Swimming technique training
Fiona Smart explains why it's so important to work on your swimming technique and suggests a range of drills to help with that process.
Technique is important in all sports, but in swimming it is the most important part of being able to swim well.
Usually in most sports you can be relatively fit and still be able to do the sport fairly well, however if you have poor technique in swimming you are not going to get very far.
In order to be efficient and effective in swimming, you will need to move in the correct way with the least possible drag to produce the fastest forward motion with the least energy expenditure.
We all know how important aerodynamics is in cycling for instance, well hydrodynamics put aerodynamics in the shade!
To experience this the next time you are in the pool hold your hand vertically underwater and push it away from your body, then hold your hand horizontally underwater and push it away from yourself. The resistance on the vertical hand is amazing.
Having poor body position is like cycling with your brakes on. So technique, the precise placement, position and movement of body and limbs is the most important part to being able to swim well and fast.
Technique in detail
These technique issues start with poor body position, continue with ineffective leg kick, to using the wrong muscles to pull on the water, to poor hand and arm positioning, to breathing difficulties, to an inability to rotate effectively and to poor timing.
All these problems can be addressed by a good coach, but are almost impossible to self diagnose. With your body immersed horizontally in liquid all your usual senses, your balance and spatial awareness are upset. So most of us have very little idea of what we are doing wrong in the pool.
The majority of swimmers have poor technique. One of the biggest mistakes we see from the hundreds of swimmers we have worked with is they do so little technique work, known as swim drills.
Most people think that in order to swim faster it is more important to work on endurance and strength than technique. So people go swimming for an hour or more and just swim how they always do up and down the lengths. A few may spend a scant few minutes rushing through a few swim drills, just to get through to the main set where they feel the improvement will come from. But where they will make the biggest gains is spending their time concentrating on drills (technique work).
So how do you find out what you need to work on? If you go to an organised swim session with your swim or triathlon club, the person by the poolside acting as a lifeguard is often a coach. They will be usually be very happy to be asked by someone to "take a look at my stroke".
If you do not go to an organised swim session, it is worth booking at least a one hour swim technique session with a good swim coach. There are also weekend swim courses or you can book one-on-one swim training camps away. Spending time in now in finding out what you need to work on is vital to allow you to make use of winter to get your swim faster while wasting less energy.
If you do not have access or the funds for a swim coaching session then the other option is to get a friend to video you. Ask them to video you from the back, front and side. Also many cameras are now waterproof so you can attach the camera to a stick or get the person in the water with you, so you can also video underwater. There are then many swim apps (Swim Smooth for example) which will show you what you should be doing.
Basically when swimming you want to be like a long sleek rowing boat with the least amount of drag and the best propulsion coming from your arms and legs.
We will just talk about front crawl as a stroke. But many of the same ideas hold true for the other strokes.
1. First look at body position. Are you legs low in the water, is your backside low in the water? Does your head lift out of the water when you breathe, causing your bottom and legs to drop? Are you rotating as you swim?
Are your legs opening while you swim or are your legs staying parallel just rotating as you rotate your body. Your legs opening usually is a sign you are unbalanced and is often caused by one or both arms crossing the centre line at the front of the stroke.
2. Next look at arm and hand positioning. How and where are your hands entering the water? Do they enter in front of your shoulder, or are they crossing over the centre line? Do your hands make a big splash when they enter the water. Do you reach forward? Do your arms bend at the elbow through the stroke? Is the point of your elbow always higher than your wrist? Try pulling yourself out of the swimming pool with straight arms, now try again but with bent arms at the elbows and shoulder width apart. Where do you have the most strength? Do your arms exit the water at your waist or below your hips?
Working with a coach or studying a video of yourself, will allow you to work out which drills you need to concentrate on.
But you will still need feedback to help you perfect the drills. We have added a selection of drills below, but there are many more. An example of a drill set could be 10 x 100m, with 25m drill, 25m swim, drill, swim, thinking about the drill while you swim.
Example of drills:
Catch-up: Each arm takes a full stroke, coming to rest in front, before the other arm can starts its pull. This helps with rotation and timing.
Fists: Swim with a closed fist for a length, then for the next length open your hands and feel how much water you can pull. Concentrate on pulling with the forearms. Variants include swimming with one finger.
Single arm: Keep one arm extended out in front and use the other to stroke. - reach, catch, pull, touch thigh, recover - this allows you to focus on the one arm at a time.
Flicker: Accelerate the hand at the end of the stroke, brushing your thumb against your thigh. Hand exits explosively and "flicks" water behind you.
Finger drag: Drag your finger tips along the water during the arm recovery. This makes sure you are not wasting energy by having your arm too high during the recovery phase.
Head up: Swim with your head out of water and look straight ahead. See where your hands enter the water.
Doggy paddle: Swim with your arms staying in the water, concentrate on the catch and initial pull phase of the stroke.
Breathing: Change your breathing pattern. Breathe only every three or five strokes. Also try and swim an entire length without breathing (you need to swim efficiently not fast to complete a length).
Reduce stroke count: Complete a length using the least number of strokes.