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Chlorine Chronicle (Archive)

NMSC Oct/96 Newsletter


(contributed by Cathy Merritt)

Last issue I promised to summarize some articles on stretching to improve flexibility in hips, shoulders and ankles. Due to time and space limitations, I will deal only with the ankle flexibility in this issue. The reference for shoulders is [6] below and for hips are [2] and [3] (find out how Matt Biondi does it). I will make these publications available really soon. In what follows, as usual, the text in italics is directly quoted from these references.

Today's references
(or where I got this stuff from and where to look for the pictures)

[1]. Sarah Bowen Shea, "Goggle Guide 96", Fitness Swimmer, Fall 1996, pp. 33-38.
[2]. Jill Werman, "Get Hip to the Axis", Fitness Swimmer, Fall 1996, pp. 66-68.
[3]. Bob Prichard, "Being Hip in the Water", reprinted from MetroSports Magazine in Wavelengths, Summer 1996, pp. 27-29.
[4]. 101 Fitness Swimming Secrets, Rodale Press, 1995, (a) pp. 6-7. and (b) pp. 20-21.
[5]. Chip Zempel, "Footnotes, In search of a more efficient kick", Fitness Swimmer, Spring 1996, pp. 32-33.
[6]. Bob Prichard, "Slow Stretching, Fast Swimming:, Fitness Swimmer, Spring 1996, pp. 34-36.

Ankle Flexibility

(or a possible explanation of why Joan T. kicks so fast.).

If you've got flexible feet you can produce more propulsion, through a wider arc, with less bend in your knees [says Marty Hull, inventor of Zoomers training fins]. Many elite swimmers have hyperextended knees, which allow them to kick through an even wider arc while still keeping their thighs inside their slipstream.

If your ankles aren't that flexible, you have to bend your knee more, which means your foot will be at the right angle for pushing back against the water, but your thigh will interrupt your slipstream and create drag [5].

If you are able to point your toes, your feet will act like fins in the water. If you can't point your toes ... your feet will act like anchors. [4a].

How to check your ankle flexibility

Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your heels resting on the floor. Point your toes as far as you can without causing pain (or have a friend press gently down on your toes.) Measure the distance from the floor to your toes. If your toes are within two inches of the floor, you should have a decent kick. If your toes are two to four inches from the floor, that's fair. If you measure four to seven inches or more from the floor, your ankles are very tight, and you probably find it very difficult to kick with a kickboard [4a].

Another way to measure your ankle flexibility (but requiring searching the house for a protractor) is as follows: Sit on the floor, extend your legs in front of you (as above) and imagine a line down the side of your leg, from the center of your knee through the center of your ankle, extending past your foot. Without letting the backs of your legs off the floor, point your toes as far down as you can. Can you point them below that imaginary line?

That's the magic angle at which a kick starts to become propulsive. for each degree you go past that line, you increase your forward propulsion and decrease the effort. [5].

Ankle Flex Exercises ([4a] and [5])

  1. Have a partner press down on your feet as you sit with legs extended.
  2. Sitting on the floor, tuck the tops of your feet under a sofa. Slowly scoot back on the floor. Try to extend your legs fully. Be careful not to exert too much pressure on your Achilles tendon (behind the ankle area).
  3. While sitting on a chair, dangle your feet and curl the tops of your toes to the floor. Press down.
  4. Practice swimming with training fins on, especially when you kick.
  5. Kneel on the floor, using a towel or mat if the floor is hard, and point your toes behind you so that the tops of your feet are flat on the floor. Put your hands on the floor behind you, lean back, and lift your knees up off the floor. (See the picture in [5].) A long time ago (more than 10 years), Bill advised us to sit on our feet while watching TV, which is very similar to this stretch. I think I've watched TV about twice since then, and it didn't occur to me either time to do this stretch.

Stretch to the point of discomfort, not pain. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds (if you can), then relax and rest a moment. Repeat several times. Your ankles may be sore at first, so start out gradually. After a few weeks you'll adapt to stretching, and be able to do more for longer periods.

Other tips for kicking (details in [5])

OK. I measured my own ankle flexibility at 4 3/4 inches from the floor, putting me in the category of being a lousy kicker (I knew that already!). (Maybe I would have been a diver if I could have pointed my toes, if I didn't dislike heights, if I didn't sometimes get dizzy just doing flip turns, if...). So here's my experiment: After a couple of weeks into the swimming season I timed my "before stretching" freestyle kick over 100 metres (it's amazing how long it takes to do that!). The reason for waiting a few weeks was to not include the overall beginning-of-the-season improvement due to swimming versus doing nothing. For comparison, I also timed my 100 free swim and my 100 free pull; that way I will know if my kick is improving or I'm just getting in better shape (assuming there is some improvement in any of these).

Any day now, I will start to do some of the stretching exercises regularly and will time these three 100's every once in awhile (not all on the same day!) as well as measure whether I can point my toes any closer to the floor. I may even be able to plot a graph of all this and will let you know what happens. If anybody wants to join me in this experiment, I'd be interested to hear the results.

Now, who's willing to bet that Joan can point her toes to two inches from the floor?

Answer to last issue's quiz (What is the difference between a Masters swimmer and a fitness swimmer...?)

This has to do with the choice of appropriate goggles [1]:

There is no hard-and-fast line distinguishing Masters goggles from fitness swimming ones, just as there's crossover between open-water goggles and ones for triathlons. Long-wearing comfort and watertightness are the most important features in both indoor categories, but fitness swimmers are often less concerned with aesthetics and hydrodynamic design. ... Since Masters is fairly social, looks are important here -- the ideal pair won't leave deep moats around your eye sockets and won't make you look like a visiting Martian when you're wearing them. ...if these same goggles are hydrodynamic enough for racing, all the better.

In open-water and triathlon swimming comfort, watertightness, peripheral vision and sun blockage are important but in triathlon and competitive open-water swimming, the crucial feature is the intimidation factor. Don't underestimate the importance of psyching out competitors -- and psyching yourself up. (In other words, get goggles that make you look scary.)

Tip of the day.

Butterfly The kick accounts for at least one-third of our power in the butterfly stroke, so it must be carefully coordinated with your arm motion, breathing and body motion.

The dolphin kick ... is designed to push still columns of water behind you quickly and forcefully. During the downbeat, thrust your hips upward so your buttocks can break the water's surface. During the upbeat of the kick, thrust your hips downward. This is what will give you the powerful, undulating motion that gets your entire body into the stroke, not just your limbs.

Keeping your feet pointed on the downbeat of your kick will help you direct water backward, not downward, and will help you sustain the undulation that began in your hips.[4b]. Quiz: What is the new aquatic "sport" which makes the hypoxic sets (i.e., breathing every 7 or 9 strokes) we sometimes do look wimpy? (Hint: check the beaches in Hawaii; the people who participate in this activity are known as "exer-psychos:".)

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