The offseason is an ideal time to work on improving swimming technique, especially freestyle. Whether you’re planning a break after a long season or preparing to ramp up your training for the next one, you may want to work on the checklist below, a list that can help you become a more efficient swimmer.
Although not even the world’s best coach would be capable of providing a written list that could guarantee success, the following 10 points are core things to remember when attempting a perfect freestyle stroke (also known as the crawl).
With luck and perhaps a little poolside advice from another swimmer or instructor, these 10 items should ensure that you have the basic freestyle stroke mechanics down pat. You may already have several of them mastered, or you may just be starting to learn how to swim. Either way, there’s no better time to make technical improvements than now.
1) Engage your core
The key to swimming efficiently is maintaining a streamlined position, and that requires a strong core. That means tight abs, glutes and lower back. Most people tend to relax and just float around when in the water, but you want to work. If you don’t tighten your core, you’re kind of like a jellyfish, wriggling everywhere. Interval-based pool workouts are perfect to develop power, strength and endurance, particularly in your core.
2) Exhale into the water
In other words, don’t try to both inhale and exhale when your head is above the water. You’ll never get the appropriate amount of oxygen so you’ll feel out of breath. Remember to release air under the water so when you turn to the side, you’re getting as much air in as you can.
3) Swim with fins
During practice sessions, take your drills beyond the kickboard. Fins are a really nice way to work on your stroke and you don’t have to worry about propelling your body up. The fins do a lot of that work for you.
4) Don’t stare at the black line
When you’re swimming, avoid looking straight down or up at the wall. To help find your proper head position, make a fist with your hand and put it between your chin and your chest. That’s where you want your head position to be. Tilting your head down this way will also help your body be more buoyant in the water.
5) Think of your hand as a fin
When you’re in the water, you want to swim with the ease of a fish, so think of your hand as a fin through every stroke (and every type, from backstroke to freestyle). Keep a slight scoop so you can move more water. This allows you to propel yourself a little bit further and get a little more traction with each stroke.
6) Draw a line down the center of your body
As you pull your arm through the water during freestyle, make sure your hand doesn’t cross over the midline of your body. Then, finish your stroke with your thumb near your hip. That’s the power point of your stroke. You have to focus on a long stroke out front, draw down the midline of your body, and then push really hard from your hip to fully straighten your arm. The result? You’ll maximize your efficiency and distance traveled every time you do the full circle.
7) Rotate in the water
Ideally, you’re never flat in the water. You’re always rotating ever so slightly from one side to the other. As you freestyle through the water, you should position your body at roughly a 45-degree angle, like you’re on a diagonal and cutting through the water. The movement then comes from your hips and shoulders.
8) Keep your head level in backstroke
First things first, backstroke is more than just floating on your back. You have to keep your body in a streamlined position, not to mention swim without seeing where you’re going. In an effort to bring the hips and legs up, you may tip your head too far back in the water, leading to an inefficient stroke. Benes suggests focusing on something in your line of vision that’s high in the sky — not a person on the deck. This will help your head be in the right position and you’ll swim straighter, too.
9) Use your lower half in butterfly
The power in your butterfly comes from your kick, but it’s not your typical movement. It means you have to push your hips forward, instead of bending and kicking down from your knees. Imagine popping your butt up every time you kick so that it almost comes out of the water. This will help drive from the hips versus your knees.
10) Maximize your glide in breaststroke
While you may associate breaststroke with the older folks in the pool, the secret to supercharging your stroke is in the glide. Once you’ve gone through your entire pull and kick, hold it for a second longer and get as far as you possibly can before you start your next stroke. This will give you a long, smooth glide. Plus, you’ll get a little more time to relax, a bonus if you’re swimming speedy laps and need some active recovery time.
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