Pro Zone

Swimming: Getting the Lower Body in Sync (Video)

Mechanically perfect, Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen is a 4-time World Masters Swimmer of the Year, Hall of Fame inductee and has established over 200 world records. If that's not enough she coaches around the globe with a passion and competency in swimming theory unsurpassed for teaching swimmers how to swim better.

I have known Karlyn for many years and while the front of her stroke is outstanding and beautiful to watch (see video below) I believe it's the back part (lower body) that makes her remarkable. From the hips to Karlyn's toes her movements are completely synchronized with the torso, arms and hands. The symmetry is whole body, but easy to be distracted by her extraordinary high elbow and perpendicular catch she so skillfully employs catching more water than seems possible.

Look closely and examine the combined symmetry of her hips, legs and feet that seamlessly coordinate with the head, torso and high elbow catch. A faultless full-body rhythm that for me is the reason Karlyn swims so skillfully.

But none of this occurs without functional movement stability and strength. And knowing Karlyn, a lot of dryland (out of water) training goes into making her the best. Her stroke is put together by an exceptionally stable core and perfectly positioned horizontal body.

The efficiency of the hips, kick and in particular, the ankles and foot mechanics are what allow for the high elbow and vertical arm positioning for the catch. Watch the video closely take notice of how much gracefulness, fluidity and flexibility is demonstrated in the lower body. The high elbow is more likely a result of better lower body mechanics (forward sustaining momentum) than the other way around. A horizontal body and well-coordinated lower body sets up the high elbow catch.

A Workout

To achieve the continuum and fluid stroke Karlyn demonstrates would of course, take years of the right type of practice, flexibility, mobility and muscular stability to maintain the thousands of hours necessary to become world-class.

Still, if every workout works towards this "right practice" scale then, the beginner, recreational, competitive, elite and professional can make progress towards achieving better swimming mechanics over time.

Keep in mind, the intrinsic neuromuscular patterning you have can be modified through practice and specificity. That is done with training and technique focused workouts like the following. Still, if you don't have the flexibility in your muscles, mobility in the joints and corresponding stability there will be limits to how much adaptation you can make.

So, it's best to "couple" technique training with movement and stability training for the best outcomes. And like Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen you'll be making better movements with each stroke.

Swimming Set: Kick Symmetry

This is a short workout, but focuses on the kick coordination with the rest of the body. Beginners to recreational go through this once, more experienced can repeats two to 4 times through.

(300) Swim: 12 x 25+15s rest Zone 1 (easy) - hips, legs and feet continually moving with ease

(200) Swim: 6 x 50+20s rest Zone 1-2 (easy to low moderate) - the feet move up and down (light water pressure all the time on the top and bottom) effortlessly and smoothly

(400) Swim with kick focus: 4 x 100+30s rest Zone 2 (moderately) - With fins (pliable are better than the short stiff type). The kick is constant and the synchronizations with the whole stroke. Too many "fins" swimmers are not in sync. Make sure the entire stroke is coordinated and with fins you'll need to reach longer for the entry and then, make the high elbow catch.

By Marc Evans for


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