In Part I, we discussed Body Position and Breathing. Those two skills are very important, but don’t get you anywhere. You need oars to get the boat moving. Your stroke is your oars, and that is what we will cover in this post.
This post in not meant to be the definitive post on stroke technique. The goal here is to master the fundamentals and set a good base for refinement as your swimming progresses. A perfect freestyle stroke, if there is really such a thing, takes years to develop. With a good fundamental stroke you will be able to cover longer distances with better efficiency.
The freestyle stroke can be broken down into four parts:
Entry is simple right? You just put you arm in the water. Well pretty much. Things to concentrate on during entry are; have your hand enter the water wide. Your hand should enter the water shoulder width. This will add stability to your body rotation. If your entry is too narrow, your legs will come apart to stabilize and your body position will go downhill.
Also, don’t overextend during entry. Enter when you arm is not quite extended, and reach the rest of the way under water. If you over extend on the reach, you entry may not go deep enough, and your legs will sink.
Watch this video from Speedo, which has an excellent visual for hand entry.
Drills: Single Arm Freestyle
After your hand has entered the water, you extend your arm and press against the water. While you are in catch position, your other arm is coming out of the water in recovery. The catch is the part of the stroke that is difficult for new swimmers. The natural tendency is to drop the arm to quickly to start the pull. You need to be patient with your catch, so your other arm has time to recover, and you have time to breath.
Here’s a good illustration of a poor catch from Swim Smooth. Notice the catch arm is not holding water, and breathing is very difficult.
Notice in this video from Total Immersion a very patient catch, and much a more relaxed stroke.
Drill – Catch up Drill
The pull phase of the stroke is where the majority of your propulsion comes from. After the catch, keep you elbow high, and pull your arm back, fingers toward the bottom of the pool. Pull all the way to your hips. Think of your arm as a rudder, and pull against as much water as possible.
The arm that is pulling should not be working independently. To move efficiently through the water you have to engage your core as well. When pulling, think of pulling your whole body forward to the next stroke. Concentrate on rotating and driving into the next stroke. Engaging your core during the stroke takes practice, but will add speed and efficiency to your stroke.
Here’s a quick intro on the pull:
Here’s the Speedo video again showing the pull phase of the stroke. Notice the swimmer is pulling his body forward, nut just pulling the arm back.
Drill – Pull Drills
After you finish your pull, raise your arm out of the water to start your recovery. During recovery, lead with your elbow forward, keeping your forearm and fingers relaxed. This is the anchor of your stroke that balances your pull. Focus on staying relaxed, and making a good entry.
In this video from SwimVICE coach Mandy shows a nice quiet recovery.
Wrap it up
In this post we covered the entry, catch, pull and recovery phases of the stroke. Each one of these phases can be improved individually, but to be an effective swimmer all phases need to work together. Practice flowing through each phase of the stroke with good form. As your form improves in one phase it will have a positive effect on the others.
For some inspiration, here’s Micheal’s Phelps’ stroke from multiple angles.
Now get in the pool and practice!