Articles 1-5 (please scroll down for 2-5)
Article 1 - Mastery of Your Shape
Swimming fast relies primarily on drag elimination and therefore mastering the shape you swim in is of utmost importance.
When moving through water, your general shape is referred to you as Body Position and this is made up of 4 parts…
1) Streamline – make certain to reach as far forwards as possible so that your arm fully straightens plus aim to pause for a split-second before trying to find pressure under your hand. This allows you direct any energy used forwards and cut through the water as opposed to pushing.
2) Balance - keep your weight constantly forwards through your chest and look down with your eyes. This helps your hips stay high and your body flat which allows water to pass cleanly underneath you. If water needs to change direction as it flows under or around you then this causes drag which will slow you down
3) Rotation - Let your opposite shoulder roll with every reach forward. This allows you to pull back more, reach further forward (half the shoulder width is employed), transfers energy from one arm to the other, but the most important role that rotation plays is in drag reduction. As water starts flowing over your body, water should slide past you instead of being forced downward from your chest getting in the way.
4) Kick – if you can develop the ability to keep your legs high and your kick compact, this will further reduce disruption to water flow. Your first goal should be to eliminate drag from your leg action rather than increase the power. A strong but ineffective kick will be unstainable hence pointless because it requires you to become stronger or fitter but a more effective kick often only requires focus. Even a weak kick can be effective.
Article 2 - Cutting Through Water Fast, Using Streamline…
The first concept of eliminating drag is called streamline and it centres around length. The leading edge of you, ie your front arm, is where drag is first created or eliminated. Where, how firm, how long, and the placement of where you reach all combine to help stretch your body in a way that water will either pass by you cleanly or stop you dead in your tracks.
Swimming well is nothing more than mastering the basics and this is one of the most important.
Think of your reach as a double target. One target is a point straight in front of the left arm and the other straight in front of your right arm. The initial depth of that target is important because if you reach too high you will go out of balance and cause drag, but if too low then the water will create pressure on top of the lead arm forcing an early pull hence destroying any real efficiency.
Correct streamline in each stroke or when pushing off walls also requires a high level of flexibility in the shoulders. If you don’t have it, start working on it. But if you do have it, make sure you use it and do it on every stroke on every length. This is the bread and butter of a good swimmers’ skill base.
When reaching out into each stroke, always extend that lead-arm fully which means locking your elbow out and keeping your wrist dead flat. Only in this way can you reach as far as possible with minimal disturbance to the water flow.
The time spent in a reach is important too – it is only ever a split second but most people either stay there too long which stalls them, or they don’t pause at all. So there is definitely a middle ground that will keep you moving where you neither stall nor rush. Getting this glide time correct can be difficult because it depends on a number of factors which vary between individuals, so it usually requires a coach’s input to fine tune.
DRILL : Six Kick Drill (continue to Side-Kick until you know the position is correct before adding a stroke and breath)
SET : 10 x 50m, R20 – FINS (25m Six Kick Drill, 25m Swim). Make sure you push off underwater past the flags in a streamline position before your first stroke, on every length
Article 3 - How to Balance Correctly in the Water – the 4x Hs
Balance is the relative relationship you have between not only your head and hips, but everything at the front and the back of you. Learn more about correct balance below...
Hand Position – the position in which your hands/arms reach through the water. This needs to be underwater, but neither too deep nor shallow to maintain a body position whereby any forward momentum you create happily follows the lead of your front arm. A depth of 6-8 inches is a good guide when pausing out front.
Head – where does your head sit relative to the surface of the water? Correct balance feels like you are constantly leaning down and forwards gently through your chest. You know it is correct when you can feel light backpressure from the waters buoyancy pushing back up at you. Also try to aim your eyes downwards rather than forwards. Combine all of this properly into one feeling and you’ll start to sense the top of your head falling to a level where only 1 to 2 inches of the back of your head is visible above water.
Hips – where should my hips be? After leaning down through your chest your hips should float high in the water, that is, very close to the surface. To help get your hips up to that level you can try arching the small of your back very slightly. This may feel similar to a neutral spinal position when standing if you have ever been taught this by a physio.
Heels – swimming with minimal drag requires you to kick in such a way that keeps your legs kicking close to the surface, even breaking the water’s surface from time to time slightly with your heels. This should be easy to feel if you are successful in doing it. Kicking in a compact manner where your feet stay reasonably close together is also important to reducing drag. Flexibility does play a big role in this concept and this will be covered further in a later article.
Many of you will have discovered that when using a pull-buoy or wetsuit on you can swim much faster. This is due almost entirely due to improvements in body position, ie a reduction in drag. So if you can learn to develop the ability to simulate a similar position and feeling without needed to wear any gear then your efficiency and therefore speed is going to benefit too.
DRILL : Prone Kick, arms extended – hold your breathe and float while kicking slowly for 6-10m with someone providing feedback on your position based on the 4 points above
SET : 20 x ½ Lengths, with a complete stand & stop to breathe – by eliminating breathing when swimming can help you perceive your balance more correctly
Article 4 - How Much Rotation is Necessary?
Rotation is a very necessary part of Freestyle swimming mechanics.
Rotation of the body helps you to obtain air when swimming but should never be confined to your breathing strokes. Correct body rotation helps not only improve your leverage and power transfer system and it is also very central to minimising drag around your body as you move through water. So how much and where from is correct?
There are three parts of your body we will refer to when rotating…
Depending on the intensity you are swimming, the degree to what degree of rotation is correct may be different...
Easy efficient Freestyle – the majority of your weekly swimming distance will be easy so how you swim this intensity has a massive bearing on your habits and therefore results at all other speeds. As a swimmer your primary concern should be building easy strength with an efficient stroke, ie when swimming easily you need to gradually embed a firm gliding technique that maximises distance with each stroke and hence minimises strokes per length. The degree to which you need to rotate to achieve this when swimming easy is approximately 70/40/10 degrees in this order of shoulders, hips and legs. Your shoulders need to rotate the most because this helps you reach further, pull back further but more importantly for this topic it allows water to slide past your chest rather than hitting it. When rotating this large amount with your shoulders though you need to keep your legs reasonably flat (ie only 10degrees of rotation) because this counter balances the large rotation of your shoulders. And that leaves your hip rotation somewhere in the middle, ie 40degrees. When correct it will feel like a downward taper,;l;l ie most of the roll happening in your shoulders and almost none with your legs.
Fast Sprint Freestyle – at any speed, drag is always a concern. But specifically for short sprints - eg 50m max effort - the production of power does slightly outweigh the importance of drag, hence there needs to be less rotation at high arm speeds. To gain enough arm speed to produce real power in a sprint you may find you simply cannot turn your shoulders to the same degree as when swimming easily. So when sprinting, the right level of shoulder rotation sits at approximately 50degrees. But the interesting part of this topic when sprinting is the hips – they need to stay quite stable and rotate very little – if you want to maintain a compact kicking motion with your legs that neither crosses or scissor kicks (both causes of drag) then you’ll need to anchor your hips.
Drills – many drills that focus on drag elimination will require you rotate your entire body to the side. For example Side Kick involves rotating your shoulders, hips and legs all to 90 degrees and aims to build a sensation of sliding through water, ie by exaggerating what is correct at either intensity above
DRILL : Side Kick - arms both at sides or the bottom arm leading
Whole body 90degrees except eyes looking at bottom. Rotate to breathe ev 5sec
SET : 20 x 25m Freestyle with every 2nd length Side Kick
Article 5 - Do I Need To Kick if I Am an Ocean Swimmer?
Kicking is simply one of the most under-rated but fundamentally important aspects of swimming and due to this it regularly startles me how many triathletes and open water swimmers harbour a conviction that a good kick is just not important for them.
Just one fact is all it should take me to convince you to take kicking seriously - the world’s best open-water swimmers complete at least 90% of their training in a pool environment and 100% of those swimmers have a spectacular kick - but I know you’ll need more convincing, so please read on so we can discuss why…
The way in which peoples legs and feet interact with water is always a component of the largest cause of drag for a non-competitive swimmer. This means some of your largest potential gains can come from focussing on this sometimes frustrating and normally misunderstand part of your swimming.
You only have two power systems in the water. So when you completely ignore one of them you not only miss out propulsion gains but even worse, a poor kick and the drag it creates can ruin your efficiency completely.
A beautifully simple description of a good kick is… Long legs, floppy ankles and a compact kick
Floppy ankles – this involves flexibility which some of you will have already and some of you wont. If you are lucky enough to have bendy ankles, then make certain to let them relax when you kick! But if you know your ankles are stiff and hence your kick is poor, then make a decision to always minimise drag from this issue. Otherwise commit to stretching today.
Long legs – the power in a good kick comes from your hips, not by bending your knees. A leg that bends too much at the knee will create two problems - firstly it reduces your power significantly, and secondly it will causes drag.
Compact action – any kick that moves up and down or side to side too far away you’re your body’s centreline will create a disturbance in water flow and slows you down. Even if such a kick can add more power, an even greater amount of drag is created as a result and overwhelms this incremental power gain. Remember that you want the most efficient kick and this involves both intensity from fast and powerful legs but it must be combined with super floppy flexible ankles to truely be effective.
DRILL : Stretching – 8 x 1min, R1min – sit down on your bottom and jam your toes under something reasonably heavy with something soft above your toes. Gently push back and down on your knee jont to straighten your legs and hence load up your ankle joint. Note – a low lying sofa can be good for this
SET : 3x (2 x 50m Sprint Kick FINS, R30 + 2 x 25m Sprint Kick NONE, R30)
Note – use short cutdown and therefore stiff fins can help stretch your ankles (if kicking hard fast enough which is why these shorts are so short)