe effectively are thinking they’re rotating their shoulders, when in reality they’re rotating their neck. This is inefficient from a stroke and speed perspective but more importantly, it can lead to injury. A great number of overuse injuries in the shoulder, neck, and back are caused by improper technique. In addition, if you’re returning from an injury layoff, proper technique—starting with head position—is the best place to begin your reentry to the pool.

Swimmers often ask, “How far should I rotate when I breathe?” I say keep it simple—look at the lane line, which is at the perfect height. If you can see the pool deck wall, that’s probably too much rotation. If you can see the ceiling or the sky when you breathe, you’re swimming inefficiently and setting yourself up for injury.

Here are some breathing drills and techniques to help you work on your alignment.

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3. Former Cleveland Browns Star Joe Thomas Tackles Weight Loss in the Pool

Joe Thomas needed a new way to maintain his cardiovascular fitness.

A decade of collisions in NFL trenches was beginning to take its toll on one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history, but because of severe knee problems, the then-Cleveland Browns star was unable to practice or run consistently. Sure, he could take painkillers to get through games, but he wouldn’t be able to compete effectively if he couldn’t sustain the same fitness level as his peers.

“I was stuck in this conundrum where I needed to get into shape, but my joints couldn’t handle getting into shape,” Thomas says. “I can’t practice and can’t run, so what do I do?”

Perhaps it was serendipity that around the same time, the Browns installed a lap pool as part of a renovation of the team facility in Berea, Ohio. Thomas decided to take the plunge, wholeheartedly motivated even though he knew it might be a personal struggle.

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4. How to Get in a Great Workout While Traveling

It’s finally summer! The kids are out of school, family vacations are on the schedule, and the weather is warming up. As great as summer is, it can signal a break in your normal routine. Although this break is needed, it can also throw your training into a tailspin and quickly regress your progress—unless you pack one simple piece of training equipment.

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5. Three Ways to Improve Your Backstroke

Backstroke shares many swimming principles with freestyle, including streamlining/alignment, rotation, and forearm engagement for pulling power. But backstroke is unique in one subtle way: You can breathe all you want!

Yeah, OK, you caught me—that’s not remotely true. Backstrokers spend a lot of time underwater coming off each wall, and you can’t breathe underwater. But swimming face-up does create some unique challenges and opportunities.

Let’s examine three things you can do to improve your success in backstroke.

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6. Why Masters Swimmers Should Be Lifting Weights

The health benefits of Masters swimming are well known. What many Masters swimmers might not know are the health benefits of regularly lifting weights.

A few years ago, U.S. Masters Swimming distributed a survey to learn about the benefits Masters swimmers experience by performing regular weight training. Based on the results of the survey, “Weight training appears to help in terms of reducing injuries,” says Hirofumi Tanaka, who directs the University of Texas’s Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory and who co-designed and co-published the results of the study.

This makes sense. After about age 40, we start to lose lean muscle mass, says Sonia Millan, a sports medicine physician for AdventHealth Palm Coast in Palm Coast, Fla. “This rate of muscle loss can reach greater than 1 percent per year after the age of 50,” she says. Losing that muscle can produce a negative impact.

“When we lose muscle mass, we’re losing the support our muscles provide to our joints,” she says. “The hip joint is supported by the gluteus muscle, for example. As we lose that joint protection, we’re more apt to get hurt.”

She adds that building strong core musculature can also help with balance and agility, two things that can help you swim better.

Here’s what you need to know about developing your own weightlifting plan and reaping the health benefits of adding muscle mass.

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7. What Swimmers Should Know to Develop a Stretching Routine

Swimmers can spend hours each week in the pool, doing drylands, and lifting weights in an attempt to win a national championship or to stay in shape.

But all of that work can go to waste if they don’t stretch.

“A small amount of stretching before exercise can help prevent simple injuries,” says Molly Hoover, a U.S. Masters Swimming Level 3 coach with the Joliet Blue Tides in Joliet, Ill. “We want to keep the range of motion as big as we can, so our strokes can hold together better, and we can swim more efficiently. The more range of motion and flexibility we have, the better our strokes will be. We can tweak things more precisely when swimmers can get their arms into the right position.”

This leads Hoover to advise her swimmers to try to stretch for 10 minutes each day. Other Masters coaches agree, saying that stretching should be consistent, with some recommending that their athletes stretch as often as they swim.

Here’s what swimmers need to know about stretching.

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8. Coupling Motions: A Powerful Swimming Technique You Might Not Have Heard of Before

Coupling motions are part of our everyday lives and help us move faster, but we don’t think about them much. These motions by themselves generate no propulsion. But when they’re coupled or timed with a propulsive force, they act to make that force stronger.

Consider walking. When we walk, we don’t allow our arms to simply hang by our sides. We swing them back and forth. As one of your arms swings backward, it reaches its maximum kinetic energy at the bottom of the swing precisely as you’re pushing off the ground with your corresponding foot. Even though the arm-swing by itself generates no propulsion, the coupling of that motion with the propulsive force from our foot enables us to step farther than if we simply let our arms hang. If we were running, we’d not only push harder with our foot, but we’d also swing our arm backward more aggressively.

Athletes in many sports learn to use coupling motions to augment power or propulsion, swimmers included. To become faster on all four strokes, you should know what these coupling motions are and how to improve them.

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9. Three Steps for Mastering Your 200s

Racing a 200 requires the most precise implementation of strategy of all swimming events. In 50s, you simply uncork the energy bottle and pour it all out; distance races often provide time to recover from a strategic error in pacing. But the 200 is unforgiving in its need for an exact allocation of intensity. Take it out too slow and you’ll never catch up. Go out too fast and you’ll suffer searing agony as your muscles tighten up, leaving you helpless as competitors zip by at the end of the race.

The strategic challenge of the 200 can make it the most entertaining event to watch and the most satisfying to swim. Here are some tips for racing your best 200.

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10. Pressed for Time? Want a Change? Try These Sets in Your Swim Workouts

If you’ve read any swimming articles recently, especially ones about adult athletes, you’re already well aware of a current philosophy in swim training: less is more.

And, as busy adults, who has time to log in tons of yardage every day anyway? So, the question becomes, how can you accomplish your fitness and/or competitive goals without spending hours in the pool every day?

For many, the answer is simple: intensity.

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  • Technique and Training