“rocket” drill, The

“rocket” drill, The

Hurley, Erin D

The “rocket” drill, used by swimmers at Grinnell College in Iowa, is designed to improve a swimmer’s underwater breaststroke pulldown.

As a former breaststroke swimmer, I had a difficult time understanding and “feeling” a strong and efficient underwater breaststroke pulldown on starts and turns. I had always pulled hard, but never seemed to get much distance or speed from the pull relative to the effort I put forth. What I was doing was going through the motions and tensing my muscles. I was not catching enough water.

I have modified a drill based on the same principle as using surgical tubing (or by a towing machine) for speed– assisted swimming. When using surgical tubing for assisted swimming, it is still the swimmer’s goal to catch water at the beginning of the pulldown and hold it throughout the entire movement.

During this drill, the swimmer is moving faster through the water than the speed he or she normally would be able to attain without the surgical tubing. The sensation felt when being pulled down the pool by the surgical tubing without using extraordinary effort is amazing.

The key to the success of this drill is to increase your stroke rate (i.e., increase your tempo) fast enough to catch and hang onto the water and to still feel the resistance of the water against your hand (similar to rowing a motor-propelled row boat). Successfully completing this drill allows you to feel how fast you want your arms to move through the water when swimming race speed or faster.

On a scientific level, according to “The New Science of Swimming” by J.E. Counsilman and BE. Counsilman, the greater speed achieved in this speed-assisted technique provides different sensory input to the nervous system. This input allows swimmers to adjust the required movement patterns and movement speed to break out of their movement stereotype.

The Grinnell way

I believe this same effect can be accomplished for the breaststroke underwater pull without using stretch cords. Here’s what we do at Grinnell College:

* We ask our swimmers to go to the deep end of the pool. There, they submerge themselves to the bottom of the pool feet first. Once their feet land on the bottom, they push off as hard as they can. As they are traveling upward, they do their underwater breaststroke pulldown, “rocketing” their bodies out of the water.

The fact that their bodies naturally want to rise to the surface, combined with the push they give off the bottom of the pool, generates a speed they are not usually able to attain in practice.

* Our swimmers repeat this “rocket” drill one more time, then immediately head to the wall.

* At the wall, they do a breaststroke underwater pulldown and breakout from a push off the wall. They need to try to generate the same speed with their underwater pulldown as they did with the “rocket.” It is critical that they also make sure their hand speed accelerates through their pulldown. As soon as they “catch the water,” they keep their elbows high and accelerate their hands and arms through their pulldown.

Make It Fun

There are other ways to generate this type of speed-assisted underwater pulldown, such as doing starts and using surgical tubing. However, you can do several series of “rockets” without spending the energy and focus that is needed to combine a start and underwater pulldown.

Limiting the number of tasks the swimmer focuses on will help him or her master the task at hand. Combining the start with the underwater pulldown can be a later step in the process of training race-specific breakouts.

When using surgical tubing, the swimmer has a tendency to maintain the streamline position too long and ride out the speed created by the tubing, thereby missing the opportunity to have a speed-assisted underwater pulldown. Also, with surgical tubing, the swimmer cannot strive for the goal of shooting his body out of the water as far out as he can.

Coaches can challenge their swimmers to try to get their trunk, including their suit, out of the water. This can be a fun game.

Lastly, evaluation of the drill is easier to determine when performing the “rocket” drill. How far did the swimmer get out of the water? How did the attempt compare with the last time he or she performed this drill? Both the swimmer and coach can evaluate progress independently.

The “rocket” drill is a fun and relatively simple drill that can benefit swimmers of all ages. This drill can be performed in varying levels of deep water. Younger swimmers might want to try this drill first in 5-8 feet of water, then move to deeper and deeper depths.

By Erin D. Hurley

Erin D. Hurley is the men’s and women’s swimming coach at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

Copyright Sports Publications, Inc. Jul-Sep 2002

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