All sports benefit from proper technique but swimming perhaps most of all. I often hear new or less experienced swimmers comment on how ‘effortless’ good swimmers appear. And while I can assure them it’s anything but effortless, I know what they are referring to – that smooth, gliding freestyle that ushers swimmers quickly down the pool.
The good news is, you too can master the swim techniques that allow you to swim efficiently. In fact, I would suggest focusing on 2 things to make a big impact in your freestyle swimming.
1) Body Position
Perhaps the most basic and yet essential part of your freestyle is your body position. Everything you do in the water relates to how your body is positioned in the water. And if our desire is to go this direction, then you want to concentrate your energy into moving you in that direction. To do that, we need our body to be high on the water, relatively flat. The moment we lose good body position and (most commonly) our hips or legs sink towards the bottom, we are now pointed in this direction. Clearly, some of our energy is moving us in the right direction but some of our energy is also being expended upwards. I call this ‘swimming uphill’. It’s an easy way to spend too much energy trying to move forward.
To adjust body position, you can do one of a few things.
1) Keep your eyes looking straight down. Where your head goes, your body goes. If you pick your head up, your hips sink. If you put your face in, eyes straight down, you lift your hips back up.
2) Press your chest down. Some people have good alignment, keep their eyes down and still have hips that sink. Thinking about keeping your chest pressed down can also help lift your legs higher.
3) Kick. Sounds basic but a good kick will keep your legs buoyed towards the top of the water. A good kick can’t overcome lifting your head or chest but if you find yourself still with sinking hips or legs, try boosting your kick a little to see if that helps bring you closer to level.
Generally speaking, men have a harder time with body position due to lack of body fat and large amounts of muscle mass in their legs. This makes body position an even more important factor for men to master.
All good swimmers will display body rotation as they swim freestyle and not just when breathing. In fact, when you master rotation, breathing requires little extra effort because you are consistently showing good body rotation and when it is time to breath, it’s a small matter of turning your head.
Why does rotation matter? Two reasons, really. The first is to reduce drag. Instead of cutting through the water with our shoulders squared, we are cutting through the water more on an angle, creating less drag for us to pull against. The other reason is really one of the biggest pearls of knowledge about swimming freestyle. When we are rotated, we allow the latissimus dorsi muscle (lats) in our back to become part of our stroke. Engaging your back and your core in your pull are two of the most important elements to progressing beyond proper mechanics to powerful swimming.
How to practice rotation
One of the best drills to start focusing on your rotation is the catch up drill. When you push off the wall in streamlined position, leave your left arm out front and only pull with your right until it ‘catches up’ with your left. Then leave the right arm out front and only pull with your left until it catches up with the right (and so on).
This drill is effective because as you pull only with 1 arm you can practice a good reach and a strong pull that starts your rotation before coming back to center. Then you can focus on the other side with the same attention to reach, pull and rotation. Then when you add both arms as normal, you want to focus on feeling that same rotation side to side without pausing.
While there are other factors that will help you become a better freestyler, these two fundamental aspects of the stroke are always good to master or revisit to ensure that you are using good technique as much as you can to advance your swimming.
Another technique aspect I’ll touch on in the next article is engaging your core when you swim. It’s a game changer…