Component of Swim Stroke
Use simple breathing exercises to help you develop a smooth exhalation in the water and feel more comfortable.
Breath out all the time that your head is in the water. Do this by blowing bubbles from your mouth and nose. On every second or third stroke, rotate your head along with your body and breathe in. Don’t lift your head or actively change the position of your head. Just let the rotation bring your face out of the water.
Not breathing out enough causes you to store carbon dioxide, which will quickly make you feel anxious and out of breath.
Many swimmers (and some coaches) believe that every swimmer should look straight down at the bottom of the pool to improve their body position. However, if you have good stroke technique, you can achieve a high body position despite looking forwards, and for open-water swimming this is a major tactical advantage.
There’s no universal head position that’s best for everyone and selection should come down to the individual. Try swimming 100m experimenting with your head position. Start by looking straight down, then elevate your head slightly every 25m and choose the best fit for your stroke that allows you to swim faster and more efficiently.
Repeat this exercise in your wetsuit in the open water and you might well find that you can look further forwards, which can be a great advantage for navigation and drafting.
Traditional swim coaching taught everyone to swim with a six-beat flutter kick. But a slower style, where the swimmer kicks twice for a full arm cycle, can be more efficient over longer distances. When performed well, it’s like a switch-kick, moving between the two positions.
That said, if you’re a classic leg-sinker, although a six-beat kick takes a little more energy, your body will be lifted higher, reducing drag and with it your overall effort level. Many swimmers try to combine a two-beat kick with a pause-and-glide in the stroke as they’re looking to use as little energy as possible, but this causes them to stall between strokes and sink lower, particularly in disturbed choppy water.
If you’re still working on the basics of your stroke technique such as breathing, alignment, body position and catch, then you’re going to be much better served using a light six-beat kick. Swim Smooth’s coaching philosophy is to only think about developing a two-beat kick if you’re quite an advanced swimmer starting to develop a refined swinger style of stroke.
Body Position / Alignment
Keep your lanes for your arms and not cross over your face
A good swimming posture is tall and proud. Having better posture keeps you straighter in the water, particularly your arm extension forwards. This means you’ll expend less energy travelling down the pool. Better posture helps develop good body roll to give you a longer more powerful stroke.
Keep your head down – look towards the bottom of the pool and just slightly in front of you. Rotate your body from the hips all the way to the shoulders with each stroke. Your head only rotates when you breathe.
Issues that can occur arm cross-overs, scissor kicks, reduced rotation and snaking through the water.
Stroke rate is how many strokes you take per minute (one arm pull is one stroke). This is useful to know because it tells you about your rhythm and timing. Too low a stroke rate and your arms are moving over too slowly and you almost certainly have some large dead spots in your timing. Too high a stroke rate shows your stroke technique is too short and needs lengthening.
If you find this stroke rate ‘sweet spot’ you can swim faster for the same amount of effort, saving that all-important energy for the bike and run.
Extension, Catch & pull
The catch phase of the freestyle stroke is elusive for most swimmers. ‘Feel for the water’ is a concept that elite swimmers talk about to describe the feeling of getting hold of the water for good propulsion.
This phase of the stroke is called ‘the catch’, because you are literally trying to catch a hold of the water and press the water backwards to send yourself forwards.
As the hand enters the water, make sure it does so fingertips first, lengthening forward in front of the same shoulder with the middle finger pointing the way to the far end of the pool. Avoid crossing over the center line. This is critical to keeping a high elbow catch and pull-through later on.
Initial catch. At full reach and without dropping the elbow, flex the wrist and at the same time start bending the elbow and pressing back on the water with the forearm in a near-vertical position. This is where the elbow stays high and you start pressing the water back behind you rather than pushing it down.
Pull-through. Concentrate your efforts on simply pressing water back behind you, with the palm of your hand still facing behind you, combined with good rotation.
Extend about 3 – 6 inches at end of extension to rotate body. As you reach forward with good body roll, make sure the palm of the hand is facing the bottom of the pool, but with the fingertips angled slightly down. Flex from the wrist, not the knuckles, with the palm flat, and fingers closed loosely together.