September 15, 2012
FLO Cycling - Swim Tips from Josh Amberger
For those of you who have been following Josh Amberger for the past year or so, it will be no surprise that he has been making his mark as one of the best swimmers in the sport. Last year at Hy-Vee, Josh beat super swimmer Andy Potts out of the water by 56 seconds and just last weekend at the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas, he was first out of the water and again head of Potts. I'm by no means taking a stab at Potts (it's clear he's one of the best triathletes in the sport and I'm definitely a fan), I'm simply using him as a mark because historically, nobody beats him out of the water.
Josh has been living with me in Las Vegas for the last week or so and we've put together a list of his top "three" swim tips. We've also shot some underwater video to show you Josh's strokes and how his tips are incorporated in his very efficient technique. We used a tether (a bicycle tube tied to his ankle and then anchored to the pool deck, pictured below) to allow him to swim in place for the videos. Take a look at the tips and videos below and think about them during your next swim workout.
More About Josh: Josh is a FLO Cycling sponsored athlete who just placed 7th at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas. As you know from above, he was first out of the water in that race. He was also second off of the bike using a FLO 60 front wheel and a FLO DISC rear wheel. To learn more about Josh, you can follow him on Twitter or follow his Blog.
Tip #1 - The Shape of your Hand
Propulsion in swimming is key. The more water you can effectively hold onto, the more propulsion you will be able to generate. Your hand plays a key role in propulsion and the shape in which you hold your hand is very important. Let's start with three types of hand shapes.
1 - Cupped Hand
A cupped hand would appear to be optimal allowing the athlete to "scoop" more water, but in reality, it does not. Forcing your hand into a cupped shape actually reduces the surface area of your hand and is not the most effective hand position.
2 - Open Hand
If a cupped hand is not ideal, it may seem intuitive that an open hand would then produce the most surface area and be ideal. Well, it's not. When your fingers are wide apart, a lot of water passes through your open fingers causing your hand to slip through the water.
3 - Relaxed Hand
Believe it or not, the relaxed hand is the optimal hand position. With your fingers only slightly apart, the water cannot easily get through the spaces and a bigger surface area is created. The relaxed hand position is the optimal hand position for swimming.
Take a look at the video below highlighting Josh's relaxed hand position.
Tip #2 - Swim with High Elbows
Take a look at any elite level swimmer under water and you'll notice one common trend: they all swim with high elbows. Swimming with high elbows allows the swimmer to not only use the surface area of their hand as a paddle, it allows them to use the surface area of their forearm and humerus as a paddle as well. Additionally, it allows the swimmer to recruit more powerful muscles such as the lats. A lot of great swimmers get this naturally and the rest of us unfortunately have to work on it!
Experiment: If you swim with a masters team, take a minute to watch the swimmers in the fast lane and compare them to the swimmers in the slower lanes. Do you see a difference in the height of their elbows? I'm certain you will.
Below we have two videos. The first video shows a swimmer with dropped elbows. The second video shows Josh Amberger's high elbows.
Tip #3 - Find Your Ideal Head Position
The way you hold your head while swimming will have an effect on your overall body position, affect how you breathe, and be more or less beneficial when sighting in open water. Here we will take a look at three head positions and see what Josh recommends.
1 - High Head Position
A high head position is typically not ideal, specifically for beginner swimmers. I say typically because some people are just very naturally buoyant and a "higher" head position is sometimes better for them, but this is not common. Most of the time, a high head position causes your feet to sink which will slow you down in a hurry. Holding your head in this unnatural position will also likely cause your neck to hurt after awhile and could make breathing more difficult.
2 - Low Head Position
A low head position can have the opposite effect of a high head position. Athletes who force their heads down in an effort to "swim downhill" (a common tip for swimming) can often end up forcing the front of their body down too far. This will also slow you down quickly and should be avoided.
3 - Neutral Head Position
A neutral head position is what swimmers should be aiming to achieve for several reasons. To start, it helps to get your body into an efficient position. When you find your ideal head position, your entire body will be close to the surface of the water. This reduces your frontal area and makes you a faster swimmer. Next, a neutral head position typically allows you to look forward. Looking forward (if you are open water swimming) allows you to find the feet of someone you are drafting off of or can help prevent you from getting kicked in the face. Finally, with a neutral head position your neck will be relaxed, removing a lot of strain and allowing you to breathe more efficiently.
Try This: A simple kicking drill can help you find your ideal head positon. Kick easily with your arms at your sides. Play with the position of your head until your body and feet are all close to the surface of the water. Once you find this position, try incorporating it into your regular swimming. You'll surely notice a difference.
I hope you have enjoyed this article on swimming. Please feel free to ask any questions you like. Josh will be keeping an eye on the comments and will chime into answer any questions that he can.