Professional triathlete Lukas Verzbicas, 19, has made great strides in swimming since working with Dr. Genadijus Sokolovas (aka “Dr. G”), an exercise physiologist and swimming technique specialist who has worked with athletes including Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Amanda Beard.
Prior to working with Sokolovas, Verzbicas couldn’t keep up with the senior pro triathletes who swam at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., including veteran pro Mark Fretta and 2009 national champion Matt Chrabot. But now he has no problem swimming with them and can go 100m in less than a minute at altitude.
Earlier this year, Sokolovas administered the GST Swim Power Test to Verzbicas—a test that Sokolovas invented and that measures the velocity, force, acceleration and power of each phase of a swimmer’s stroke. The data are then synchronized with an underwater video of the swimmer in real time, which Sokolovas later analyzes.
Sokolovas noticed immediately that the primary problem with Verzbicas’ technique was he was driving from the shoulders, not the hips.
“The hips are closer to the center of mass, which is always more efficient,” Sokolovas said.
To help Verzbicas learn how to swim with his hips instead of his arms, Sokolovas gave him a drill where he keeps his arms by his side and then moves forward only by kicking, rotating 90 degrees to each side as he does so.
This drill helps a swimmer get a sense of the muscles he uses to propel himself forward without his arms, and it forces him to swim with a rigid core.
“If you have a soft boat that isn’t full of air, you use a lot of energy to push this boat,” Sokolovas said. “That’s why all ships are built very rigid from steel and other metals.”
Sokolovas also gave Verzbicas several tips on how to be the most efficient swimmer possible. Here are some that you can apply to your own swimming:
- The first rule in swimming is reducing drag.
- Your head can cause a lot of drag. Don’t look forward. Instead, always imagine you are swimming downhill and look down at the bottom of the pool.
- Practice swimming with your head in the proper downward position by finding a tennis ball-sized inflatable ball and placing it between your chin and neck. Practice swimming and breathing while still holding this ball between your chin and neck.
- Imagine your core is a rigid pole or kayak while you are swimming. “Athletes need to think about this,” Sokolovas said, as this helps you recruit power from your core instead of using your arms as your primary method of propelling yourself forward. “Fish don’t have necks, and fish don’t have arms. That produces great swimming,” Sokolovas said.
- Swimmers can practice engaging their core with a drill that involves a 2- to 3-pound weight. Hold the weight on the small of your back while you kick to move yourself forward. (Your other arm should be out ahead of you in a streamlined position.) Breathe to the side.
- Sokolovas disagrees with triathlon coaches who ignore kicking sets. “If you are limiting your power from kicking and just using your arms, you won’t have good body positioning,” Sokolovas said. Athletes can use fins to help them develop kicking strength; fins will also help athletes improve their body position, as using them makes your body naturally more rigid.
If you are interested in working with Dr. Sokolovas, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Swimetrics.com. For more on Verzbicas’ training, pick up the current issue of Inside Triathlon.