Connection is a term that comes up often in swimming. Like many concepts explored in our sport, there is a reasonable amount of confusion around its definition and implication for fast (and perhaps safe) swimming.
Some of the confusion is born out of the varied ways in which this term “connection” is applied. There are a number of different types of “connection” that impact our life in the pool. Today I will focus on the most common usages of the term- specifically, as it relates to long axis strokes: Freestyle and Backstroke
Long Axis Strokes: Freestyle and Backstroke
Cross-body linkages are foundational to human movements and are seen widely in athletics. In our bodies the arm-and-shoulder mechanism on one side links (read: connects) diagonally through the torso to the hip-and-leg mechanism on the opposite side- think about common movements such as walking, running or throwing. In the pool, cross-body strength allows us to leverage core strength and torque to create more propellant power in our pull. Techniq Group stroke expert, Ali Deloof, does a great job of explaining the broad points of the skill in the below clip.
Essentially, when the right arm reaches for (or lands on) the catch the left foot should be striking downward… vice/ versa on the other side.
There are a number of great ways to improve your cross-body power on land, including single arm loading or uneven loading. Such exercises force you to create rotational forces or to resist such forces while working.
However, there is an incredibly helpful drill progression that can be easily implemented in the water.
Right Paddle/ Left Fin
Swim freestyle wearing a paddle on your right hand and a fin on your left foot. Make sure the paddle enters and reaches as the fin is striking downward. Use this moment as the initiation for your 6 beat kick (counting 1-2-3, 1-2-3 as you work through your kick cycle). Switch to left paddle and right fin to work the same skill on the other side. Finish the drill with full paddles and fins- pay close attention to that cross-body striking and your 6 beat kick should fall right into place.
Some believe that engaging in activities that “cross the midline” of the body, so to speak, instigates both sides of the brain to fire at the same time and may even have benefits for brain development in children. Sadly, these claims are not well substantiated and are more or less disproven by Stanford Neurologist Erica Seigneur in this post.
The scapula, commonly referred to as the “shoulder blade”, plays a central role in swimming. Firstly, having good scapular mobility and stability are necessary for injury prevention in swimming. Weak scapulas lead to other parts of the shoulder to overcompensate; most notably the anterior capsule and the rotator cuff.
Strengthening the scapulas, should be an endeavor that includes consistent training outside of the pool. Some common exercises to help develop more stable and mobile shoulder blades are listed and linked to videos below.
In addition to preventing unnecessary injury, having strong and mobile scapulas will help you develop a more powerful pull in freestyle and backstroke. Having you scapulas “connected” or retracted and stable, allows the swimmer to leverage the shoulders moving together to create the largest amount of power possible from the pull. This skill is possibly easiest to note in shoulder driven freestyle (at the 2:14 mark of the linked clip), but it can be seen in all styles of strong freestylers. Check out the video below from a client analysis where Techniq Group stroke expert Ali Deloof isolates a strong scapula connection in freestyle.
We hope this post will help alleviate some of the confusion around connection in swimming, and give you some ideas to play with in your own training. Thanks as always for reading and sharing. Your feedback and interest in the site has been humbling- we appreciate you.
Founder, Techniq Group