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.