Freediving No-Fins Technique Guide-Part1
No-Fins Technique Guide
I’d like to qualify what’s written below by saying this it's not so much a definitive guide as just what works for me so far. Not everything that’s here will work for you, or for me in the future. Nevertheless over my years of training for swimming and more recently as a freediver, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to all sorts of different people including Ed Moses (100m Breaststroke world record holder) and William Trubridge so a lot of what’s in here comes straight from them. I’ve tried to divide the stroke up into phases, for each phase there’s a set of technical points and then, perhaps more important, I’ve tried to suggest what it should feel like. Obviously the feeling will be different for each person but if, through training, you can get to the point where you’re aware of a change in feeling when you change your technique then I think you’re on the right lines. The document applies mostly to DNF, but many of the technical aspects also apply to CNF. Watch this space for a CNF specific series in the near future.
DNF: The push off
- Technical Points
From the wall, start with the knees and hips flexed, squeeze the elbows over the head, lock the hands together, one on top of the other with one thumb around the hypothenar eminence (the pad on the palm of the hand below the little finger) of the opposite hand and keep the arms straight. Your chin should be as far on your chest as your neck weight will allow whilst you stay relaxed. Engage the core muscles and drive hard from the balls of the feet, squeezing the buttocks and pointing the toes in a streamlined position.
You should try to be aware of the engagement of your core muscles through all phases of the stroke, particularly where there is power transfer. In the pushoff particularly you need to feel that your body is solid so that all the power from your legs acts forwards. You should feel your gluteal muscles and lats squeezing to hold your streamlined position. Despite all these muscles being engaged, they should not be tense and as your speed drops you can afford to relax further, particularly in the shoulders. The using the thumb to lock the hands together is the most efficient way I’ve found to prevent the arms springing apart, it should allow you to feel that your arms and shoulders are as relaxed as possible whilst maintaining a good streamline.
DNF: The pull phase
- Technical Points
The catch: Hold the glide position until your speed drops into the ‘pickup zone’. Release the thumb, allow the hands to spring apart and extend the arms away from the body, slightly ‘overreaching’ as you rotate, slightly flex and deviate the wrist to the ulnar (little finger) side so that your hands face outward and downward at about 45 degrees with fingers relaxed and palms loosely cupped. There should be a small gap between each of the fingers: when they move quickly through it, the water is unable to pass through the gap (as long as it’s not too big) so the effect of keeping the fingers relaxed is to increase the overall size of the surface in contact with the water. Press the palms outwards with further flexion and ulnar deviation of the wrist to allow the hands to stay in contact with the water.
Begin to bend your elbows as your hands pass outside shoulder width and allow this action to rotate your palms until they face in a backward direction at 45˚ to the vertical with your elbows at about 120˚. The power phase: From the catch, engage your core muscles, rotate your palms inward and ‘scoop’ the water round and up towards your abdomen by bending the elbows until their angle is less than 90˚ with the palms facing inwards, upwards and backwards. From here extend the arms forcefully, rotating the palms and extending the wrists to drive the water horizontally backwards past your hips. The characteristic ‘flick’ of the wrists that Will Trubridge demonstrates at the end of the stroke should be more the natural consequence of relaxation through the power phase (similar to the way your wrist whips through when throwing a stone) rather than an exaggerated movement.
Overall, the arms describe a ‘keyhole’ shape through the stroke in order to involve as many muscle groups as possible in the drive phase and minimise the body’s cross-sectional area. All the changes in angle detailed above are designed to keep the palms and forearms perpendicular to the direction of their movement whilst describing this shape. If you find all the details bewildering, just focus on that! The final point is that the shoulders provide the majority of the propulsion through the armstroke and you should try to accelerate the palms through the water using your lats and deltoids (back and shoulder muscles) so that the final phases of the stroke happen faster. Glide and Recovery: With hands by your sides, make a conscious effort to relax the body, particularly the shoulders, neck and back. Remind yourself of the feeling of having the core muscles engaged but not tense.
As your speed drops, slide the hands along the front of the thighs with palms facing in. As they pass the naval, squeeze the elbows into your sides and, by twisting one hand on top of the other bring the fingers through as close as possible in front of the face, as if holding a piece of paper very close to your eyes. Slide the elbows towards each other over the abdomen until they almost meet in the middle and then begin to extend the arms, rotating the wrists so the palms first face each other and then the hands sit one on top of the other again. Extend the arms fully, lock the thumb around the opposite palm again and squeeze the elbows over the head into the full streamlined position. Check this video of Chris Crawshaw UK record in 2012:
The goal throughout the pull is to keep the palms of the hands and forearms, which are the propulsive surfaces, in contact with a stationary column of water and (as far as possible) lever the body past it. All the tiny movements required to do this are listed above but if you focus on the feeling of moving your body ‘past the water’ you’ll be on the right lines. To do this you need to keep pressure on the column of water by making sure that your palms and forearms are continually moving backwards despite all the tricky rotations and deviations of the wrist and forearm that will maximise your ‘grip’.
If you lose the column of water, usually by over or under rotating the wrist or failing to follow the ‘keyhole shape’ properly, the acceleration required in the final half of the pull will cause you to ‘rip’ your arms through the water, meaning that you lose the effectiveness of your pull. This happens to a greater or lesser extent to everyone, even the best, so technical practise is all about minimising your losses and maximising your gains. The ‘pickup zone’ is the range of speeds in which you can effectively ‘pick up’ the water without losing momentum. Too early and you won’t get an effective ‘catch’ because you’re moving faster through the water than your hands can move in the opposite direction, too late and you’ll have slowed down so much that you need a lot more effort to overcome your inertia. The ‘pickup zone’ will be different for each person and really you’ll only get to grips with it through practise.
During the glide and recovery phases, I try to be aware of the plane that I occupy in the water and focus on ‘slipping between’ the layers, being aware of feeling the water wherever it contacts my skin. I find this helps me to cue myself into being as streamlined as possible. In your training try to pay a lot of attention to your speed during the recovery phase and as best you can eliminate any dead time (i.e. when you’re not moving) by being as streamlined as possible and timing your recovery correctly (leaving it too late will cause you to stop, losing momentum). Another thing I find helpful is to be aware of the position of my fingers as my arms extend during the recovery, if they’re too relaxed and bent Follow the part 2, next week and learn more about no-fins technics.