Most Masters swimmers who have some background in competitive swimming understand the importance of streamlines. However, when I attend meets and practices around the state and country, I am always surprised to see quite a number of swimmers losing time on their starts and turns due to sub-optimal streamlines. For a swimmer with inefficient streamlines, there is nothing easier to work on to see significant drops in time than improving streamline. Truly, streamlining only requires minimal mental focus and very little physical effort.
A good streamline starts with the hands. The hands should be placed one on top of the other, with whichever hand is most comfortable on top. The thumb of the hand on top should lock around the bottom hand. This is called the “power lock” or “thumb lock” position and is critical to a tight streamline. Locking the thumb of the top hand over the bottom hand and squeezing tight provides a way to keep the hands from separating even when the force of the water wants to pull them apart on a block start or a fast push off the wall. It should be noted that overlapping hands and squeezing both thumbs together is another method I’ve seen used, but offers far less streamline value.
Once the hands are locked with fingertips stretched and reaching as far forward as possible, the next thing to focus on locking down is head position. The head should be tucked snugly between the arms with eyes facing down, chin to chest, and elbows squeezing together, pushing your biceps tightly against your head behind the ears. The upper body should remain in this lock phase throughout any start or turn until ready to start the breakout. There should be no “head bump” on the backside of the swimmer, meaning that the surface on the back of the swimmer’s hands down to their feet should be smooth.
As for the legs, simply lock out your knees, squeeze the legs tightly together, and point your toes to minimize drag.
The start or push off should be sufficiently deep as to avoid the surface of the water where the tension is the greatest. A good target depth is to push off with your feet on the “T” on the wall and the rest of your body in line (level) with the feet. Once pushed off, think about stretching your body from the fingertips to the toes to make it as long and straight as possible.
Streamlines are often overlooked in Masters swimming practices and workouts. But there is a lot to be gained from regular practicing of streamlines, even for someone who has very good streamline technique. It’s worth it to find time to practice streamlining in every practice workout and to focus on it when turning, throughout practice. One good streamline-focused drill is to practice pushing off the wall or starting from the blocks and then gliding as far as possible without breaking into stroke. During the drill, do a few repetitions while intentionally making your streamline imperfect and feel the drag on your body and notice the change in distance traveled.
For external feedback, get your coach (or knowledgeable teammate) to watch your starts and turns, both above and under water. Have them look for points of inefficiency. Some common ones are:
- Head too high and chin not tucked against the chest (“head bump”)
- Hands not tightly locked together in “power lock”
- Arms not squeezed tightly enough against the head
- Hands not pointed at the far end of the pool, and either too far up or down
- Angle off the wall is too steep to the surface
- Not sufficiently deep to avoid surface tension
- Toes not pointed
- Knees not locked out
Regularly spending time working on streamlines could pay big dividends in terms of dropping time, especially for those who currently have poor streamline technique. Enjoy that low-hanging streamline fruition!