The Common Threads of Successful Swimming Technique

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The Common Threads of Successful Swimming Technique

مُساهمة  Dr. Hazem في الخميس يناير 29, 2009 12:30 am

Discussions presented in this paper are centered on the importance of the adductor muscles of the shoulder in all competitive strokes. The majority of examples cited are from the crawl stroke and butterfly, but the threads of common factors to success run through every stroke. The paper draws it conclusions from discussions of the core muscles of technique, the nervous system organization that provides the conscious and unconscious control of these muscles, the water that compounds the problem of movement within an unfamiliar medium, and the peculiarities of the shoulder joint that limits our movements. This unique view of human swimming propulsion draws upon principals, when analyzed in their entirety, that have profound implications for swimming instruction.

The progression of swimming since the beginning of the modem Olympic era has resulted in a variety of successful techniques performed within the parameters provided by the rules governing each competitive stroke. Much research and analysis has been conducted in order to explain the successes of the techniques used by the most successful swimmers. Yet, the search goes on to find the stroke techniques and scientific explanations that explain why one technique is superior to another. The variables involved with this analysis make the endeavor a difficult task. It is one thing to know the concept such as the potential of the shoulder's third class lever in human motion, but it is difficult to rate this factor, or anyone factor, with all the other variables involved in swimming success.

A common approach for success has been to try to emulate the techniques used by the world's best. It is in the techniques of the athletes that have broken the mold, and had success, that much insight into the technical truths is often revealed. This paper will discuss the factors that form common threads in successful technique and explore the truth revealed in the variables of success. It is understood that there is no magic bullet of technique perfection that results in success. However, superior technique is a key component in a champion's design for success.

The performances of Mary T. Maher in the late 70's and early 80's in the Janet Evan's 400 meters in the 1988 Olympics, in the 1992 Olympics, Grant Hackett's 1500 as well as Ian Thorpe's 200, 400 the competition and old records were left way back in the rear view mirror and shattered well beyond what could reasonably be expected. These people have broken the mold.

It is obvious to the casual observer that all the participants in the Olympic finals possess superior athletic body types and are highly trained and motivated. What may not be as obvious are the technique peculiarities that happen too quickly to be apparent or are obscured because they happen under water. It is apparent to this observer that the peculiarities of technique exhibited by the swimmers that have broken the mold and shattered records are observable and are significant components in these notable swims.

The Body Core
The ‘Body Core’ is the most current phrase used to describe what was written more then three decades ago by Charles E. Silvia to describe the importance of the large trunk muscles to producing efficient swimming motion. All body movement come from the contraction of muscle, but obviously, some muscles are more effective than others in producing efficient motion specific to a particular swimming stroke. The large muscles of the trunk are anchored to the central ‘core’ or the body and thus, the term ‘body core’ has some basis for its origin. The use of the term ‘body core,’ however, means little without defining the particular muscles involved with its application to technique. The ‘body core’ could easily be defined as the body’s trunk excluding the extremities and would include all the muscles both large and small attached to the trunk. Emphasis of the ‘Body Core’ that includes all of the muscles of the trunk for swimming would not be an efficient use of the most important muscles of the trunk. Thus, the use of the term ‘Body Core’ does not do justice to the particular muscles needed for emphasis, but rather loosely defines the important area from which these muscles originate. At least the coiners of the term ‘Body Core’ are in the right area to note where the most power originates for effective swimming propulsion.

The proliferation of materials and programs directed at the strengthening the body ‘Core’ has brought the area to the attention of swimming enthusiasts. However, the programs and exercises that are being promoted are not new and they are no more or less effective than they were 50 years ago. The use of medicine balls and calisthenics are a recycling of old methods, just as the knowledge of the ‘Core’s’ importance is an updating of old ideas, albeit not as accurate as first described. This is in reference to Silvia's identification of the primary muscles of shoulder adduction used in effective competitive swimming. No one can argue that the general conditioning of the body's core is detrimental. It can be argued, though, that general conditioning of the body's core is not the magic pill for success. Core conditioning is one piece of a training program puzzle, but without the specifics of muscle emphasis peculiar to the sport of swimming, no program of general body core conditioning will produce the desired swimming improvement.

The lack of precise definition of 'Body Core' as it relates to the effective muscles of shoulder adduction is not helpful to an athlete trying to learn how to use his strength effectively for a particular stroke. A good analogy would be the advice to a young child to use a utensil to eat ice cream when the spoon is what is most effective. An instruction to swim with the 'Body Core' is too general to have meaningful effect. General conditioning can never replace the exercise physiological law of 'Specificity of Training.’ Recruitment of efficient muscle motor units is specific to the task. The most important part of swimming training is the swimming and nothing can replace it. The so-called 'feel' for the water is actually the efficient recruitment of muscle fibers specific for the task Over recruitment of muscles by inefficient swimmers could be the result of non-specific training and/or the lack of specific training

The Muscles of the Body Core
The effective 'core' muscles for shoulder adduction used in all swimming strokes are the great trunk muscles that originate from the chest and back of the body (core) and have their insertions on the upper arm (humerus) bone. Many muscles originate from the chest and back but these muscles are the major adductors that work to bring the arm (humerus) in toward the mid-line of the body (adduction). The muscles include the latissimus dorsi, and teres major on the back (posterior) and the pectoralis major on the front (anterior). The teres major originates along the lateral boarder of the scapula, thus this important adductor muscle does not completely follow the definition of a core muscle since it does not arise from the trunk but arises from a bone that is close to the trunk. The scapula glides on the surface of the body's rib cage.
Why are these major muscles that for the most part originate from the 'body core' so important for effective swimming technique over and above other muscles which are also capable of producing or assisting in shoulder adduction? The answer can be found in the structure of the shoulder joint and the nature of these major 'core' muscles. These muscles are large, relatively powerful and are served well by the proximity of the heart's fresh blood supply. The use of the description 'relatively' has to do with comparing these muscles to the other muscles in the body. The shoulder joint itself is not a joint designed for strong movements in a 'relative' sense. The shoulder joint serves as the fulcrum for a third class lever system designed for mobility and speed of movement, not for strength. The latissimus dorsi, teres major and the pectoralis major muscles are the most powerful muscles associated with the joint. All three muscles work to pull the humerus toward the mid-line of the body as well as to rotate the humerus medially (internally). In all four competitive strokes the action of shoulder adduction is associated with the most propulsive phases of the stroke. Thus, the over simplified coaching instruction to 'swim with your core' has some basis in truth. (Relatively speaking)

The emphasis of certain muscles implies an unstated understanding that other muscles are not emphasized but are involved in an action. Fluid motion demands a synergy of action from all the parts that are moved. Very rarely does a muscle act alone and never in swimming. The large adductors of the shoulder have to work in synergy with the muscles of the arm, forearm and hand because the action of the shoulder adductors will move these segments whether their muscles are contracted or not contracted. Efficiency in a skill such as swimming demands that during the propulsive phase of the stroke the large muscles of the trunk be emphasized over the smaller muscles or the arm, forearm and hand. The larger muscles of the trunk are well supplied with blood, are involved with large movements and by their nature (relative sizes) able to tolerate large and repetitive workloads. The smaller muscles of the arm, forearm and hand are harder to supply with blood due to their distance from the heart and their relatively small sizes. It is apparent that if a movement can emphasize the larger and more vascular muscles for a repetitive movement, the more efficient the movement will be from both a strength and endurance standpoint. The only drawback to this idealistic technique description lies in the mechanical necessities of a particular stroke. This would include espoused techniques that require the fine manipulation of the smaller muscles of the arm, forearm and hand to produce stroke patterns deemed necessary for efficient propulsion.

Stroke patterns that emphasize more refined movements of the arm, forearm and hand add an increased energy cost for their application. A stroke with exaggerated out-sweeps, in-sweeps, up-sweeps and S patterns during the propulsive phase must rely upon muscles other than the great shoulder adductors of the trunk. The inefficiency of these small muscle actions is readily apparent to those who try to swim with these techniques. Any repetitive action that does not rely for the most part upon major muscle groups produces quick fatigue.

The challenge for the swimmer is to find the right synergistic applications of all the muscles involved in a stroke. The ideal stroke emphasizes the great adductors of the shoulder during the propulsive phase coupled with the optimum use of the small muscles of the arm, forearm and hand. The small muscles are used to position the extremity in its most advantageous propulsive position as it moves through the water in a particular stroke. The skilled swimmer makes this task appear to be easy because they do not over recruit muscles at inappropriate times and rely as much as possible upon the moving inertia of their repetitive and explosive propulsive phases to carry the stoke during the recovery and initial catch phases. They let the stroke carry them instead of working the stroke at the expense of their limited energy. This inertial and 'easy' stroke does require great muscular effort. Even the most 'natural' of athletes requires time to acquire the skill of an inertial stroke. The learning curve is different from athlete to athlete and the quality of the individual' s nervous systems that determines the ultimate degree of success in the acquisition of swimming skill. Michelangelo's ideal 'David' would not be a successful swimmer if he did not spend the specific time to learn the motor skill of swimming.

The Importance of Nervous System Organization
Efficient use of the 'body core' adductors of the shoulder joint during the propulsive phase of swimming is directly related to the organization of the human nervous system. Charles Silvia of Springfield College wrote about the difference between good and poor motor performance being determined by the quality of the sensory input. (18) Successful competitive performance, as stated in the last paragraph, is not possible without the ability to translate input (feel, touch, kinesthetic awareness) into effective motor output (recruitment of muscular force by the most appropriate muscles at the most appropriate times)

Dr. Hazem

عدد الرسائل : 32
العمر : 47
تاريخ التسجيل : 08/01/2009

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