Which Came First: the Shoulders or the Hips

The age old freestyle question has nothing to do with chickens but does ask “Which came first: the shoulders or the hips?”  In the first days of swimming, we used to swim freestyle with a shoulder focus.  The shoulders controlled the rotation, the pull, and the recovery arm.  Then, many long time swimmers started having shoulder problems and we figured out the core and the hips were stronger at creating propulsion than the shoulders were.

The Way Things Used to Be

 Many swimmers who learned how to swim freestyle prior to the 1990s are used to having a straight arm or an ‘S’ curve pull under their body and a straight arm recovery.  In addition, they are used to having the shoulders fling the arm forward while the opposite arm pulled to generate power in the stroke.  This use of the shoulders places a lot of stress on the small muscles of the shoulder and overuse occurs quickly.

To solve the shoulder overuse issue, we have relaxed the recovery arm, brought the power of the pull into the lats with a high elbow and the forearm and hand pointing down, and brought the power of the rotation into the core and the hips.  You can see more information about the arm position in my posts entitled “Love your Freestyle Pull” and “Recovery Arms and Why They’re Important”.  The most important change is the use of the core and the hips.

By employing the core and the hips, the body is able to transfer power from these large muscle groups down to the legs for the kick and up to the arms for the pull.  To take advantage of all the power the body has to offer, the body should rotate as one unit with the hips initiating the rotation.  The top hip rotates down and then the shoulder follows.  The best way to practice this is with the Sailboat Drill.

Sailboat Drill

 To perform the sailboat drill, when your arm is in the recovery phase, pause with the elbow up, forearm and hand pointing down, roll your core and top hip, then have your recovery arm follow into the glide position.  At the same time, your opposite arm is performing the pull.  This drill gets the power going by having the top hip and core roll before the recovery arm comes forward and transfer power down the kick leg, up the glide arm, and over to the pull arm.  You’ll know when you have this drill coordinated because you will feel a surge of power pushing you forward.

Once you get your hip moving before your shoulders and you can feel that surge forward, you can relax your shoulder use and still get the speed you were used to in your old stroke.  In fact, with using the new muscle groups, you will likely get faster, have an easier stroke, and save your shoulders.  Good luck and let me know if I can be of any help in your swimming journey.

Posted February 27, 2017