Limiters and Fixes

Coaching Resources: Planning and Delivery Best Practices Limiters and Fixes Drills Analysis Workouts


Common Limiters

Relaxation

  • Anxiety, fear, lack of coordination

Mobility

  • Lat/shoulder/pec

  • Neck/shoulder

  • Ankle

Kick

  • Excessive Energy Used

  • Runner’s Kick

  • Inflexible Ankles

  • Unbalanced R/L Motion

Head

  • Head too high on breath

  • Eyes looking back (off axis) on breath

  • Head too high when down

  • Head rotates too much to non-breath side

Body

  • Too flat

  • Too flat to non-breath side

  • Over rotation

  • Over rotate to breath side

  • Rotating too much below hips

Hand

  • Fingers too spread (sometimes on one hand only)

  • Fingers too tight or cupped

Finish

  • Externally rotate wrist so that it leads to dolphin recovery

  • Finish too early

Recovery

  • Dolphin/hook shot

  • Kung Fu (not relaxed)

  • Early inside trajectory

Entry

  • Thumb down

  • Cross-over

  • Too early

  • Too late (forearm/elbow splash)

    • Too flat (not opening hole with hand)

Catch

  • Not extending underwater, too early a catch

  • Dropping elbow

  • Wrist break or not?

    • Risk of wrist break: wrist doesn’t straighten and fingers lead forearm, losing water

  • Too deep a catch/pull (no endurance)

  • Too shallow a catch/pull (no power) > limiter = strength

Pull

  • S = too far inside

  • Too deep, Too shallow

  • Drop elbow

  • Too wide



Limiters and Strategies to Fix Them


When you see a stroke issue, ask yourself not just WHAT they are doing but WHY they are doing it.


Relaxation

  • Anxiety, fear, lack of coordination

    • Key is to make propulsion and buoyancy easy for them with kick board and fins. They will slowly relax as they do drills with these elements. Some will relax quickly, others will take weeks but a lot can be done to develop movement patterns while using these tools. See Start Smart progression.

Mobility

  • Fit the technique to the swimmer, not the swimmer to the technique. Everyone has a unique body; ROM and buoyancy will vary greatly so no one technique will work for everyone.

  • Lat/shoulder

    • Lack of ROM in lat/shoulder will limit both high elbow recovery and extension on entry. The latter can lead directly cross-over when the swimmer tries to reach beyond their ROM.

      • Massage, self-massage, strength training, mobility work

  • Neck/shoulder

    • If they are unable to fully turn their head they will need to over-rotate to get a breath.

      • Massage, self-massage, strength training, mobility work

  • Ankle

    • If unable to point the toes, their foot will kick water forward instead of back. Fins help to increase mobility and teach proper motion. In severe cases you simply need to teach this swimmer not to kick much at all; lots of pull buoy swimming to develop this body position.

Kick

  • Excessive Energy Used

    • They are desperate to move forward and will do whatever they have to.

    • Pull buoy shows them they don’t need the kick. Then, after dropping PB, introduce 2 beat or modified 4 beat (2 and pause). Kick just enough to replace PB. Allow/encourage them to swim slowly.

  • Runner’s Kick

    • Fins assist in propulsion. Poor kickers will do whatever they have to to move forward otherwise it’s very discouraging. Fins give them some motion and allow them to ease the exertion level and focus on a ‘straight leg kick’ - the only knee bend resulting from the resistance of the water. Cues: from hip, leg straight, point toe

  • Legs Splay Apart

    • This is almost always due to a cross-over. See ‘cross-over’ below.

  • Inflexible Ankles

    • Fins for all kick sets. This is a very common limiter with adults. Even those with mobile ankles have nothing to lose using fins. In fact, going fast is fun.

    • Other protocols: massage/mobility/strength of tibialus anterior

  • Unbalanced R/L Motion

    • One leg drill to build symmetry in strength and ROM. Move from one leg to 2 and 2 to steady, focusing on balance.

Head

  • Head too high on breath

    • Head is too high because they want air!

    • If you think a swimmers head might be too high, first check their feet

      • If their feet are at the surface then their head is fine (not unusual in strong female swimmers)

    • Explain the irony that a lower head gets more clean air due to the trough created in the wake of the head.

    • Push the ear down, look for water to wash over the bottom goggle, split vision

    • Tuck the chin, imagine you’re holding an apple under your chin

    • Side swim drills to find their sweet spot then Slo Mo Swim or One arm so they can practice rotating into the low head position

    • Some swimmers also look too far forward out of nervousness for seeing where they’re going.

      • Don’t look up till you see the end of the lane line on bottom of pool

      • Don’t worry about other swimmers, keep going till you touch their feet, watch bubbles

  • Eyes looking back (off axis) on breath

    • Can be the result of cross-over or belief that the further back they look the more clean air they’ll get.

    • Imagine you are wearing a helmet with a spike out the top. Keep that spike pointing straight down the lane horizontally.

    • Look straight to the side when breahting.

  • Head too high when down

    • They may be overcompensating, driving head low to keep legs up. This could cause head to submarine.

    • At the most, look straight down with head in neutral position.

  • Head rotates too much to non-breath side

    • This swimmer is focusing so much on rotation they are taking the head with them when rotating to the off side. It is possible that they are over-rotating to both sides too.

    • After breath, only rotate head back till nose and eyes are straight down. Then, as rotation begins back to breath side, the head rejoins the rotation to breathe.

Body

  • Too flat

    • This is the natural reflex for most new swimmers.

    • Explaining drag in terms of barge (flat) vs sail boat (on side).

    • Side swim progression helps them to find sweet spot and ability to rotate in and out of it.

  • Too flat to non-breath side

    • This is very common. Swimmer needs to rotate to get breath but forgets to balance things out by rotating to other side as well.

    • Hypoxic swimming is very effective here. In middle of lane, hold breath for 6-8 easy strokes. Focus on symmetry of rotation and stroke. When breathing again, maintain.

  • Over rotation

    • Some go overboard on rotation, thinking more is better. Too much rotation leaves arm in poor position to exert force on pull

    • Strive for 45 degree rotation. Hypoxic is again very good here.

  • Over rotate to breath side

    • They are connecting the head to the rotation too much. Allow the neck to turn to make up for less shoulder rotation.

  • Rotating too much below hips

    • The swimmer is taking the hips with the shoulders and may, in fact, also be over-rotating the upper body too. If the hips over-rotate, the power of the kick can be diminished.

    • If they overcompensate and try to leave hips flat while twisting at the waist on rotation, they will likely tweak the rotation to the right levels.

  • Body Snakes Through Water

    • This is typically as a result of cross-over (See ‘cross-over’ in this document)

    • Also, check to see where they are looking when turning to breath. They may be looking back, which takes the head off of the centre line and creates snake action



Hand

  • Fingers too tight or cupped

    • This seems to the swimmer to make sense; they don’t want water to sneak through.

    • Explain that a relaxed hand with fingers slightly apart provides the largest surface as turbulence between fingers prevents loss of water.

  • Fingers too spread (sometimes on one hand only)

    • This is an over-compensation for those trying to not keep fingers together and more often happens on the back side hand which the swimmer has less awareness of.

    • If they really struggle adjusting to less gap in fingers, you may have to get them to overcompensate and hold fingers together but in a flat hand with thumb out. Once there, they can work on just relaxing into slight gaps.

Finish

  • Externally rotate wrist so that it leads to dolphin recovery

    • The shoulder and arm can naturally rotate externally as the hips rotate in the same direction. This leaves the arm in poor position for a relaxed recovery.

    • One arm drill will help them focus on finishing with their palm facing back and withdrawing the hand from that position with a high elbow above.

    • This can be practiced from a standing position initially.

  • Finish too early

    • Some swimmers shorten their stroke in order to increase stroke rate. This is an area of some controversy. My opinion is that sacrificing the propulsion from a full finish is not worth it.

    • Have the swimmer overcompensate and touch the thigh with the thumb at the end of the stroke. Again, one arm is key here to allow for focus on one side only.

Recovery

  • Dolphin/hook shot

    • See ‘Finish..Externally rotate writs..’ above

    • Standing or walking practice helps a lot with this.

    • Zipper drill (thumb up ribs) and other finish drills are useful

  • Kung Fu (not relaxed)

    • Recovery is a chance to have one arm resting while the other works

    • Slow stroke rate and wiggle fingers as hand recovers

  • Early inside trajectory

    • This leads into cross-over. Swimmers want to have that hand enter as a bow right in front of the head (instead of out from the shoulder).

    • One arm drill with a pause when hand is just behind head helps. Imagine your hand is an arrow in a bow: recover, aim, pause, enter

Entry

  • Thumb down

    • The old S stroke featured a thumb-down entry so this is common with those that had competitive swim instruction back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. This leads to what is considered wasted motion getting the hand into position for catch.

    • Direct them to enter all fingers at once. Flat entry sets you up to do this better.

  • Cross-over

    • Big topic. Our video covers it well. People want to get hand in front of head, want to over-reach, and perhaps have mobility issues.

    • Holding a board laterally out front, as in the Start Smart progression, gives a tactile reference point to avoid reaching across.

    • Have them swim with pull buoy. When crossing over, the legs splay apart to counter the excess motion and the swimmer feels balanced. A PB eliminates the feets ability to balance so the swimmer really feels the legs snake in the water. Have them focus on swimming with a very wide stroke till the legs no longer snake.

    • Tell swimmer to swim on the rails, two rails, not one.

    • Enter at 1 o’clock, not noon.

    • Swim like you’re on a surf board - arms wide, elbows high

  • Too early

    • Sometimes when too focused on the entry angle, swimmers enter right by the head instead of half full arm’s length. This can also come from lack of shoulder mobility. Finally, a swimmer can enter early in a rush to establish a high elbow catch.

    • One arm drill is perfect for this. Allow the swimmer to keep their eyes forward to watch their stroking arm to monitor entry point. The other arm is right there to serve as a measuring stick.

    • Tell them to ‘reach to the end of the pool on extension’.

    • Slow Mo Swim will help them get the feel for balance with fully extended arm.

  • Too late/flat (forearm/elbow splash)

    • The swimmer is looking for a long stroke but is overreaching before entry. Their hand will not travel underwater forward at all resulting in the hand dragging bubbles through the catch, losing water.

    • Again, one arm as done with too early an entry. Have the swimmer look for the bubbles on their catch and pull and work to eliminate them.

  • Narrow Entry

    • If entry is coming in to head but isn’t resulting in cross-over it is something to watch as when they tire or swim with greater power, they will likely crossover

Catch

  • Not extending underwater, too early a catch

    • The hand enters at the right point but scoops directly down instead of extending forward underwater to lose the air. They are rushing the catch.

    • Reach for the far end of the pool on one arm drill.

  • Dropping elbow

    • The brain likes path of least resistance so will drop elbow on catch/pull so elbow and forearm slice through the water. Those lacking shoulder/back strength are most predisposed to this.

    • Activate the muscles by having them lift themselves up with both hands on the deck. They will do this with arms wide and elbows high, showing them that that is their powerful position.

    • Fist swimming drills force the forearm to be the paddle.

  • Wrist break or not?

    • Another area of controversy in swimming. Should the wrist bend on the catch. I’m ok with either way but there is a common issue with those that do break the wrist. That is that the wrist remains unaligned with the forearm through the pull (fingers ahead of palm and forearm) so the unit loses water. If the wrist breaks on the catch, it needs to then realign with the forearm so they are one unit for the pull.

    • Again, one arm drill with focus.

  • Too deep a catch/pull

    • A deep pull will typically exert more force on the water through greater activation of back muscles. This is great for short, fast swims but is very hard to endure. This is more typically seen in the swimmer with a more muscular build.

    • It’s quite common for a swimmer to pull too deep on their offside (non-breathing side). They are doing this to help balance themselves while lifting their head (instead of rotating).

      • One arm offside is excellent to address this.

  • Too shallow a catch/pull

    • Sometimes a swimmer develops a great sense for the high elbow pull but ends up with the elbow almost at the water’s surface. This is more typically seen from an intermediate swimmer who has slightly less upper body strength. They opt for a rapid stroke rate and shallower pull. If we can help this swimmer increase their strength (ie dryland, paddles) then they’ll be able to lower the pull a little and increase power.

Pull

  • S-stroke = too far inside

    • There will cases where you’ll see a solid swimmer who uses an S-stroke pattern. I will typically explain the current science behind a straighter pull but leave the decision to the swimmer if they want to try to straighten it out. It may not be worth the effort if the swimmer has a good S-stroke. If it ain’t broke….

    • One arm drill and hypoxic work will help them focus on the pull pattern.

  • Too wide

    • Like dropping the elbow, a stroke that does a semi-circular pattern to the outside is typically a case of a lack of strength. The brain is moving the arm wide to avoid the full muscular load of a straight pull; the brain is dropping water to make it easier.

    • Once again, one arm and hypoxic.