Here is a pair of brand new Mizuno swim paddles. They are an interesting form, but check out the tiny holes. How are you supposed to get the tubing through? It’s impossible, I tried! It looks like this needed a bit more testing before going to market.
Originally from AquaVolo.com
The two images above represent two tools for two very different sports. The image on the left, DragSox®, is a power training tool for swimmers. The image on the right is a suit for the 2014 Olympics speed skaters. The purpose of these tools is diametric—DragSox are designed to slow the swimmer down while the speedskating suit is supposed to make the skater go faster. What they have in common is that they both use mesh. DragSox are entirely made out of mesh; the speedskating suit has a strip of mesh on the back for a “cooling effect.”
In order for us to understand the similarities between DragSox and the speedskating suit depicted on the image above, we have to quickly refresh our memory of fluid dynamics. (Please bare with me, it’s only three sentences!)
Fluid dynamics is an area of physics that studies how fluids behave when they are in motion. Both liquids and gases are considered fluids. The laws that apply to fluids apply to both, liquids and gases.
Now, let’s look at what happens when DragSox are used in the water:
One reason DragSox are so effective at creating drag in the water is due to the properties of mesh. As the swimmer moves through the water, mesh greatly disturbs the laminar movement of water, causes turbulence, and creates an area of low pressure directly behind the swimmer. This area of low pressure essentially sucks the swimmer backward. To overcome this suction, the swimmer has to exert more energy, which is the intended purpose of DragSox.
Since we already know that the physical laws that apply to liquids also apply to gases, we can predict that what happens to the moving swimmer with DragSox in the water will happen to the moving skater with a mesh suit in the air—the mesh on the back of the suit will disturb the laminar movement of air, cause turbulence, and create an area of low pressure which will create drag. In fact, this is exactly what happened during the last winter Olympics in Sochi: “it seemed that the vents on rear of the suit, put in to allow heat to escape, actually allow air to enter – in turn creating drag.” (1)
There were probably other reasons that would explain the slow times of the US Speedskaters in Sochi, but having a mesh strip on the back of the speed suit definitely contributed. All the designers needed was a quick review of fluid dynamics and this could have been prevented. Maybe now they can recycle those speedy speedskating suits and use them for drag-creating training tools!
Originally from AquaVolo.com
USA Swimming recently posted a short article titled “The Key to Freestyle Balance: Breathing and Kick”  in which the author, Matt Barbini, suggests that a lack of balance is the root of most common flaws in freestyle. The author finds that the key to balance is a “strong steady kick” and early breathing. While I agree that lack of balance is the root of most common flaws and that inconsistent kick and late breathing can throw off your balance, a strong, steady kick and early breathing alone will not make you a balanced and efficient swimmer. A strong and stable core is the foundation upon which everything else is built.
To maintain balance in the water the swimmer must have a strong and stable core. The core links the arms and the legs together and orchestrates the coordination between different parts of the body. If the core is weak, a stronger, steadier kick will not improve balance or efficiency significantly because the body cannot maintain balance. Salo and Riewal had a good analogy—a strong kick with an unstable core is like trying to push cooked spaghetti across the table. “It’s very difficult to push the wet noodle because of it’s floppiness. This is like trying to use your kick to push you across the pool when you have poor core stability”.  A strong, steady kick in isolation will not improve balance; you need a strong and stable core to attain balance and efficiency.
Late breathing is one of the most common flaws in swimming. As Barbini points out, it “causes a delay in returning to a clean body-line and necessitates a corrective motion – like an outward hand sweep”. Learning how to breath early will eliminate these problems. However, it’s the balance attained by strong and stable core that makes the early breath possible, not vice versa. Just like with kicking, an early breath with a weak unstable core will not improve balance.
Barbini’s article makes a lot of sense, pointing out that a lack of balance can lead to many problems. However, the most fundamental aspect of balance is a strong core. While flawed technique such as an inconsistent kick or late breathing can throw off your balance, strong and stable core is what allows you to attain balance and achieve the correct technique.
 Complete Conditioning for Swimming. Dave Salo and Scott A. Riewald (2008)
For swimmers… The difference between DragSox® and running shoes.
[repost from AquaVolo]
The goal of every competitive swimmer is to swim faster. One way to swim faster is to reduce drag. One way to reduce drag is to improve your body position in the water by making it more horizontal and stable. A more horizontal body position displaces less water as you move forward. The less water is displaced, the less drag the swimmer has to overcome. What makes the body position horizontal, creates stability and reduces drag is balance. This balance is achieved by engaging core muscles and by pressing down the lungs. (Pressing down the lungs brings the hips and legs up, acting as a lever.) When one of these two components—engaging core or pressing down the lungs—is missing, the body position gets distorted, efficiency falls and speed drops.
I have mentioned in a previous post that when we learn a new movement, our brain generates new motor pathways that carry the signals from the brain to the body parts responsible for that movement. And that “the more a particular pathway is activated during consistent, purposeful action, the likelier it is to be stabilized [become automatic].”(1)
Let me summarize what I have just written:
1) one way to swim faster is to reduce drag;
2) swimming with a horizontal body position reduces drag;
3) balance is required for attaining a horizontal body position;
4) balance is achieved by engaging core muscles and pressing down the lungs; and
5) swimmers need consistent and purposeful training to make new movements automatic.
Based on these insights, we can assert that swimmers need to consistently and purposefully try to achieve balance by engaging the core muscles and by pushing down the lungs. We can also say the opposite, that swimmers need to minimize activities that distort horizontal body position and discourage engagement of core muscles. One activity that both distorts the horizontal body position and discourages the use of core muscles is kicking with a kick board.
The idea behind a kick board is to provide support for swimmers’ arms so they can concentrate on the kick. However, for many swimmers, especially younger swimmers and those with weak core and poor balance, kick board introduces serious drawbacks.
First, as the swimmer kicks, his hands press down on the kick board that is extended in front of him. In addition to adding pressure on the shoulders, pushing down on the kick board creates a lever that lifts up the lungs.
Similarly, when the lungs go up, hips and legs go down (it’s the same lever effect).
As we have already established, to have a horizontal body position the swimmer has to push down with the lungs which aids in elevating the hips and legs. The exact opposite happens when you kick with a kick board: the lungs go up and the legs go down.
Some might argue that the swimmer doesn’t have to press down on the kick board, which is a valid argument. However, due the physical properties of a traditional kick board, which is very buoyant and not easily submerged, there will always be some pressure from the hands on the board. The arms of a perfectly streamlined swimmer reside slightly below the surface of the water. When the swimmer places his arms on the kick board, which is on the surface of the water and is not easily submerged, he is faced with two choices: to press down on the board to try to attain a horizontal body position (which causes the lever effect outlined above) or not to press down on the board and leave the arms at a slight angle (from shoulders up to the surface of the water). In either case, there will always be some distortion in the body position.
Second, many swimmers use the kick board as a stabilization platform. They grab on the kick board and use its high buoyancy property to balance their body in the water to achieve stability. Instead of using the core muscles to stabilize and balance the body, they use an external device. When swimmers do this, they are discouraging the use of the core muscles which are essential for developing a horizontal body position. Swimmers that use the kick board as a stabilization platform never get an opportunity to learn how to use their core to balance and how to develop an efficient body position.
After we created VB AIR and started training with them, we discovered a latent benefit that we had not anticipated: VB AIR are the perfect split kick board. VB AIR and kick boards are made from similar materials and both are buoyant. However, VB AIR are significantly less buoyant and easily submerged, which makes them so great for kicking.
First, although VB AIR do provide support for arms, they are not as buoyant as the kick board. The weight of relaxed arms will submerge VB AIR just below the surface of the water, which is ideal for streamlined body position. Swimmers cannot press down on the VB AIR, as they can with the kick board, because the VB AIR will sink and the swimmer will lose balance. Hence, the lungs will not be pushed up and the legs will not be pushed down because there is no lever effect as in the case with the kick board.
Second, unlike the kick board, VB AIR cannot be used as a stabilization platform because they do not provide enough buoyancy to support the weight of the body. As a result, swimmers must engage core muscles to balance themselves. If there is no external device to use as a stabilization platform, swimmers have no choice but learn how to use core muscles and lungs to balance themselves in the water.
To summarize, balance allows the swimmer to achieve a horizontal body position which reduces drag and results in increased speed. Balance is gained by engaging the core muscles and pushing down the lungs. As with any movement, to make the horizontal body position automatic swimmers need to consistently and purposefully practice by engaging the core and by pushing down the lungs. Activities that distort horizontal body position and discourage use of the core to attain balance, such as kicking with the kick board, need to be minimized. We believe that VB AIR are an effective alternative to traditional kick boards. Like the traditional kick board, VB AIR provides support for swimmers arms so that the swimmers can concentrate on the kick. Unlike the traditional kick board, VB AIR force the swimmers to use the core muscles and to push down the lungs to achieve balance in the water. Improved balance leads to improved body position which results in faster speed.
Introducing VB AIR
1. What’s Going On In There. Lise Eliot (2000)
[repost from AquaVolo]
There are three common types of underwater arm pull in swimming:
1) the dropped elbow arm pull;
2) the straight arm pull; and
3) the high elbow arm pull.
Here is how James Counsilman describes each in his book, The Science of Swimming (1):
“The dropped elbow arm pull is the poorest type of pull and provides the swimmer with very little forward propulsion, since very little water is pushed backwards.
“The straight arm pull is better than the dropped elbow arm pull so far as effectiveness is concerned, but at points A and B the force applied downward is too great, and at points D and E the force applied upward is too great. This tends to push the swimmer upward at points A and B and downward when the hand is at D and E.
“The best pull is that which will minimize the dropped upward and downward components of the straight arm pull and provides a greater push backwards. It begins almost as a straight arm pull except that the elbow is higher. The elbow bends during the pull and then nearly straightens as the pull finishes.”
The “best pull” here is synonymous with fast and efficient swimming. One of the prerequisites for the “best pull” as seen in the illustration above, is the high elbow catch (the arm position between the points A and B). To achieve the “best pull” the swimmer must first establish a high elbow catch, which is why the high elbow catch is considered a critical component of fast and efficient swimming. Swimmers and coaches dedicate a lot of time and effort to refining the technique involved in high elbow catch.
When we learn a new movement, our brain generates new motor pathways that carry the signals from the brain to the body parts responsible for that movement. For instance, if the swimmer consistently drops her elbow during the catch, the brain sends the information necessary to perform that particular movement (dropped elbow catch) to the appropriate body parts along established motor pathways. Let’s call these pathways the “dropped elbow catch” motor pathways.
If this swimmer wanted to develop a high elbow catch (a new movement), she would first have to develop the new “high elbow catch” motor pathways that would carry the appropriate signals from the brain to the body parts responsible for the high elbow catch. For the brain to activate new motor pathways, however, it needs to receive certain information related to the new movement. A logical question to ask at this point is: How can the swimmer perform the new movement in order to send the information related to this movement to the brain, if she doesn’t know how to perform the movement? It feels like a chicken and egg question, but the answer is to do drills and use tools that emphasize certain parts of a stroke and stimulate active thinking at critical moments. Drills allow the swimmer to perform in a consistent manner, over and over in order to refine a specific movement. Appropriate tools bring the swimmer’s attention to specific aspects of a stroke and/or build awareness of the water and the muscles involved in particular movements. VB AIR is one of such tools.
VB AIR inherit their design from our popular VoloBlades paddles. As we have written before, the design of VoloBlades shifts the point of pressure down to the lower palm, which promotes a high elbow catch and quick engagement of core muscles, resulting in a faster and more efficient swim. Furthermore, due to the unique design of VoloBlades, the fingers have direct and unobstructed contact with water, which is a crucial requirement for increasing the feel for water. VB AIR have an additional unique property: they are buoyant. To overcome this buoyancy, the swimmer has to exert extra effort when her arm enters the water and establishes the catch. When the swimmer is forced to exert extra effort in an unexpected place, it brings about awareness of that particular place and time. It forces the swimmer to pay closer attention to the details of the movement that she is performing.
Pushing down with the lower palm on the buoyant VB AIR promotes superior high elbow catch. The design and the buoyancy of VB AIR in combination with the swimmer’s awareness and active thinking during the catch phase create an environment in which the swimmer is able to make adjustments necessary for improved high elbow catch. As it happens, the information related to the high elbow catch is sent do the brain that begins to activate new “high elbow catch” motor pathways. “The more particular pathway is activated during consistent, purposeful action, the likelier it is to be stabilized.”(2) VB AIR allow for this consistent, purposeful action and the creation of an automatic high elbow catch.
1. The Science of Swimming. James E. Counsilman (1968)
2. What’s Going On In There. Lise Eliot (2000)