When I was a swimmer, YouTube was very much in its infancy and it was mainly a platform to watch cats do crazy things! If we fast forward to today you can learn how to do practically anything by watching a YouTube video. I myself have learnt how to crochet and often dabble in copying a master do a water colour painting from a video I’ve watched. As a swimming coach I often have people coming to me having learnt to swim as an adult who have spent many hours watching various YouTube videos. I always admire how much effort people invest in trying to teach themselves a new skill as an adult as I understand how challenging skill acquisition is the older we get.
I am going to hold my hands up and say that before earlier this year I had never googled a swimming video on YouTube (I much preferred the cat videos!). However when I did, it blew my socks off to see how much is out there, it is a mine field of so many ‘coaches’ stating different ways to swim. Some I really agreed with and some made my heart hurt with the misinformation they were stating. Now I am not saying I am the font of all swimming knowledge but I have a wealth of personal experience and as a coach I strive to stay up to date with techniques and drills. When watching videos I always keep in the back of mind that I could make a video on how to change a cars’ engine, if I spoke with enough conviction and had enough views people would think I knew what I was talking about, when I really don’t.
I understand that companies have their own style of delivering swimming technique but if you leave the video with more questions than answers just keep in mind that Einstein once quoted that if you cannot explain something simply then you do not know the subject well enough. I try and keep that mantra at the core of my coaching philosophy, I use a lot of visualisation in my coaching. For example when explaining how to enter your hand at the front of the stroke I tell my swimmers to imagine they are posting their hand into the water the same way a letter would slide through a post-box, flat and allowing the letter (hand and arm) to reach right to the end of its length before it starts to move downwards (into the catch phase). One thing I really dislike is when videos state WHAT you are doing wrong without giving you the information on HOW to change and in my opinion WHY it is important. As mentioned in my ‘don’t be a drag’ blog the physics of swimming boils down to the water pressed back minus resistance is the amount your body will move forwards so all technique should be centred in making this equation as efficient as possible.
Another point for consideration is to ask who do you feel this video is aimed for? Would that style suit a young competitive swimmer with many years of training behind them or a masters swimmer who wants to swim 2km open water? Many of the videos I watch state there is only one technique to swim with, this I fundamentally disagree with. YES there is an efficient way to move the water in the catch phase but the technique will be different for every swimmer as no two swimmers are the same. When I coach swimmers I am constantly making assessments on their biomechanics including shoulder flexibility, core strength and stability in the water alongside other factors such as their age and swimming fitness. It is only after reviewing all these elements, will I then coach the correct technique for that individual. An example of a common fault I see in swimmers is trying to force a close to the body, high elbow recovery. I agree in a competitive swimmer who’s focus is speed and has a good range of movement at the shoulder and a strong consistent rotation through their stroke this is a great technique point, but for an older swimmer who has average shoulder mobility for their age this can lead to shoulder injuries. I recommend fixing a good 45 degrees of rotation through the body and allowing the arm to recover slightly lower and wider to minimise any potential injuries.
I am not saying that all YouTube videos are bad, far from it! There are some fantastic coaches out there and I myself have a channel with drills and tips on it. My intent in this article is to highlight that not all information out there is correct and no number of videos can replace the input from high quality coaching who is tailoring the stroke to your individual needs.