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We know what it's like, if you have a website or blog it takes a lot of time to write interesting material for your readers. If you're a swimmer or a coach, or a club or race director, why not add some useful content for your website's visitors with one of these totally free Swim Smooth articles? We've written these articles exclusively for you, you won't find them on any of our websites or in our products.

Take a look at the articles and apply to use one using the link in each box below - we'll review your usage and give you permission to use the article by email. Swim Smooth retain the copyright but you are then free to publish the article on your website or blog. We'll provide you with all the images and html code that you or your web designer need.

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The Five Most Common Stroke Flaws - And A Drill To Help Fix Each

A fully featured article written with swimming and triathlon clubs in mind. We take a look at the five most common stroke flaws and run through a simple drill or visualisation to help fix each one.

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How To Overcome And Avoid Swimming Shoulder Injury

Perfect for coaches, physiotherapists or anyone interested in injury prevention for swimming. We take a detailed look at the causes of shoulder pain and injury in freestyle and explain simple changes to stroke technique to dramatically reduce the incidence of injury.

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How To Train Your Triathlon Swimming

A detailed article for triathletes or triathlon clubs looking at the unique issues that triathletes face to develop their swimming. Includes tips on structuring training and preparing effectively for open water.

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Developing A Better Feel For The Water

A fantastic article for those new to swimming freestyle. Many novice swimmers struggle to get a good feel for the water at the front of the stroke, we take the reader through a basic drill sequence to improve this critical area of their stroke technique.

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Three Stroke Flaws That Ruin Your Propulsion

Great for a coaching website, this article highlights three extremely common stroke flaws that ruin your propulsion. So simple they're often overlooked, fixing them should be a priority even before catch development work.

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Different Strokes For Different Folks

As humans, we're all built differently: different heights, different flexibility, different buoyancy, different personalities. In this compelling article we take at a look at five key physical attributes and how they affect your ideal freestyle stroke.

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Free Swim Smooth Article 1: The Five Most Common Stroke Flaws – And A Drill To Help Fix Each

shoulder injury

The Five Most Common Stroke Flaws – And A Drill To Help Fix Each

A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth

As you might already know, swimming is a sport limited by stroke technique not strength or brute force. Great swimmers have fantastic stroke technique which minimises their drag and maximises their propulsion, moving them quickly and efficiently through the water.

If you are a beginner or intermediate level freestyle swimmer you will have some flaws in your stroke technique that are holding you back, making you slower and less efficient than you could be. At Swim Smooth we have individually coached thousands of swimmers and in this time we see five stroke problems come up time and time again, at least one is in place in nearly every swimmer.

We're going to take a look at each of these "Five Most Common Flaws" in turn and dip into Swim Smooth's methodology to give you a drill or visualisation to help improve each. You might already have a good idea which of these problems exists in your stroke but if not then ask a friend, coach or lifeguard to watch you swim and feed back to you.

Classic Flaw 1: Holding Your Breath Underwater

If you stood at the side of your pool and watched everyone swim, breath holding is probably the most common flaw you will see. Holding onto your breath underwater increases the buoyancy in your chest and acts to sink your legs. If you suffer from sinky legs in the water then this is the first thing to get right in your stroke to improve your body position. Holding your breath also makes things feel much more tense as the CO2 builds up in your system.

How to fix it: During freestyle you should be exhaling whenever your face is in the water. At first it can feel very unnatural to do this and it can take some getting used to. Go to the deep end of your pool and tread water, take a breath in and then exhale which allows you to sink underwater. If you have trouble sinking, this is a sign you're used to holding onto your breath! Keep practising exhaling more smoothly until you are able to sink down to the bottom. It can be surprising how much air is in there and how you might have only been breathing with the top of your lungs before:

sinkdown

When you start to swim again afterwards, focus on exhaling smoothly into the water between breaths. You should feel more relaxed straight away and also feel it helps keep your legs higher in the water.

Classic Flaw 2: Crossing Over In Front Of The Head

When you swim freestyle, your hands should never cross the centre line. Crossing over like this might happen only on one side or only when you go to breathe. A crossover causes you to snake down the pool adding drag and it harms your catch on the water, reducing your propulsion:

crossover

How to fix it: The temptation here is to simply think about going wider with your arm stroke, the problem with this approach is that you end up being very flat in the water with little body rotation. Instead of taking your arm wider, think about drawing your shoulder blades together and back – this will straighten out your arm stroke. The perfect way to practise this is kicking on the side with some fins (flippers) on:

kick on side

As you do this be aware of the position of your lead hand, you will probably find it wants to cross over in this position too! To straighten it, draw your shoulder blades together and back "shoulders back chest forwards". You'll become aware that it's a slumping of the shoulders forward that is causing the crossover and the fix is to draw your shoulders back as you swim.

As you start swimming the full stroke again simply think about the middle finger on each hand and pointing that gun-barrel straight down the pool as you swim. This is a very simple visualisation which helps transfer better alignment into your full stroke.

Classic Flaw 3: Scissor Kick

A scissor kick is a horizontal parting of the legs in the water which causes a large amount of drag. This normally happens during or immediately after breathing and can be very quick – watch carefully or you might miss it:

scissor kick

In nearly all cases, the cause of a scissor kick relates to a crossover in the stroke (see flaw 1). The cross-over causes a loss of balance which results in a scissor kick shortly after to stabilise yourself. It's normally an unconscious reaction – you probably don't even know you're doing it!

How to fix it: The first thing to do is remove the crossover, very often this is enough to remove the scissor all by itself. To help re-enforce a better kicking action, as you swim gently brush your big toes together as they pass: tap tap tap. When you go to breathe, instead of thinking about the breath keep your attention on your toes and keeping the tapping constant – a big gap between taps is probably a big parting of the legs!

Classic Flaw 4: Kicking From The Knee

If you have a running or cycling background you're at high risk from this one! A good freestyle leg kick is performed with a nearly straight leg, with only a slight relaxed flex at the knee in time with the kick. The kicking action should predominantly be from the hip not the knee:

bent knee kickstraight leg kick

As soon as you bend your knee you present your thigh as a blunt object to the water and you push against the flow creating huge amounts of drag.

How to fix it: To reprogram your leg kick, practise some torpedo push-offs from the wall with a very strong kick. Do this for about 10-15 meters using a strong kick and then swim easy pace to the end of the pool, lightly tapping your toes as mentioned in flaw 3. Do several of these in succession:

- First time focusing simply on keeping your legs straight and kicking form the hip.

- Second time imagine you have a coin between your butt cheeks and you've got to keep it there as you kick by lightly clenching your glutes.

- Third time stretch through your core as tall and straight as you can in the water.

Kicking hard like this with good technique helps your nervous system learn a better kicking action.

Classic Flaw 5: Over-reaching and putting on the brakes

If you have been working on your stroke length, trying to make you stroke more efficient you might have fallen foul of this. Many swimmers trying to lengthen out as much as possible end up dropping their wrists and showing the palm of their hand forwards. This just applies the brakes to your stroke:

dropped wrist

How to fix it: Practice kicking on the side with fins again and become aware of the position of your lead hand. Is the wrist dropped and pointing forwards? Work on correcting this, actually tipping your wrist slightly the other way so your fingers are angled a few degrees downwards. This slight tipping of the wrist immediately sets you up for a much better catch and pull through.

As you introduce this change into your full stroke you may find your stroke rate (cadence) lifts slightly, that's a good thing, it shows you're not artificially slowing your stroke!

About Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth is a swimming coaching company famed for its straightforward approach to improving your swimming. On our website you'll find a wealth of easy to read articles to improve your swimming. We offer swimming DVDs, swimming training plans and training tools to improve your stroke technique. Also don't miss our amazing animated swimmer "Mr Smooth" showing you an ideal freestyle stroke in action:

mr smooth

Article © Swim Smooth 2011

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Free Swim Smooth Article 2: How To Overcome And Avoid Swimming Shoulder Injury

shoulder injury

How To Overcome And Avoid Swimming Shoulder Injury

A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth

Shoulder injury is extremely common in swimming, in fact so common amongst elite swimmers that it used to be considered a fact of swimming life, just something you have to live with.

Fortunately these days we understand that shoulder pain and injury is caused by poor swimming technique and that by correcting your technique we can quickly reduce symptoms and go on to cure the condition. If you suffer from any discomfort in your shoulders during or after swimming then you need to make some changes to your stroke.

The four leading causes of shoulder injury in freestyle are:

- A thumb first hand entry

- An S-shaped pull

- Pulling deep with a straight arm

- Crossing the centre line of the body (a 'crossover')

When we're working with swimmers with shoulder injury, nine times out of ten removing these stroke flaws is enough to cure the injury. Let's look at each flaw in turn and why it causes injury:

Thumb First Hand Entry

Together with an S-Shaped pull, a thumb-first entry into the water with the palm turned outwards used to be widely taught as good swimming technique. The problem with this technique is that it internally rotates the shoulder and causes impingement:

thumb first hand entrythumb first hand entry gives shoulder impingement

This impingement, repeated thousands of times in training is the leader cause of shoulder injury. If you use a thumb first entry and also have a crossover (see below) then you'll be very lucky to escape shoulder injury.

Instead of entering thumb first, it is good technique to enter with a horizontal hand, fingertips first:

fingertip hand entry1fingertip hand entry2

Elite swimmers have been taught this since the 1990s and it has the advantage of setting you up for more propulsive catch and pull phases of the stroke:

elite swimmers

The S Shape Pull

Pulling through with an S shape was taught in the 1970s in combination with a thumb first entry. This involved pulling out wide, then in and then out wide again by the hip:

spull1spull2spull3spull4

The idea was that an S shape created a longer pull-pathway and therefore more propulsion. However, this has since been scientifically disproved and we now know that a near straight pull pathway gives the best and most efficient propulsion.

The problem with the S-Pull shape is that it involves internally rotating your shoulder to push outwards and this outwards force at full arm extension severely loads the shoulder. If you modify your stroke to pull straight backwards the load on the shoulder is much lower. Visualising a straight pull will result in a very slight curve to your pull pathway as your body rotates but the point here is that it's not something you're actively trying to do.

Pulling Through With A Straight Arm

If you are not entering thumb first and are definitely not pulling with an S shape then consider the depth of your pull, many swimmers try and pull deep with a straight arm under the body:

straight arm pull

Whenever you swim with a straight arm it involves pressing down on the water at the front of the stroke during the catch phase – biomechanically it's impossible not to this. Pressing down on the water like this is bad technique all by itself but it also takes a lot of force to do so. Water is very heavy and by pressing down you are changing its direction requiring a high force which applies a large load to the shoulders.

By changing to a bent elbow catching technique we start to press the water back behind us which requires much less force as we are simply helping the water on its way:

good catch

Find out more about developing a good catch technique here

Stroke Crossover

There are two classic ways to crossover the centre line within the freestyle stroke. The first is in front of the head, this might happen on every stroke, just one side or on breathing strokes only:

crossover

The second way is later during the pull phase of the stroke where the hand crosses the centre line under the body:

pull crossover

Both of these actions are bad for your shoulders because they pinch the joint internally and they involve a long reaching arm action which requires a lot of force. By removing crossover from your stroke you will dramatically reduce the load on the shoulder.

Conclusion

In the vast majority of cases shoulder injury is cause by poor stroke technique. Even if you are only experiencing a small niggle or dull ache in your shoulder it is well worth addressing your stroke technique now before you develop chronic symptoms. To reach your potential in swimming, as in any other sport, you need to train consistently and injury free. As we get older we become more susceptible to injury and modifying our stroke technique becomes harder – there's no time like the present to fix that shoulder niggle!

About Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth is a swimming coaching company famed for its straightforward approach to improving your swimming. On our website you'll find a wealth of easy to read articles to improve your swimming. We offer swimming DVDs, swimming training plans and training tools to improve your stroke technique. Also don't miss our amazing animated swimmer "Mr Smooth" showing you an ideal freestyle stroke in action:

mr smooth

Article © Swim Smooth 2011

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Free Swim Smooth Article 3: How To Train Your Triathlon Swimming

shoulder injury

How To Train Your Triathlon Swimming

A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth

All the staff here at Swim Smooth are triathletes or open water swimmers. We understand the different preparation required to race in open water versus the pool and the need to balance out your training between the three disciplines.

If you are new to triathlon, here are some important pointers to maximise your performance in the water during your triathlon season:

Your Individual Stroke Technique

ceinwen and andy

One of the differences between being a pure swimmer and a triathlete is that your training time is split between the three disciplines so you have time less available for swimming. As a 'time poor' triathlete it's very important to understand what you need to work on for your individual stroke so you make the best you of your available time in the water.

If you have a coach at your pool or club, seek out their help and get some advice on your stroke and how to go about improving it. Also, it's worthwhile asking what is naturally good about your stroke too (be brave!) as this will help you simplify things. There are all manner of drills and techniques you can work on with your swimming and it can be quite overwhelming – try and simplify things down to your individual needs wherever possible and you'll make much quicker progress.

Training As Well As Technique

swim training

As a distance swimmer, one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your swimming preparation is to solely focus on your technique, swimming only 50 or 100m at a time. Becoming a 'technique hermit' is bad for your swimming because as a distance swimmer you need to be able to maintain your technique over longer distances. By only ever swimming short drill sets you tend to develop a technique that overloads the smaller muscle groups of the shoulder which quickly tire beyond 100m.

Drill work is a great for your swimming but also incorporate continuous swims of 200m, 400m and even 800m into your sessions so that you develop a stroke that you can maintain over longer race distances. You may find this results in a slightly shorter stroke that is more rhythmical to you, such strokes are often more efficient over longer distances.

Include A Distance Focused Swim Once A week

Many pure swimmers come from a sprint (50/100m) or middle distance (200/400m) background and so masters swim groups often focus on short fast sets with lots of recovery. However, triathlon is a true distance event in that you will be racing for at least an hour and as such you need a distance focus to your swim training. We recommend that once a week you put in a longer distance swim at steady pace. If you're doing Sprint or Olympic distance then building up to 1500m of steady swimming will build the necessary endurance for your race. You can swim this continuously or if you prefer break it down into a set with short recoveries – e.g. 3x500m with 30 seconds rest between each 500m.

training is important

If you are training for Ironman then you have a 3800m swim ahead of you in the race and because of the longer distance, your weekly long swim arguably becomes the most important session of your swim week. If you can, build up your long swim so you reach 4000m a few weeks before the race and you'll be all set for a fantastic Ironman swim leg.

If you train with a club or masters group that never does any longer distance sets it's well worth missing one of the club sessions, replacing it with a session of your own focusing on steady distance pace.

Developing Your Pacing Skills

As a distance swimmer your ability to pace your swimming correctly is critical. With any swim that you do, be it in training or a race, it's extremely easy to start off quickly and then slow dramatically after 100m or 200m. In a race situation you might not realise this is happening because everybody else is starting too fast around you and doing the same thing!

When you swim your sets in training, keep an eye on the times you swim for each repetition. If you can, also monitor your splits within each set – so if you're swimming 200m, monitor each 25 or 50m split. Not all of us are analytical or numbers people but asking a coach or friend to check this regularly is very worthwhile to develop your pacing skills and so improve your performances in races.

If you are interested in investing in a gadget to improve this area of your swimming then we would highly recommend a Wetronome to you. You can program it to a certain time per length and then place it under your swim cap where it will beep to you at the time you should be turning each lap. It's fascinating how easy it is to get ahead of the beep over the first 25 or 50m and then how the beep catches up with you as you slow down. It's a bit like the red-line they show on the Olympic swimming coverage!

Practise Open Water Skills (even during the winter)

If we told you that by focusing on a particular drill or training method you would take several minutes off your triathlon swim split, you'd jump at the chance right? Well, you really can save several minutes by optimising your drafting and navigation skills for open water swimming.

When you swim behind, or to the side and slightly behind another swimmer you save up to 25% of your energy expenditure – or put another way, swim much faster for the same effort. This sounds easy but is actually very skilful to perfect as you have to swim very close to other swimmers to get maximum benefit. If you are not used to doing this it can be slightly unsettling at first – you need to practise this in the pool with some friends or with your training squad:

open water skills

Your ability to swim straight in open water is also critical as it's easy to lose large chunks of time by swimming off course. We've recently been equipping some triathletes with GPS tracking devices and seeing how straight they swim in open water – the answer is not very straight at all! It's easy to lose anywhere between one and ten minutes by swimming off course. Our twin blog posts on this subject make fascinating reading:

Open Water Navigation

Swimming Straighter In Open Water

The key is to practise your sighting skills in the pool so that come the race you are entirely comfortable raising you head slightly to look forwards without excess effort or ruining the rhythm of your stroke. The easier and more natural sighting feels the straighter you will end up swimming!

Quick tip: Don't try and sight forward and breathe at the same time – this will mean lifting your head too far above the surface which will sink your legs. Instead, time your sighting to happen just before you're going to take a breath. Lift your eyes out of the water by pressing down lightly on the water with your lead arm (in this example your right arm). Only lift up enough to get your eyes just out of the water:

sightingsightingsightingsightingsighting

Your left arm will have now started recovering over the water, as it does so, turn your head to the right with your body to breathe. As you do so, let your head drop down in the water to a normal breathing position.

Putting It All Together

After reading the above you're probably thinking "OK, how do I fit all that in?". If we were designing your swim training, and you were swimming three times per week, we'd structure it something like this:

Session 1: A stroke technique focused warm-up followed by threshold pace work at race pace. See CSS Training

Session 2: A longer steady paced swim building up to race distance. We might split this into a set with short recoveries with a focus on good pacing.

Session 3: A stroke technique focused warm-up followed by a fun open water skills session in the pool with some friends. This would include group drafting work and sighting skills. (This is great fun and in the Swim Smooth squads in Perth is the most popular session of the week!)

About Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth is a swimming coaching company famed for its straightforward approach to improving your swimming. On our website you'll find a wealth of easy to read articles to improve your swimming. We offer swimming DVDs, swimming training plans and training tools to improve your stroke technique. Also don't miss our amazing animated swimmer "Mr Smooth" showing you an ideal freestyle stroke in action:

mr smooth

Article © Swim Smooth 2011

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Free Swim Smooth Article 4: Developing A Better Feel For The Water

feel for the water

Developing A Better Feel For The Water

A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth

If you are quite new to swimming freestyle and are struggling a little to get to grips with the stroke then this article is for you. When trying freestyle you might be finding it hard to breathe and regularly take on water or find the stroke very hard work – perhaps needing to stop and rest at the end of every length? If you've had any of these problems, or if you don't feel like a natural swimmer, we know it can be quite dispiriting! Don't despair though, in this article we're going to look at helping you develop a basic feel for the water which will help your breathing and make the stroke feel much easier.

One of the big differences between a really strong swimmer and someone new to freestyle is their ability to get a purchase point on the water at the front of the stroke. This is the bit of the stroke after the hand enters the water and extends forwards, the point where you start to press the hand and arm backwards to create forward propulsion. This area of the stroke is called your 'catch'.

If you aren't tuned into this area of the stroke then your hand will tend to slip through the water instead of getting support from it. When breathing this leads to the hand dropping vertically in the water instead of remaining in front of you to support you:

arm collapsed whilst breathing

With the hand low in the water like that it offers you no support at all and your head will tend to sink causing you to struggle to breathe or take on water. A much better breathing position is like this with that lead hand out in front offering you support:

arm support whilst breathing

The difference between these two positions is that the lead hand stays out a little longer in front, supporting you as you swim. Timing your stroke so that your lead hand engages with the water like this should happen on every stroke, not just when you breathe as it gives you a longer stroke that is more efficient and relaxed.

If you're quite technically minded and have studied footage of great swimmers on the internet, notice that their hands pass in front of their head - one above the water and one during the stroke underneath. That's good swimming technique and in the jargon is called 'front quadrant' swimming. Here's our animated swimmer Mr Smooth in this position, with his hands passing in front of his head:

mr smooth shows front quadrant stroke

How do you develop this? Here's a drill that will really help: Using the fins (flippers), kick on your side with the lower arm out in front of you. Look downwards and turn your head to the side when you need to breathe before returning it to the water. Unless you have an exceptionally good kick we highly recommend using a pair of fins when practising this:

kick on side

You may have done a drill like this before, perhaps thinking about rotating your body onto the side. This is important for the drill, make sure you are at 90 degrees on your side:

kick on side overhead

With this drill we're first going to turn our attention to that lead hand, make sure the palm is facing down towards the bottom and the hand is ever so slightly angled downwards as well. Focus on maintaining it when you turn your head to breathe and notice how much extra support it gives you:

support from lead arm

If you're not sure if you're getting this right then get a friend to watch you do it – make sure you're not collapsing the elbow and showing the palm forwards which is very easy to do!

collapse on elbow

Now we're going to introduce a progression which is to perform one arm stroke and swap sides. Kick on your side for as long as you like to compose yourself and when you're ready keep the lead hand extended and bring the back hand over the top. Once it reaches the front start the underwater stroke with the other hand and swap sides:

616seq616seq616seq616seq616seq

Don't be at all surprised if that front hand wants to start the stroke before the rear hand gets to the front – it's very likely in fact! Don't let this concern you, it can take a little bit of getting the hang of, in fact for some swimmers it can take a couple of sessions. That's normal.

As you get the hang of this drill, swap sides more often counting to about six in your head and then swapping. Each time your change sides focus on keeping that lead hand out in front of you for support before the rear hand gets to the front.

When you've got this nailed down nicely it's time to try some full-stroke swimming keeping that lead arm out there for support. Try this with the fins on at first, the extra support from them is useful while you work on the timing of the stroke like this.

Finding The Right Timing

Swimming with the hands completely meeting at the front is called a 'catch-up stroke' which is pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum from where you started where the hands were slipping through the water.

We don't really want a full catch-up stroke because it introduces a big pause which isn't very efficient or rhythmical. Instead we want that lead hand to start its stroke just a little earlier before the recovering arm reaches it. This gets the best of both worlds, it gives you a long stroke with lots of support combined with a nice rhythm to the stroke.

Finding the right stroke timing is a matter of experimenting a little and discovering what feels best to you - give yourself several sessions at least to find this out. You're looking for much more support when you breathe and a feeling of lower effort which means you're swimming more efficiently. You should soon be able to string several lengths of the pool together in succession without having to pause for a rest or to catch your breath!

One more quick tip: when breathing you may find you forget that lead hand for a second and it starts to slip down again. If you're breathing every three strokes a useful mantra to help is to say 'one-two-stretch-one-two-stretch' to yourself with the stretch on a breathing stroke. This reminds you to keep that lead arm stretched out making your breathing much easier.

Two Great Strokes To Watch

First, make sure you take a good look at our animated swimmer Mr Smooth, you'll find him on our main swimming technique website www.swimsmooth.com - the animation is great because you can view him from any angle and slow down the footage to a very slow speed to see how exactly he performs the stroke.

The second stroke to watch is a girl called Hannah who swims with us in Perth, she's not an elite swimmer and her stroke isn't perfect but it has a lot of good elements to it which you might find interesting to see. Check out her stroke technique here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZJaFbNOOEM

About Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth is a swimming coaching company famed for its straightforward approach to improving your swimming. On our website you'll find a wealth of easy to read articles to improve your swimming. We offer swimming DVDs, swimming training plans and training tools to improve your stroke technique. Also don't miss our amazing animated swimmer "Mr Smooth" showing you an ideal freestyle stroke in action:

mr smooth

Article © Swim Smooth 2011

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Free Swim Smooth Article 5: Three Stroke Flaws That Ruin Your Propulsion

stroke flaws

Three Stroke Flaws That Ruin Your Propulsion

A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth

Introduction

One of the reasons an elite swimmer is able to swim so quickly is that they have a very good catch on the water during the underwater phase of the stroke. Developing a truly great catch can be technically very difficult to achieve but if you can make even small improvements to this part of your stroke you'll notice the benefits straight away and start to move more quickly and efficiently through the water.

For most swimmers getting a good purchase or hold on the water is a very elusive experience and working on this area of the freestyle stroke can be very frustrating. Perhaps you've been told to 'keep your elbows high' or tried to 'reach over a barrel' and struggled to get these concepts into your freestyle? In this article we're going to take a step backwards and look at what happens immediately before the catch – as your hand enters the water and extends forwards.

Setting Up For A Better Catch

The catch setup phase is very important in freestyle - if you don't take the time to develop this part of your stroke then the catch itself will be heavily compromised and working on it will be frustrating and largely fruitless. However, take a step back and work on getting your body, arm and hand into the right position prior to the catch and your feel for the water will take a big step forwards, helping you generate much more effective propulsion.

We're going to look at three very common problems you may have in this 'catch setup' phase of the stroke and in each case give you a simple drill centred on fixing it. Try each drill and stroke focus, even if you don't think you have that issue in your stroke – you may be surprised what benefits it brings!

Catch Setup Problem 1: Crossover

On the last Swim Smooth Clinic Series in the UK, 76 of the 108 attendees had some level of crossover in their stroke. A crossover is where the hand crosses the centre line in front of the head. A crossover does a lot of harm to your stroke but in terms of your catch it causes you to collapse on the elbow and lean on it. This dropped elbow position in the water will then stay put for the rest of the catch and pull through – ruining your propulsion.

crossovercrossovercrossover

To overcome this in your stroke, focus on entering the water straighter without crossing the centre line. You may be tempted to think about going wider with your hand entry but we don't recommend this, it tends to make you flatter in the water and harms your body roll. Instead of thinking about going wider, think in terms of going straighter, entering the water and extending arrow straight forwards in front of the same shoulder:

great posture and alignment

A great way to work on this is the 'on your side' drill. This is one of the simplest drills possible but is fantastic for getting you straighter and more aligned in the water. With a pair of fins (flippers) on, simply kick on your side with your bottom arm out in front of you and your top arm by your side. Try to get perfectly on your side with your hips at 90° to the bottom of the pool. Look down at the bottom of the pool and turn your head to the side when you need a breath before returning to look at the bottom.

kick on sidekick on side overhead

If you feel like you're drifting from one side of the lane to the other or struggling to support yourself to breathe, then chances are you are crossing over and dropping that lead arm in the water. To remove the crossover, think about pushing your chest out and drawing your shoulder blades back. In doing so visualise going straighter, not wider. Perform this drill as 25m on one side before swapping to 25m on the other side, all the time thinking about improving your swimming posture and becoming straighter in the water.

Once you've performed the kick-on-side drill, try some full stroke swimming and simply think about the middle finger on each hand as you enter the water and extend forwards. Thinking solely about your middle finger pointing straight down the pool, this helps you focus on keep that lead arm straight as it enters the water and extends forwards.

Catch Setup Problem 2: Thumb First Entry

Many of us were taught to enter the water thumb first with the palm facing outwards when we learnt to swim. This method used to be taught because coaches believed it created a smoother hand entry into the water - this might be true to some extent but a thumb first entry puts stress on the shoulder, causing most swimming shoulder injuries. It also harms your catch because by entering thumb first there's a tendency for the lead hand to slice down in the water without getting any purchase on it.

thumb first entrythumb first entry

Instead of entering thumb first with hand pitched vertically, we need to enter more naturally with a flatter hand and slight downward angle. This creates a nice clean hand entry whilst setting your hand position up for a great catch as soon as you enter into the water:

fingertip hand entry1fingertip hand entry2

Catch Setup Problem 3: Dropping your wrist and over-reaching

In an effort to make their strokes long, many swimmers over-reach at the front of the stroke, this causes their wrist to drop and show the palm of the hand forwards:

over reachover reach

This dropped wrist position can feel good when you swim because as the water flow hits the palm it creates a pressure on the hand and many swimmers perceive this as a good catch. Of course, dropping your wrist creates drag and it also tends to cause your elbow to drop down low in the water, which harms your catch. Instead of doing this you should extend forwards in the water but all the time keeping your elbow higher than the wrist and your wrist higher than your fingertips:

doggy paddle

(see more of our animated swimmer Mr Smooth on the swim smooth website here)

A great drill for developing a better extension forwards in the water is Doggy Paddle. Perform Doggy Paddle with a pull buoy between your legs, don't kick and keep your head high - eyes either just above the surface or just below. Extend forwards underwater and focus on keeping your fingertips very slightly downwards as you do so. When you reach the front of the stroke, tip your fingertips further downwards to initiate the catch and bend the elbow to press the water backwards:

doggy paddledoggy paddledoggy paddledoggy paddle

Imagine a rope about 50cm directly under your body and that you are pulling yourself along that rope as you do the drill. This visualisation can help you perfect the movement of the drill.

Tip: Try using more body rotation than with children's Doggy Paddle - say to yourself 'reach and roll' as you extend forwards and catch the water. In some parts of the world this form of Doggy Paddle is known as 'Long Dog'.

You can also work on developing a better hand and wrist position whilst performing the kicking-on-your-side drill described earlier. Whilst your lead arm is outstretched keep your elbow higher than the wrist and your hand flexed so it points just very slightly downwards:

doggy paddle

If you are used to feeling the water striking your palm then you will feel less pressure from the water in this improved hand position. Expect this to feel strange at first.

Conclusion

Setting up for a good catch within your freestyle stroke is very important. Many swimmers make the mistake of jumping straight to developing their catch action itself and pay no attention to what happens before. Developing your catch will be a frustrating and largely fruitless experience without first working on becoming straight in the water with your hand and arm in the correct setup position.

If you take the time to develop this key area of your stroke then the catch itself often falls naturally into place and starts to give you the propulsion you need in your stroke. It's very much cause and effect!

One last tip: When you make changes such as this to your stroke it can feel strange at first or in some cases it can even feel wrong to begin with. Give yourself a little time to adapt to the changes above and get used to the feel of your modified stroke. We recommend around six sessions focusing on your catch setup before deciding whether these changes are beneficial to you. Give it a go – we're sure they'll help you and have you moving more quickly and easily through the water!

About Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth is a swimming coaching company famed for its straightforward approach to improving your swimming. On our website you'll find a wealth of easy to read articles to improve your swimming. We offer swimming DVDs, swimming training plans and training tools to improve your stroke technique. Also don't miss our amazing animated swimmer "Mr Smooth" showing you an ideal freestyle stroke in action:

mr smooth

Article © Swim Smooth 2011

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Free Swim Smooth Article 6: Different Strokes For Different Folks

different strokes different folks

Different Strokes For Different Folks

A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth

Have you ever watched elite swimmers or triathletes and noticed the huge range of styles on show? Some have long smooth strokes, whilst others have shorter strokes with a choppy, punchy style? Some swim with high head positions looking forwards, some with low heads looking downwards, some with strong kicks and others with seemingly gentle kicks.

All these swimmers are performing at a very high level in their sports so clearly have efficient strokes. Which style should you aim for in your stroke? Let's have a look at some relevant factors:

Your Height

Many elite swimmers are extremely tall, with the men normally over 1.9m (6ft 3"). When you watch clips of Phelps, Thorpe or Hackett on YouTube, bear their height in mind. Because of their length in the water and long arm reach, they are able to travel a long way on each stroke and so develop a long smooth style.

ceinwen and andy

When you swim, the speed which you travel through the water is determined by a combination of the length of your stroke and the rate of your stroke (how many strokes you take per minute). This is just like riding your bike - where the combination of the size of the gear you are pushing and your pedalling cadence determine your speed.

Tall swimmers are normally suited to a longer stroke with a slower stroke rate. Be careful not to over-do this even if you are tall, it's easy to introduce a big deadspot in your stroke at the front and this will decelerate you in the water between each stroke, making you less efficient, not more. Aim for a long stroke but still keep it continuous and flowing in nature.

If you are shorter, then your most efficient style is likely to be a shorter stroke with a faster turn-over. If you are such a swimmer, the advantage you have is that you can increase your strokes-per-minute to a higher level without fighting the water.

Ape Index: Arm Length In Relation To Height

ceinwen and andy

In the climbing world, climbers refer to something called Ape Index, which is a measure of your arm span minus your height, normally expressed in inches. It's very easy to measure, find out how here: ape index in swimming

Most adults are in the range -3 (meaning your arm span is 3 inches shorter than your height) to +4 (meaning your arm span is 4 inches longer than your height). Zero or +1 is about average.

Your individual Ape Index affects your stroke style quite a bit, in a similar way to your height. If you have long arms for your height then you will probably benefit from that longer smoother stroke style.

However, if you have short arms a longer stroke style simply won't work for you and trying to adopt this style will ultimately lead to frustration. Trying to match the stroke length of someone with long-arms will make you less efficient and slower as a result. People with short arms often have small hands too - and this smaller working area on the water only makes a long stroke even harder to achieve.

Good Natural Buoyancy

ceinwen and andy

Many triathletes - particularly men - suffer from poor natural buoyancy. With very lean muscular legs that have a tendency to drop down low in the water and cause lots of drag. Many swimmers are told to look straight down at the bottom of the pool to help rectify this.

However, a significant percentage of triathletes don't have this problem and are lucky enough to have good buoyancy distributed in the lower half of their body. This is a positive attribute for swimming as it helps keep your legs high and so reduce your drag.

If you have good natural buoyancy then adopting a deep head position can actually lift you up too high at the rear, leaving you feeling very unbalanced in the water. For yourself, you would be best served with a higher head position, looking further forwards. Try looking 1 to 2 meters in front of you at the bottom of the pool.

Some swimmers only notice this unbalanced feeling when donning a wetsuit - the extra buoyancy of the suit bringing you too high at the rear. If you experience this, experiment with a higher head position, it's often enough to bring your body back in balance again.

Upper Body Flexibility

By studying swimming on the internet you will have seen pictures and videos of elite swimmers extending forwards and catching the water very near to the surface. This helps them develop an excellent catching position with their elbow near the surface:

ian thorpe evf

Most age group triathletes - and a lot of elites triathletes too - have much less upper body flexibility than elite swimmers. If you have non-elite flexibility and try and catch the water near the surface, you will drop your elbow and wrist in this position which ruins your hold on the water:

dropped wrist

It is much more realistic for you to extend forwards and aim to start your catch about 20-30cm beneath the surface. This still gives you plenty of propulsion in a much more manageable position:

lead arm support

If you've seen Swim Smooth's animated swimmer Mr Smooth you can see he commences his catch in such a position. Don't worry, your swimming won't be limited by doing this, you can still swim extremely quickly without trying to catch near the surface:

mr smooth

Ankle Flexibility

Your ankle flexibility is heavily affected by your background in sport. Triathletes with running, cycling or team sport backgrounds tend to have stiff ankles and can't easily point their feet straight, or beyond straight, as elite swimmers can. In our experience fell runners have the stiffest ankles of all!

ankle flexankle flexankle flex

Good ankle stability is beneficial for land based team sports as it stops you turning or twisting your ankles. However, when swimming, it means you can't realistically develop a propulsive leg kick as this requires you to flex your foot beyond straight. This can have a marked impact on the style of stroke which might suit you best.

When you are working towards a long smooth stroke, the danger is that you decelerate in between strokes as you try and lengthen out as much as possible. This is inefficient because you have to re-accelerate your whole body weight on the next stroke, which is hard work. An elite swimmer can compensate for this effect to some extent by applying a very propulsive leg kick to power through this phase of the stroke. If you study video footage of elite swimmers with very long strokes, you'll notice they are tall with long arms and they also kick very hard. Swimmers such as Phelps and Thorpe are noted for the length of their strokes - and they are also noted for the propulsion of their kick - two factors which are fundamentally linked.

ceinwen and andy

A shorter faster stroke style is suited to triathlon and other open water swimming

What if you have poor ankle flexibility, as most age-group triathletes do? This will mean that you have poor propulsion from your leg kick and so you need to be wary of overly lengthening your stroke and trying to introduce glide. By doing so you will lose speed during this deadspot and become less efficient in the water. Your ideal stroke will be a touch shorter with a faster turnover. This style can be extremely efficient and fast in its own right, most elite triathletes swim with this technique.

If you do have a background in swimming and have a decent kick then you can expect a longer stroke style to work for you, even if you are quite short in height. Of course, you don't want to tire out your legs for the bike or run, so your kick power must be kept to a moderate level. However, it is an option for you to add some kick propulsion and use a slightly longer stroke style if you so wish.

Summary

There is a widely held misconception that everyone should be swimming with one ideal-stroke style: to make your stroke as long as possible. By observing elite athletes, and fast swimming age-groupers, we can see that a range of styles can be efficient and very fast.

Of course, on top of these factors, you may have a personal style. For instance, you might be tall with quite long arms but prefer a shorter stroke with a faster turn-over - for you it feels right and you are swimming well with it. This is absolutely fine, you certainly wouldn't look to fundamentally change your stroke style when you already a strong swimmer.

However, if you have worked on your swimming technique and are frustrated that you have not made the progress you would like, then it's very likely you have tried to develop a style that isn't suited to your individual make up. Adapt your stroke intelligently towards a style suited to your build and experience, and you will unlock your true potential in the water.

About Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth is a swimming coaching company famed for its straightforward approach to improving your swimming. On our website you'll find a wealth of easy to read articles to improve your swimming. We offer swimming DVDs, swimming training plans and training tools to improve your stroke technique. Also don't miss our amazing animated swimmer "Mr Smooth" showing you an ideal freestyle stroke in action:

mr smooth

Article © Swim Smooth 2011

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