Coach? Book? Imitation?
Each has its advantages and its pitfalls. If the coach is experienced
teaching excellent swimmers whose bones have been shaped into their
sockets by instruction since childhood, she might not be your first
choice. You may as well go by the book if you're going to be told how
the stroke should be swum perfectly rather than what you can do to make
progress while avoiding injury. You need to know how you can improve
or ease your particular movements, not what's best for the 20 year old
Olympic hopeful. For the same reason, the book may have no practical
application for you because it may give you one-size-fits-all information.
But imitation has a couple big drawbacks as well. It is necessary to
distinguish between cause and effect when observing a stroke. Example:
the butterflyer's undulation is obvious and new swimmers will try to
imitate this with some quite funny results. Actually, that undulation
is the result of timing and should not be forced, but will come naturally
when the head and kick are coordinated. In freestyle, a too wide kick
is almost always the result of excessive head movement and any attempt
to cure the kick alone will be frustrating. Snaking is the result of
not enough rolling, rather than too much, as it would seem.
There is another problem we have all seen when watching ourselves on
tape or disc, a strange disconnect between our kinesthetic sense and
our actual movements. Everyone eventually achieves a sense of relative
smoothness and even elegance in the water. The film comes as a shock.
We don't look how we feel. Examples: tell a backstroker to enter his
hand 6 inches wider and he'll do one inch and feel he's done it. Suggest
the freestyler lower her head and you might not see the difference although
it feels radically changed to the swimmer.
Knowing what to look for in ourselves, carefully observing swimmers
who seem very comfortable as well as reasonably fast, asking a friend
to watch you, all will work very well if you have some basic information
about each stroke. Keep in mind that bodies do not multi-task well.
That's why kids find patting their heads while making circles on their
bellies a giggly challenge. Don't make more than one change at a time
and not more than one change every couple weeks.
If you're afraid of the water, deal with it first. Look at: Fear
of Water. If you're gasping before you get to the end of the pool,
spend six weeks building your endurance before you even think of technique
or speed. See: Zero to
One Mile in Six Weeks.
The Basic Idea of all swimming is to maintain
a horizontal position using as little energy as possible to displace
the most water rearwards. The narrowest boat with the widest paddle
is the most efficient. If your feet are dangling, you are effectively
trying to shove a body twice the thickness of yours through the water.
If your stroke or kick is very wide and deep you are doing the same
thing. You want to push the least surface of yourself forward by occupying
the smallest amount of space. Horizontal body, shallow pull, narrow
kick. At the same time, the widest *paddle* can be achieved with your
elbow high at the start so you can pull with your whole arm and not
just your upper arm. Fingers closed, but not tightly, will serve you
better than swimming with a fork, flat making a larger surface than
Take your time.
With a few famous exceptions, the best swimmers tend to take fewer strokes.
A fast stroke turnover is only effective if each stroke efficiently
presses back the maximum amount of water. *Press back* is how it feels,
but is only partly accurate; it is somewhat like climbing a rope, holding
your place with one hand while going forward with the other. It is a
subject of dispute these days among theorists which I should think could
be easily measured. Nevertheless, your concentration should be on maintaining
a steady pull without losing your attention and letting the water just
Relax. If you don't need it,
don't use it. You don't need neck muscles to swim, so let them go. Momentum
will get your arm out of the water, then let your arm go quite limp
until it re-enters the water. If you're not swimming very fast and don't
need the extra ten percent your kick can give you, just make a little
flip of your ankles to maintain body position. The energy you save can
be put into a vigorous pull.
Think. Whatever brings you to
the pool is best achieved with your attention in the moment. Swimming
is only boring if you don't think about it and don't structure your
workouts or have any goals. With one exception! If you're at the pool
for some necessary blank time or just to burn enough calories to enjoy
a guilt free lunch, that's just fine, but you shouldn't be reading this
in that case. Instead, go to: Swimming
To Do It
Freestyle aka crawl
Push off the wall, straight and narrow. Be patient. When you slow down
in a few seconds, kick narrowly, using your hips to flop your feet,
letting the water bend your knees slightly.
Arms straight in front of you and hands flat. Leave shoulder to elbow
on the surface while your hand drops down until it's below your elbow.
Now start pulling not very hard with your whole arm. Sense what you're
doing, trying to feel the pressure of the water along your whole arm,
not just your hand. Your arm now looks like a boomerang as you switch
from pull to push and increase the pressure. When you think you've completed
the push, go another six inches forcefully.
Let the momentum take your elbow out of the water, hand dangling behind.
Your shoulder swings your arm effortlessly all the way straight in front
of you. Don't rush, but let the other arm begin its cycle when you're
at least halfway through the recovery of the first arm. There is much
acceptable variation in this timing.
Breathe in the trough your head makes, so you won't need to lift your
head at all. Even keel is precisely what you want to maintain from your
head to toe, keeping your spine quite rigid as your torso rotates with
each stroke, but your head holding steady. Rotation is subtle, but it
might help you to think that your hand, when passing by your hip is
pushing it out of the way. Not really of course, but that's the timing.
All the movements from your head and arms travel down your body and,
if not allowed to continue into a rotation, will instead cause your
hips and legs to wave and snake. Have someone watch you. If you're not
snaking, you're okay; otherwise you need to rotate your hips more.
Seemingly so easy, the stroke of choice for relaxation is the most technically
demanding of all. Timing is everything. The arms and legs are in a streamlined
position, same as freestyle, and they return to that position momentarily
on every stroke.
Again, as in freestyle, the elbows stay up as the forearms sweep out
and around as if inside a big salad bowl, the upper arms snapping together
when the hands are coming in at the bottom of the imagined salad bowl.
As the hands, close together, extend forward to their beginning position,
the knees bend to bring your feet very close to your butt and pointed
out. While still extending your arms, your legs imitate your armstroke,
circling out, around and snapping back and together. Hold it for a second
in the glide position. Breathing takes place when your arms, snapping
together under your chin, push water up, raising your chin. Head goes
back down as arms go forward.
More than any other stroke, the breaststroke must be watched and imitated.
The stroke of choice for beginners because you can breathe whenever
and however you want although you'll doubtless form a pattern and stick
to it without thinking about it.
Again, push off the wall streamlined and underwater. When you surface
for your first breath and armstroke, look for your hip and keep the
left one in sight while you stroke with your right arm, the right hip
with the left arm. This means your head will not be thrown back, but
will stay in the same up position as your body turns on its axis. Even
the kick will turn left and right. This body roll is much more pronounced
than with freestyle. As in freestyle, your hand passing the hip is the
time to begin the rotation.
With your body on its side (but nose up!) your arm can much more easily
sink, bend at the elbow, pull and push, and exit thumb first. With this
roll, you don't have to reach behind your back to get your arm and hand
in the water; your body will be on its side, so you are stroking more
comfortably because your side is well down in the water and your arm
is naturally in the correct position.
Sure. Why not. It's not that big a deal. The only thing that makes it
so strenuous is the awkwardness of breathing when both arms are out
of the water and you have to kick very hard to get your whole upper
body in a position that allows your mouth to do you the favor of taking
in air instead of water. Simple solution: don't breathe. That's not
as totally impractical as it seems. In a race, the flyer may take 0
to 1 breath in the first 25 yards and 1 or 2 coming back. As a learner,
you can practice 4 or 5 strokes without breathing and then just stand
up if it's shallow or continue with another stroke until the end of
pool. Rest and start again.
But first, we'll not only do without air, we won't bother with arms
either. Arms at side, feet together, dive your head down, stand up,
over and over and over. Now arms at side, dive head down and when you
feel your legs surface kick them forcefully down and raise your head.
Now stand up and repeat many times. Next do it, but after your head
comes up, kick and dive again without standing. You can take a little
gasp when your head rises. Gradually make the dive more shallow until
you are just undulating without need to stand. When that becomes almost
easy, try going across the pool kicking your head down and kicking your
head up, breathing whenever you like. When you can do that, you've got
the hard part down pat.
One would think that swimming butterfly with only one arm is a special
kind of aquatic torture, but it's actually easy for the same reason
two arms is hard: breathing. Add only one arm to the kicking, recovering
when your head is up and entering immediately after your head enters.
When you progress to two arms, it will be easier if the recovery is
straight out to the sides, but the stroke itself follows the same pattern
There's a nice sense of accomplshment in being
able to swim all four strokes. Put them together in the order of Fly,
Back, Breast, Free and you have the Individual Medley, raced at distances
from 100 to 400 yards or meters.
You can add Flip turns
to your swim.
Make up your own Workouts.
Fifty Workouts I made for a
I did this Ironman Swim Training Schedule
getting ready for that 2.4 mile swim
I'm helping my friends get ready for The
Chesapeake Bay 4.4 mile swim.
If you haven't gotten wet yet and you're feeling antsy, go to Fear
Swimming a Mile in 6 weeks will get you started.
If you plan to just Swim for Fitness
and not worry about technique.
Or maybe do a triathlon? Triathlon Bare Bone
Very Basic Swimming for triathletes.
Glossary of Swim Terms.
Absolutely minimal training for a triathlon
Swim Drawings and slide show