While it can be convincingly argued that we as a species are designed to run, the same cannot be said about swimming. The moment you enter the water, you immerse yourself in an environment of constant resistance. Just keeping your head above the surface takes an incredible amount of energy.
Try moving forward, and you expend even more energy. With every passing stroke and kick of your feet, the water’s action of drag perpetually slows your down, making every movement an exaggerated effort. To avoid drowning, you must move each major body part, from your core to your extremities, in concert, as well as synchronize your breathing with the rhythm or your swimming stroke.
Read these ten insider performance tips for superb swimming technique:
1. Be patient and progress at your own pace.
Unless they’re had formal lessons or spent a lot of time in the water, learning how to swim touches on people’s worst fears and insecurities. It’s definitely one of the most technical and challenging sports. A lot of athletes talk themselves out of learning how to swim or learning to be more efficient i the water because they think the learning curve is too slow.
This is simply not true. Swimming, although challenging and extremely difficult, does not take a lifetime to learn. In fact, proficiency can be attained in a very short period of time. The key is to remain patient and focus on the drills that highlight your weakness(es).
Also, don’t be in a rush to get through the drills. As long as you progress through the sequence of drills at your own pace and spend ample time working on your streamlined stance, you’ll be swimming effortlessly in no time.
2. Master the streamlined swimming stance.
Streamlined stance and kicking mechanics are universal constants for every athlete. Put another way, they can always be improved and are the quickest way to develop an efficient freestyle stroke. If you can keep your body level and kick properly, everything from timing and rotating to moving your arms through the four phases of a swimming stroke will be much easier to manage.
3. Follow the swimming drills sequentially and focus on your areas of weakness.
If you’re struggling with the movements, or working too hard to move forward, isolate your areas of weakness in the form of a drill until you gain proficiency. That is why we recommend you go through the swimming drills in order to find the drills that highlight your biggest weakness. If you skip around the drills in the beginning, you may miss one that highlights one of your weaknesses.
4. Learn to breathe on both sides of your body.
Whether you’re an advanced swimmer or brand-new to the sport, you need to be able to breathe comfortably on both sides of your body. That way if you are in an uncontrolled environment like an ocean or lake — which has currents, wakes, and waves — you can adjust your breathing accordingly. This can be practiced a couple of different ways.
You can either breathe every odd stroke, or pick and even-stroke count and switch sides every other lap. This doesn’t mean that you have to breathe on both sides of our body all the time. Once you’re proficient, you can favor one side. The key is to become proficient at breathing on both sides of your body so that you’re prepared for any scenario.
5. Switch up the stroke.
It’s important to mention that the backstroke, and the breaststroke are still valuable techniques to add to your arsenal if you’re just learning how to swim or are competing in a long-distance event such as a 5k or 10k. In such a situation, you can switch up the stroke (assuming you’re proficient) to catch your breath and give your muscles a break.
If you’re an advanced swimmer, the backstroke can b e a nice reprieve from the freestyle stroke because you can maintain an efficient streamlined position while keeping your face above water.
The breaststroke, on the other hand, is great for beginner triathletes because it allows you to catch your breath and see where you’re going. However, neither of these strokes is as efficient as the freestyle stroke, so you want to be mindful to transition to the backstroke or breaststroke only when absolutely necessary.
6. Learn to relax and not fight the water.
When you watch an experience swimmer do the freestyle stroke, one of the first things you’ll notice is the fluidity and elegance of her movement. It seems almost effortless. To reach this level, you have to devote time to drilling specific movements.
Remember, swimming is like being in quicksand, in that the harder you work, the faster you fatigue, and the lower you sink. You have to remain relaxed, maintain a level body position, and be precise with your movement, which only comes about through hours of practice.
7. Train in open water.
In a pool you can see where you are going and you can breathe more effectively because you’re in a controlled environment. In a lake or ocean, on the other hand, you can’t see where you are going, the waves are constantly hitting you, and you have to battle currents.
This makes everything from timing your stroke to breathing more challenging. For the less experienced swimmer it can also add another level of fear. The only way to conquer this fear and adapt to such an environment is to spend time in the open water. Don’t wait until the day of the event to test your skills in a lake or ocean.
If you know that you have to swim in a lake, go out and swim in a lake. If you’re competing in an event that requires you to run into the ocean and swim back, go out and do it. You have to train in the same conditions you’re competing in.
8. Employ swimming aids after your gain proficiency.
Although using flotation devices and paddles can help you focus on specific aspects of the stroke, you want to have some level of proficiency with the stroke before you incorporate these tools in to your training. Why? Because you don’t want to create a crutch that distracts your from proper mechanics, especially when you’re first learning.
For example, a pull buoy will help raise your legs to the surface so you don’t have to kick. This allows you to focus on the swimming stroke while maintaining a level body position. However, if you rely on this tool to maintain a proper streamlined position and never work on kicking mechanics, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences come race time. For the best results, gain proficiency with freestyle mechanics, then use swimming aids to isolate specific aspects of the stroke.
9. Find your proper amount of kicking beats.
Although kicking beats are different for every individual, most triathletes and endurance swimmers have a low kick count, probably two to four beats per stroke cycle. In other words, every time your right arm goes through all four phases of the swimming stroke, you kick your legs only two times. The idea is to get your kicking beat low to reduce your energy expenditure.
Your legs are much bigger and tenser than your arms, so if you kick more, you’re going to expend more energy. Not only that, but if you’re a triathlete, if you kick less, you’ll save your legs for the bike and run. However, it’s important to note that there is no right or wrong kick count. In the beginning, do what comes natural and whatever it takes to maintain a level body position. Once you’re propelling forward without struggle, you can start to experiment with different kicking beats to find your ideal rhythm.
The key is to reduce your kicking beat without compromising your streamlined stance or swimming stroke. If reducing your kick count disrupts the rhythm or your stroke or compromises your alignment, revert to your natural kicking pattern.
10. Rotate your head and look for our hand only when you breathe.
A lot of swimmers make the mistake of turning their head in concert with their body every time they rotate from one side to the other. To maintain an efficient body position, your eyes should be looking straight down and you should turn your head only when your breathe.
Remember, your head can move independently from your body, so you can rotate or shift from one support to another while keeping your eyes focused on the bottom of the pool. When you need to take a breath, rotate your head as you switch supports and look for the arm that’s going through the recovery phase. This will allow you to take in air without having to crane your neck and ruin your neutral spinal alignment.
Now that you understand the principles and concepts of fundamental to learning proper swimming technique, it’s time for you to get in the water and start layering on drills.