Contrary to what some people believe, swimming more efficiently – and faster – isn’t about thrashing up and down making as big a splash as possible. We’ve all seen those big muscly swimmers who kick their legs like it’s an outboard motor, only to tire after a few lengths (by which time they’ve normally annoyed everyone else in the pool).
If you want to improve your stroke you need to learn a few basic techniques and keep practising! Unlike many other sports where physical power is really important, swimming is first and foremost about technique and learning to work with the natural resistance of the water to make your body as streamlined as possible. Only then will you start to swim faster and more efficiently.
The best swimmers I’ve seen are those that look graceful from the poolside as if they are doing very little. Only when you take a closer look at their stroke underneath the water do you realise the work they are putting into moving their body efficiently and gracefully through the water.
Here we offer a few tips which should help you improve your front crawl technique whether you just want to swim to keep fit or are training for an event like this year’s Swimathon!
1) Breathe : There’s no getting around it, breathing is important! I’ve found poorer swimmers tend to do one of two things: either they hold their breath for too long (often up to an entire length) or they wave their head around in their air which can be really damaging to the neck muscles. Learning to breathe when swimming crawl is more challenging than other strokes like breast stroke and especially backstroke where obviously your head is out of the water the whole time. But, generally, you should practise gently turning your head to the side so that you take in just enough air and then breathe out just before lifting your head out of the water to take in more air. You should aim to breathe every two strokes if you turn your head to the same side or every three strokes (bi-lateral breathing) if you wish to turn to alternate sides. Bi-lateral breathing is handy for open water swimming when you need to see what’s going on around you, but breathing every two strokes is best in the pool – ideally switching the side you breath after each length.
2) Swim tall: It’s important to look as tall as possible when doing front crawl. The best swimmers aren’t necessarily those who are the tallest (though height does help), but those who swim like they are the tallest. This means you should stretch your body as much as possible – pushing through underneath the water with your arms as far as possible. Generally the fewer strokes you take to swim a length the better!
3) Move those hips! Basically if you are swimming crawl you need to think of yourself as a racing yacht rather than a paddle steamer. This means learning to swivel your hips, swimming slightly on your side in order to propel yourself through the water with greatest efficiency while still keeping your body straight (see above). This doesn’t mean rolling around from side to side, a gentle movement of the hips is all that’s required!
4) Keep those legs straight – Again this seems a really common fault with novice swimmers. I always imagine that someone has tied my knees together and try to restrict kicking to my ankles. Some of the best swimmers I’ve seen barely seem to move their legs at all with the rest of the body doing all the work to propel them through the water.
4) Relax – Let the water take the strain. There is no point trying to fight it. Develop a rhythm when you are in the water and try to practise your technique as much as possible.
See Duncan Goodhew’s Top Training Tips here.