Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Un-Kicking - Pt. III

With the 2-whip picture in mind, I swam again a few days later, and once again I started off with the old style of kicking. A few skating drills later, plus a few Popov lengths/drills and I was back into my new groove. This time around I was paying attention to the fact that my body's neuromuscular memory had some deeply ingrained habits.

Then I remembered a comment that I had read in the TI discussion forum. Runners, someone said, tend to have inflexible ankles, and therefore tend to kick with a pawing action that is woefully ineffective, failing to point their toes.

I took this advice to heart when I heard it recently, and dutifully began stretching exercises before swimming, while trying to point my toes during laps. This approach yielded only a slight improvement.

I now saw (for the first time) that there might be a connection between the volume of cycling and running that triathletes do, and poor kicking form. The cycling and running motions are continuous circular movements that involve a great deal of lower leg muscles to stabilize the foot through the ankle. However, in swimming the feet and lower leg muscles are relatively loose.

Perhaps the reason that the best swimmers all point their toes, is because they are not kicking. After all, "kicking" an object like a football (soccer-ball) uses muscles in the foot and ankle, and requires them to be held firmly. As an old footballer (soccer player) I spent all my youth kicking balls.

The best swimmers are not kicking. Instead, it is more accurate to say that they are whipping.

I tested this out in the water. First, I tried running in the water with a pedalling/cycling motion. Then I tried swimming with the same motion, and discovered that the motion was eerily similar to my old "kicking motion." It was terribly ineffective, and I had that feeling beginning swimmers with a cycling/running background report of "moving backwards."

Now, I knew where I was coming from. To test where I wanted to get to, I told myself to swim with a whip kick. I had a miscue.

I found myself doing a full dolphin kick, with both legs kicking together. I stopped, and then gave myself the image of cracking two whips, one after the other.

It worked wonders, and I cracked a big smile.

Practicing Cracking the Whips (vs. kicking )
I went a bit further and started to think about what kinds of drills I could use, and also how to focus my mind on two whips cracking.

1. Focus Points
When a whip cracks, the entire whip is loose, apart from the handle.
(See a video of a kid playing with a bull whip here.)

a) In the body, the handle of the whip would run up the side, and the legs would make up the entire length. The muscles of the leg are loose, until given a command to whip from the hip and side of the body. This is NOT kicking, but whipping.
b) The foot is held loosely, waiting for an undulation or signal to reach it. When it comes, it responds the way the end of a whip responds.
c) If the whipping image is a hard one to hold, what helped me early on was to focus on using the upper leg above the knee as the handle. In other words, I would try to whip the lower leg by moving the upper leg. In retrospect, I believe this to be an intermediate point of focus, for temporary use only.

2. Drills
a) The Popov 2-leg kick drill mentioned before involves doing dolphin-kicks with both arms outstretched and touching. The body assumes a comfortable 60-90 degree angle. Breaths are taken as needed. While I don't look like Popov, here is my inspired version:

At times, I alternate from the Popov 2-leg drill into "Fish" -- freestyle kicking, while trying to retain that same whipping motion in each leg. While this sounds complicated, it is actually not so hard to do in practice once the feeling is captured in the body, or the sensation is ingrained. Here is what I am talking about:

b) The one-leg kick drill is the same as the 2-leg version, except that the leg not in use is bent to prevent it from being used.

In this way I am trying to make a seamless transition from the dolphin whip kick, to a 2-whip kick, one leg at a time.

The focus during these drills is on developing the whipping action. I intersperse them with swim laps to help me further ingrain the feeling.

New Ideas
I have noticed that it is much easier to "drive the high hip down" and to "use the kick to initiate the roll."

There may be different ways to name these sensations so that they fit in better with the notion of ''whipping." We shall see!

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