I have been swim coaching since 2003. I started as a volunteer coach for the Granite Gators Swim Team, helping introduce kids aged 8 - 10 to competitive swimming. Since then, I have worked with the most beginner child and adult swimmers, to very fast adult swimmers/triathletes. I have learned that fast swimming is a combination of good technique and good fitness. Spending weeks and months perfecting technique and swimming slow will not make you fast. Just like spending weeks and months building mileage with poor technique will not make you fast. There is a balance between the two and the correct time to work on technique, and the correct time to work on fitness. Today's blog post addresses a few common technique errors that I see all the time, and links to a few YouTube videos about how to correct them.
First off, I would recommend visiting the MR SMOOTH website. This website shows an animated view of perfect technique. Although this animation assumes perfect proportions, flexibility and that swim stroke doesn't change when you are swimming short events (50s), longer events (1500s) or in the open water or in a pool, it is a pretty good example of good technique.
While you read below, keep in mind the simple notion that having good technique means you swim in a way that reduces drag and increases propulsion. If you remind yourself of this, the following tips will be easier to grasp.
Technique tip #1: Breathing
This is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp for a non-swimmer. Proper breathing in freestyle is achieved by inhaling when you turn your head to breath and exhaling your air when your face is in the water. Don't try to exhale then inhale when you turn your head to breath. To exhale with your face in the water, try to use both your nose and your mouth. The action is almost like you are sighing into the water, with a more forceful exhale just before you turn your head to breathe. You exhale about 80% of your air before rotating your head to inhale. Do not lift your head up when you breath.
This video shows a few drills to follow to teach yourself how to breath properly.
Technique tip #2: Streamline
Adults often make the mistake of having 'lazy streamline position.' That is that they push off the wall on the surface of the water, arms spread apart, eyes looking forward. They then continue this lazy, loose body position when they swim. Focus when swimming should be being as streamline/hydrodynamic as possible. Think of yourself as a torpedo or a pencil. When you push off the wall, arms should squeeze your head, look down towards the bottom of the pool, arms reaching far forward, legs behind you performing fast, tight kicks (I will talk more about proper kicking later). YouTube Video Link 1 and YouTube Video Link 2
Technique tip #3: Body Position and Rotation
Before you focus on the arms, it's important to focus on your body position in the water. Your head, hips and feet should all be in a horizontal line, at the surface of the water. Your eyes should look down and only slightly forward along the bottom of the pool. The top of your head should point in the direction you are swimming towards. Your hairline should be submerged, but your whole head should not be underwater. A good head position will help raise the hips and legs closer to the surface. Other tricks to getting your hips and feet up are to press your chest into the water, to feel your heels breaking the surface of the water and to have a tight and fast kick that is initiated from the hips, not with the knees.
Also, it is important that the body rotates about 30-45 degrees on your longitudinal axis when you swim, even when you aren't breathing. To do this, think about initiating the rotation with the hips.
A few drills that can be used to work on body position are: Floating on your back and on your front (just like you need to stand before you can walk, you need to be able to float before you can swim), Sculling, Front Sculling, 6-kick or 12-kick switch drill, corkscrew drill and backstroke kicking.
Technique tip #4: Front Quadrant Swimming
There are two main styles of swimming. One is more of a windmill style stroke, during which arms move directly opposite from one another. The other is a style that is called front quadrant swimming. While there is a time and a place for windmill style swimming (usually great for sprinting), it is a lot harder to develop endurance and a good catch and pull for this type of stroke. It doesn't usually work too well for triathletes, either, as it often leads to breathing late (see this video). I like to teach front quadrant swimming to my adult swimmers. This style means that one arm passes by the goggles as the other arm begins to take a stroke. It also requires a more steady or 6-beat kick.
A few drills to try include are one arm freestyle (breath every 2 strokes, variation 1 in this video) and catch-up freestyle (breath every 3 strokes). Important to note is that drills used to develop a good front quadrant style stroke often require you to swim flat in the water, so always balance out these drills with good body rotation drills.
Look for Useful Swimming Tips: Part 2, still to come!
Miranda coaches from the Toronto Triathlon Club, runs clinics, does swim analysis and swim lessons for triathletes of all abilities. Book a privates session online or join the Toronto Triathlon Club.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Earlier today, I wrote a formal email to each of my supporters to thank them for their support this season. I thought I would share with you, my readers, how incredibly important their support was to my 2017 triathlon season. Below I have included some of what I wrote to them:
Bill (The Urban Athlete): Thank you for everything. I seem to battle through injury after injury, and this past year was no different. Yet, I was still able to achieve good results because you keep me going.
Scott Judges (Fitt1st Bike Fitting): Thank you. I feel aero and fast on my TT bike. My power numbers aren’t too impressive, but my position is (thanks to you) and that allows me to race at the top of the sport. In fact, I had the second fastest female bike split in Barrelman this past year.
John Salt (Multisport Canada): Thank you for such a wonderful race series and for naming me to the Ambassador Team. It truly has been awesome to spread the word about your series and race as much as did. I got into this sport because of local races, I re-entered the sport after injury because of your local races and I continue to strive in the sport because of your local races.
Rob Milligan (Blade Carbon Wheels): Thank you for introducing me to your fast wheels. They are both durable and aero (and good looking) and I absolutely loved racing on them this year. Without your generous deal on the wheels I wouldn't even have had race wheels and my season would not have been the same.
Don (One Capital): Thank you for giving me a place to stay when I train in the winter and for supporting me with new kits! I started the race season in top shape, partly because I was able to get a couple great weeks of training in Southern California. I wish I could train and race more with the One Capital team. Hopefully in the future.
Chris and staff (Enduro Sport): Thank you for getting and building me a REALLY fast bike with all the components I asked for and for always being there when I needed mechanical help.
Nick (Velofix): Thank you for all the tune ups! You can get the bike so clean and make it feel so smooth to pedal. No doubt I saved some time in my races because of your brilliant mechanical skills.
Mamma and Papa (High Rock Capital): You have done nothing but believe in me. You taught me to go after my dreams and you supported me all the way, both financially and emotionally. There is not a chance I would have been able to achieve what I have without you. Thank you, a million times and more, for everything.