Five Common Swimming Myths
and Misconceptions From Active.com - Register Online For Thousands of Events and Activities
Any group of swimmers at any level is an
interesting case study of their preconceptions about the do's and don'ts of
Denial and justification of specific
training methodologies are the most fun to observe and debate. Having swum
competitively for 20-some-odd years and coached now for over 10, I have
witnessed some interesting concepts.
It was my interest in these debates that led
me to get my MS in exercise physiology and apply it to my sport of choice,
swimming. It is from my education and my experimentation as a National Team
athlete and coach that I share with you a few of my favorite ongoing
1. Don't eat within two hours of swimming.
You will certainly cramp!
Whoever coined this phrase or gave birth to
this concept certainly didn't have my body. There is a significant percentage
of swimmers whom I have trained with and have coached that need to eat right up
to training time.
Have you ever tried to train on an empty
stomach for three hours when you're only carrying 4 percent body fat? It
doesn't work well. I'm not a huge advocate of jalapeno poppers or nuclear
chicken wings prior to training, but I've found peanut butter and jelly or
energy bars work great.
The sacrifice of tasting anything during
warm-up, due to reflux, is counterbalanced with a solid block of energy to help
you with prolonged duration at high intensity.
2. I'm not a great swimmer, nor will I ever
be. I am a sinker, not a floater.
I love this one! This bit of philosophy
tends to be used more as an excuse to not put in the time to adapt to an
aquatic environment and learn to work with water, as opposed to punishing
Having worked with numerous masters swimmers
and multisport athletes who struggle with this concept, one thought always
enters my mind: RELAX!
Having swum or coached internationally for
15 years, I can honestly say that the majority of world class swimmers could be
classified as "sinkers" due to their low body fat percentage. When trying to
move through water at high speeds, body fat rarely can be regarded as an asset.
Marathon open-water swimmers may have an argument, but the rest of us need to
accept the fact that adding an extra layer of insulation won't assist us in
achieving world-class status.
I realize that elephant seals and a few
other aquatic mammals seem to excel with their elevated adipose tissue. What
mother nature gave them in the form of high fat content was counterbalanced
with incomparable hydrodynamics and skin composition. We're not so lucky.
Sorry about the lack of justification for
holiday and weekend feeding frenzies. Let me reassure you that swimming has
evolved to the point where the added buoyancy achieved through an increase in
body fat is outdone by the unfavorable decrease in a strength-to-weight
3. Pulling with paddles is the quickest way
to become a better puller, thus a better swimmer.
Paddles can be a dangerous tool to the
inexperienced or technically challenged swimmer. The increased surface area
that they provide has the potential to put undue pressure on parts of the
shoulder that are sure to produce overuse injuries.
Proper pulling (with or without paddles)
should be initiated with a preload on the latissimus muscles. Swimmers who tend
to press straight down ? as opposed to getting the pulling surface of the
paddle to point to the rear ? will inevitably put additional stress on the
rotator cuff and triceps.
For those athletes who are strong and can
muscle the additional surface area, speed can be achieved without the optimal
muscles or pulling pattern. When the paddles are removed, people without the
proper pulling mechanics most likely will swing off the back of the set.
With that in mind, try eliminating the
paddles and incorporating a full pulling surface. By that I mean utilizing the
surface area from the fingertip to the elbow. The quicker you can use the
forearm along with the hand, the sooner you can pull and eventually swim
Not only do you utilize the appropriate
muscles, but your shoulders and triceps will thank you!
4. Lifting weights for distance swimmers
will affect their stroke and build too much muscle mass.
The first thing that comes to my mind
whenever I hear this argument is the progress of weight programs in basketball
and golf. These are two sports where a soft touch and flexibility are at a
Although neither sport is distance-oriented,
it is proof that strength training can be specific enough to produce the
desired effect, while maintaining the important elements in each motor
Strength-to-weight ratio is a critical
concept for swimmers. The ability to maximize strength, while finding the right
balance in muscle mass and flexibility, is the battle.
Periodization of strength training within a
distance swimming program is the key. The majority of the strength training
models that I consider successful use strength training in addition to the
normal water workouts.
The early acquisition of additional strength
and power can be successfully channeled into a season with proper planning.
Early season high-repetition lifting sessions can be tailored to enhance
strength and minimize the addition of any substantial gain in unnecessary
5. Kicking is primarily used to facilitate
body rotation in swimming and doesn't really add much to forward
I am guessing this philosophy grew in
popularity throughout the stone-age. Although many open-water swimmers and
multisport athletes choose to limit the use of legs, it's about energy
conservation, not ability for the legs to help propel.
In my 10 years of coaching, I can honestly
say that my fastest kickers were my fastest swimmers. Although there may be
exceptions to this rule throughout the swimming world, it is obvious that leg
power correlates to swimming speed.
The common thread among the previously
mentioned misconceptions is education. Trial and error is probably the single
With the multitude of variables our sport
has to offer, a whole lot can be learned by sharing experiences. Sometimes,
trial and error is what teaches you what works. There are a host of swimming
theorists who don't really experiment in our medium. In the water is where
theory becomes fact. Your body will dictate which theories are applicable to
your peak performance.
Eric Hansen is the head men's and women's
swimming coach for the University of Wisconsin. He was the head swimming coach
for the USA Men's Swimming Team for the 2003 Pan Am Games. He is a former USA
National Champion and USA National Team member. He can be reached