Do these two things to improve your freestyle

For almost ten years I taught infants through to seniors how to swim under the masterful eye of my uncle John Sugden. From time to time friends ask me if I have any tips on how they can improve their technique. My default advice is to do the following two things as they tend to have the greatest impact on swimmers strokes for the least amount of effort. They also seem to be things that most people don’t already do.

1. Look at the bottom of the pool

Go to any swimming pool and you will notice that in the slow, medium and fast lanes, even the squad lanes, almost all swimmers are looking forward.

It makes sense. When we walk we look forward to see where we are going to avoid collisions. It’s a natural instinct to look where we are going. However in the water this strong instinct works against us.

Because we are lying horizontally (not standing vertically) looking forward breaks our posture and causes our body to sink resulting in unnecessary drag which forcing us to kick and stroke harder to stay afloat and move ourselves forward.

The blue lines indicate what I observe most swimming doing. The purple shows the adjusted head position. Note the lower back and legs are much closer to the surface, reducing drag.

One way to address this is to practice looking at the bottom of the pool while you swim. This will elongate your neck and help raise your body closer to the surface of the water.

The more of your body that is above the water, the less of it you need to move through the water.

When I first tired to do this I found it very challenging. Looking where I was going was such a strong instinct that I found myself having to readjust my posture 10 times or more per lap. Eventually it became a new habit for me and now I float easier and swim faster.

2. Blow bubbles earlier

Struggling with breathing or running out of air is something I hear from a lot of swimmers.

If your timing is off, over the course of a few laps you’ll start to run out of air and feel short of breath.

Often you will see and hear swimmers exhale air when their mouth and nose are out of the water, when they should really be inhaling air. They hold their breath the for three strokes and then on the fourth quickly force out a bit of air and desperately suck in new air. All in a fraction of a second.

You want to be more like the purple line :)

A more effective way to do this is to begin emptying your lungs earlier, say around stroke 2.5, by blowing bubbles out underwater. This way, by the time you turn your head to the side to take a new breath your lungs will have emptied enough to allow you to take one decent breath in.

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