Technique, Technique, Technique

Whatever your level in swimming currently is, this strange pandemic time offers you your best opportunity to improve your technique and go to the next level.  Learning the proper technique will go a long way in improving your stamina, your speed, and your level of fitness.

In swimming, the resistance of the water is so strong that the first thing you want to achieve is minimizing drag.  Anything that you can do to put yourself horizontally on top of the water will help.  Generally, this is one of the hardest skills to master for the novice swimmer, and/or for lean and fit athletes who do not have any buoyancy.  In that respect, women with more rounded hips have an advantage.  To keep that slightly prone position on top of the water, you usually need to focus on three points:

  • Head position: keep it neutral, eyes looking down to the bottom of the pool, twisting your head instead of lifting it to breathe. This will help with keeping your hips at the surface.
  • Kick: small and quick, initiated at the hips with flexible ankles
  • Front quadrant swimming: in freestyle, always keep an arm extended in front of you, near your ear for balance and streamline until the other arm passes your shoulder and is ready to take the relay. This helps keep a very extended and aligned position on top of the water.

Now you are in a perfect position to pull the water towards the end of the pool.  Start with your forearm, with your elbow staying close to the surface of the water, go to a 90 degree angle (the end of your fingers facing the bottom of the pool) or what we call the high elbow catch up.  The sooner you can reach that position, the more water you will be able to push and the more power you will be able to apply.  To achieve an effective pull, you usually need to focus on three points:

  • Starting position: our body and shoulders are engineered in such a way, that it is almost impossible to achieve an early and fast high elbow catch-up without starting from an extended position on top of the water with our hands slightly wider than our shoulders and close to the top of the water (Superman position). Often a novice swimmer will have the tendency to extend towards the front center instead of towards the corner.  By the way, this is true in all the strokes.
  • Straight down the line: once you have made that early catch and you are horizontal on top of the water; the freestyle pull is simple, straight down the line on each side of your body.
  • Accelerate: Increase your speed and power as you pull and quickly exit the water to recover. The speed of your exit will give you momentum for your recovery.  So do not stop at the end of the pull but instead recover quickly and pause at the front end of your stroke.

Those broad guidelines do apply in all four strokes:

In backstroke: make sure you are using your abs to keep your feet at the surface.  Once your arm is on top of your shoulders make sure you drop your whole arm including your shoulder with your hand facing the side of the pool to be ready to get a 90 degree catch as soon as possible.  Both arms need to work simultaneously and stay opposite of each other (like a windmill).  Your head must stay still.

In breaststroke: make sure you extend to the front and keep your head looking down until you have sculled to the corner.  This will keep you close to the surface and ready to get a quick high elbow catch up.

In butterfly: make sure you enter your hands slightly wider than your shoulders (not in front of you) and that your shoulders remain at the surface during your stroke.  The undulation kick is initiated by your core and not by dropping your shoulders or arms.

To sum it up, here are the focus points given by Carly Pippen in one of her instruction videos.  Carly is a well-known swimmer with multiple world records in both pool and open water swimming.

  • Enter hands slightly wider than your shoulders
  • Keep your head neutral with eyes down and hips high
  • Always have a high elbow catch
  • Know where and how to apply power
  • Keep your kick small and quick
  • Learn to have a relaxed breathing (breathe on a regular basis and fully exhale in the water before taking your next breath)

As a lot of the swimmers currently do have to swim alone without access to a coach or swim instructor, I am ready to offer a free assessment of your stroke with some tips and drills if you are willing to send me a video of you swimming.  I would need to have a video of you swimming (in any stroke you want) at least a length taken from the front, a length taken from the back and one length following you from the side, preferably from the side on which you are breathing.  You can send your video to my email  If you have some specific questions, please feel free to send them along and I will do my best to try to answer them.  Do not forget to include your email address.  You also need to be a US Masters swimmer to benefit from this free service.

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