Updated: Jun 1, 2021
The art of swimming always looks easy, especially in those people who do it well. They seem to encapsulate the 4 R’s – Relaxation Rhythm Rotation and Repetition. Ask a good swimmer “how do you do it?” and many of them have trouble even describing where their hand or arm is at any one time. They just ‘swim’, as they have done for the past 10 or so years and now it is an automatic response. Usually, this person was taught at an early age and at some stage was involved in squad training. Not always, but usually. If you are one of those people who have difficulty with the swim action, then it may help to imagine certain key elements to improve your stroke. The first one is a difficult concept to grasp, but what you are trying to achieve in the Freestyle stroke is that your arms are trying to hold (or catch) onto the water and your body is being pulled forward over your arms. Imagine you have fallen into a pool of quick sand (or a thick, treacle like consistency) and you have to swim out of your predicament. That is what swimming is…you are trying to get a hold of as much sand as you can and pull your body forward.
Now I will break down the swim stroke. Your hand enters the water in front of the body in line with the same side ear and shoulder, hand tilted, thumb first, little finger last. When in a pool, imagine that as you place your hand in the water you are aiming your hand to each corner of the pool in front of you.
This is where you get a good catch on the water. So, imagine your fingers are now pointing to the bottom of the pool and the same time you imagine you have an eye in your elbow and it has to stay focused on the side of the pool all the time it is under the water.
To finish the stroke, you have to imagine that your thumb will go past your belly button on its way to touch your outside thigh pushing the water back toward your toes. You can’t do this without rotation of the hips. Power is generated at this point. The forceful pushing back of the arm, led by the forearm and the inward rotation of the hips.
Imagine you are reaching your arm over a barrel (or keg of beer), and you are then trying to roll it past your feet, using your forearm. Photo: MundoTri
Your 2 beat kick assists in this rotation for balance and to keep the body going in a straight line. More rotation and side on position in the water (less drag) can be achieved by Sutto’s “oo ah Glenn McGrath” straight arm recovery. This is imagining you are a bowler in the game of Cricket and turning side on to deliver a ball to the batsman. The arm has to be kept straight for a legal delivery. Now I haven’t talked about breathing yet, but I do encourage triathletes when racing that you only breathe on one side of the body so that you are getting the most oxygen in. Breathe in for 1 second then out under the water for 2 seconds. You could practice swimming bilaterally (breathing both sides) but it is not essential. You turn your head to breathe when you see your hand enter the water in front of your head. So that explains where your eyes are…looking forward as your head is tilted forward. When you turn your head to breathe, only half your face comes out of the water. Practice each of the above hints one at a time. That is 25m of hands pointing to corners, 25m of fingers pointing to the bottom of the pool, 25m of elbow pointing to side of pool, 25m of hip rotation and pushing the water back until your thumb hits your thigh, 25m of turning your head to breathe when you see your hand enter the water. Repeat the above four times right through. Then when you move onto your interval program, remind yourself from time to time what you were doing in the warm up drills. So, get in a rhythm and relax, especially the recovery. Then, all you need to do now is practice. REPETITION! Repeat the correct stroke over and over again. Keep your efforts short, 25 to 50m but build up your distance slowly. 500m a session to 1km, 2km to 3km to 4-5km. This could take a period of years to build up. As you build up the distance, the length of your intervals can increase but never stop doing speed work most sessions over 25m-50m distance. Knowing how to swim is easy but having the strength and fitness to maintain the correct stoke is the difficult part. Technique Under Fatigue (TUF). That is why a pull buoy to assist in buoyancy and paddles to build strength are necessary additions to training.
The place, the press and the push (makes my body go whoosh, whoosh, whoosh).