Personalised swimming tuition - Winchester, Southern England

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Alan Smith


Improve your swimming technique

1) Front Crawl - a seven step plan + top tips

The chances are you're never going to swim as well as an elite olympic swimmer, some are 6'4'' and taller, and in the water length means more speed. Combine this with technique improvement and we can all learn a lot from how elite swimmers move through the water.

However, one basic principle that anybody can learn is that the longer and more streamlined you can make your body, the faster you'll go. Simple. It’s to do with length and subsequently, streamlining (body positioning).
Here we are going to focus on front crawl, usually referred to as freestyle because in a freestyle competition the swimmer can swim any stroke, hence freestyle, but almost all will choose front crawl as it is the fastest. It provides an excellent heart workout, good for the back and building core strength.

A seven step plan for front crawl technique improvement -

1. Swim tall. Water is 1,000 times denser than air, so the single most important factor is to slip your body through the smallest hole in the water. Imagine a central axis extending from the top of your head to the opposite end of the pool. Rotate your body along this axis with each stroke, stretching your leading arm (the one reaching out front) as far forward as you can. Keep the muscles in your lower back and abs taut as you power through the water, doing so will keep the propulsion coming from both your arms and legs and stop your midsection from sagging.

2. Drop an anchor. Swimming with just your hands is like jumping with just your feet. Instead, grip the water with your entire forearm and hand, holding your forearm at a right angle to your upper arm and digging in like you're gathering sand with a shovel. Keep your hands broad, flat, and firm. You're not pushing your arm through the water as much as anchoring it and pulling your body over it.

3. Put yourself on heavy rotation. Each stroke begins with your leading arm having entered the water, and that side of your body, the low side, pointing almost at the bottom of the pool. The other side of your body, the high side, should be raised, with the arm that just finished its stroke getting ready to return to the water. Power is triggered when you drive down the high side of your body, throwing your high-side arm forward along the central axis into the leading position and forcefully rotating your hips and torso. Meanwhile, your low side arm becomes the pulling arm underwater, working with your rotating torso to provide acceleration.

4. Keep your head down. Freestylers used to hold their heads high. That forced the rest of the body to drop, turning it into a high drag plough. Elite swimmers look pretty much straight down at the bottom of the pool. Not only does this technique cut drag, it keeps your torso high, reducing strain on your neck and lower back.

5. Find your glide path. In the pool, fewer strokes is better. Your goal should be a high DPS, meaning 'distance per stroke'. Elite swimmers can easily traverse a 25 metre pool in seven strokes (each hand entry counts as a stroke). Try to keep yours below 20 by conserving momentum. Pull yourself over your anchor (your hand and arm as described in 2. above) and continue to glide forward with one arm forward and the other back. You'll travel farther and faster with your legs streamlined near your axis. When you begin to slow, start the next stroke.

6. Drag your feet. "If you're a good kicker, you're a good swimmer," say the top swimmers. The secret is turning your feet into fins. Here again, leverage rules supreme, your legs should be taut, scissoring you through the water, while your feet remain flexible. This will help them snap at the downstroke of each kick, adding plenty of power and helping twist your torso along the central axis. If your feet don't flex well, buy a set of kicking fins to add flexibility.

7. Don't waste your breath. Gasping for air every time your head nears the surface is a great way to drown. Instead, make each breath count. Force exhale the air from your lungs (all of it, not just 90 percent) before snagging a quick, full breath on the high side. Beginning swimmers need to breathe after each stroke, but as your endurance improves, try breathing on alternate sides, that is, after three strokes. It'll reduce the strain on your neck and shoulders that results from always breathing on the same side.


Freestyle Top Tips - imagery is a key part of swimming well -

1. Maximise the free speed following a dive or push off from the wall by streamlining your body as much as possible, put one hand over the other and squeeze your biceps over your ears. Or as children might underrstand, rocket arms.

2. Lifting your head causes your hips to drop, forcing you to move through the water like a plough. Keep your head down and your eyes trained on the bottom of the pool.

3. Instead of muscling your way across the pool, concentrate on staying as smooth and "fish slippery" as possible. Practice swimming quietly, splashing and thrashing indicate wasted energy.

4. Extend your leading hand straight ahead and let it sink 6 to 8 inches before you start to pull. In order to maximise propulsion, imagine you're wrapping your arm over a barrel and pushing it behind you.

5. Imagine swimming along a pipe, just large enough for you enter. Your leading hand should stretch along the sides of the imaginary pipe with hand, arm AND shoulder extended forward to attempt to touch the end of the pool on every stroke.

6. Imagine a line bisecting your body from head to toe. Don't let your hands cross over the line during the pull. If you do, you'll cause your body to fishtail, increasing drag.

7. Imagine a piece of string, held taut, stretching to the far wall of the pool just below the water. Think of this string entering the exact top of your head and leaving at your toes. Swim along this imaginary string, trying not to break it.

8. When you kick, bend your knees slightly, point your toes, and keep your legs within your slipstream. Ankle flexibility determines kick speed, so if yours are tight, loosen them up by training with fins.




2) Breaststroke - coming soon