How We’re Building Better Swimmers
A grindstone is a rough slab of stone used to grind, sharpen, and polish. It’s designed to make tools and weapons that are built to perform.
The Crossover Symmetry System is a grindstone in an athlete’s training program, used to build a foundation for movement. This foundation is key to resolving pain and pushing past deficits in strength and mobility.
But for a well crafted blade to be effective, the user must be trained in the art of weaponry. There must be a partnership of both tool and skill. This is also true in sports performance. The athletic foundation can only take an athlete so far; it’s the expertise honed with sport specific training that takes performance to the next level.
To help build better swimmers, we are proud to work with one of the best, through our partnership with RITTER Sports Performance. We’re excited to have new features from them on our Training Zone to help further develop swim performance.
To learn a bit about RITTER Sports Performance, we sat down for a Q&A with Abbie Fish. She is the Head Technique Coach at RITTER and helps refine swimmers at all levels.
(And be sure to take a look at the new swim features in the swim section of the Crossover Symmetry Training Zone.)
Interview with Abbie Fish
CS: You’ve assembled an awesome team at Ritter Sports Performance, how did this all come together?
Well, thanks Matt—we really appreciate that! RITTER Sports Performance was born in 2010, after Chris Ritter was catapulted to the elite coaching ranks—since he trained Cullen Jones prior to the 2008 Olympics. If you remember, Cullen was a part of the FAMOUS USA Men’s 4×100 Freestyle Relay, where the Jason Lezak out-touched Alain Benard to win GOLD.
With this accomplishment, Chris started training swimmers in-person and online from a drylands/strength & conditioning perspective. Ever since then, Chris has continued to grow RITTER’s presence and bring in a small team of coaches, including Strength & Conditioning experts, as well as myself as the Swim Technique Coach.
The goal of RITTER is to be the World’s Best Continual Education Resource for Swim Coaches and Swimmers. We really take pride in helping our audience get to their goals—faster, stronger, and more technically sound.
CS: You’ve worked at an array of different clubs in many different positions. Tell us a little bit more about your background with studying swimming stroke technique.
I have definitely bounced around with a couple different coaching gigs.
I’ve been swimming since I was four years old, and capped off my career swimming on scholarship at the University of Georgia. For me, I came to realize as my career progressed, that I LOVED seeing and helping others get to their goals—more than my own. This was the first of many lightbulbs that lead me into the coaching realm.
After I finished grad school, I was offered an internship at USA Swimming in Colorado Springs. I worked in the High Performance Department with the likes of Matt Barbini & Russell Mark. It was that experience that clicked with my background in Exercise Science and my love of coaching.
I took a full-time coaching role with technique analysis included at Nashville Aquatic Club. This role got my hands dirty with coaching and exposed me to all different levels of swimmers—from Olympians to people who never swam competitively before.
From there, I was offered a job at The Race Club—which is known for their stroke technique philosophy and their post-grad training group in the early 2000’s. After about 1 year, I decided to get out on my own and formulate what I thought about stroke technique and build-out exactly what I was looking for.
I wouldn’t change any of the experiences I’ve had to date—as they all taught me a lot about swimming and they got me to where I am today.
CS: You’ve coached a lot of swimmers, at many different levels, are there any overwhelming technique issues that seem to be slowing swimmers down at all levels? If so what is the best approach to correct it?
Yes, there are definitely some common technical errors seen in all four strokes. I would say the biggest one that’s across the board—is PROPER body position. What’s funny about this error is it’s a basic, fundamental movement taught in the learn-to-swim process. But it truly does prove, that when you start complicating the movement patterns (I.e. adding in arms, legs, rotation, etc.)—the foundational principles can shift as well.
One great way to correct body position is to get the swimmer out on land, and work with them (in a non-resistance environment). This ensures that the swimmer improves their proprioception (understanding where the body is in space), so they have better body awareness in the water.
You can actually use Crossover Symmetry Bands to teach better body position. To do this, get your swimmer out of the water and have them hinge at the hips, so their body is at a 90-degree. From there, perform a Butterfly Pull—working on dropping the chest back down as you recover, to get the hips back up.
CS: Shoulder pain is a common limitation among swimmers, are there any technique recommendations you can provide that can help with that?
Shoulder pain is normally seen amongst swimmers, due to the fact that swimming requires TONS of revolutions from the shoulders. Couple that with young, growing kids—whose joints are very malleable, you’ve got a great equation for shoulder pain.
The #1 technique recommendation I have for this would be make sure you watch the “entry” position of each of your strokes. When the hand is put above the head (with the palm facing away from the body, your shoulder is in a neutral position. The moment you rotate the palm to either the left or right sides, you pinch portions of the rotator cuff. Now, multiply that pinch by 4,000 strokes—there’s your diagnosis.
You always want to be in a neutral position at entry. The only exception would be a slight external rotation in Backstroke. BUT, if you are experiencing any shoulder pain in Backstroke—switch your entry to neutral and see what happens.
CS: When assessing a swimmer are there any strategies you use to pick out their weakest link? Meaning, how do you differentiate a mechanical flaw as a coordination issue, a problem with strength/endurance, or simply awareness about what they are doing?
When I work with swimmers, I like to try and start from the mid-body and branch out to the limbs. With swim technique, it can become a long rabbit-hole that never ends, and it’s important for the coach to give the most APPROPRIATE feedback at that time. Otherwise, you and I could talk for days on the different issues with someone’s technique.
So for me and my swimmers, I always like to tell them the “bigger” stuff first. Let’s take a look at their core, their hips, their rotation—things that are going on with their midsection that will affect their limbs. Because the cool part of swimming technique is, if you fix one thing—it’ll change something else. So you want to fix this specific piece, you need to find the missing piece or something else up the muscular chain—that will help push that into better positioning. It’s like a puzzle to me.
I will always watch a swimmer’s core and body first, and correct that—then go onto their limbs, and work to the smallest of body parts (i.e. fingers and toes).
CS: Thanks Abbie! We’re excited to work with you and the rest of your team to help swimmers all over the world! (And for anyone who wants to work with Abbie, you can learn more about getting an online swim stroke assessment by clicking the link below).