Do you get winded swimming one length of the pool? Do you legs feel like they are always sinking? Or do you just flail your arms and legs and hope you get somewhere? I call this controlled drowning, and that is how I swam my first race. It was a long and difficult swim, and made me quickly realize, I better work on my form.
Learning to swim correctly is the number one reason I hear from people why they can’t race a triathlon. To be honest, unless you learned to swim as a child, learning to swim as an adult is challenging. The best way to learn as an adult is to break down swimming into fundamental skills that can be combined into an effective stroke.
The first two fundamentals of swimming are Body Position and Breathing. These are the first two skills to develop efficient swimming.
The most effective way to move through the water in freestyle swimming is to keep your body streamlined. Your body should be extended, just below the surface of the water. Try to keep your legs up and together. Think of your body as a see-saw, with your hips as the pivot point. Your legs are usually more dense than your torso and will want to sink. Your job is the press down and forward with your chest to keep your legs up.
Here’s a great demonstration of balance from Total Immersion. Notice in the beginning of the video the difference in body positions. Next the clip show some drills for practicing good body position. The superman glide drill shown is very effective to imprint good balance. I do this drill before every swim session.
In this video from Speedo UK, you can see some nice graphics that explain proper body position.
Good Body Position = Neutral head position + Streamlined body + Legs up
Drills – Superman Glide, One arm Glide
Swim Breathing – Intro
Breathing in freestyle swimming can be challenging to learn. Once you to get the hang of it, like riding a bike, you will not forget how. The issue most new swimmers have with breathing is holding their breath. If you are holding your breath, or breathing shallow, you can’t swim long distances. Try and take a breath every ten seconds while running, and your heart rate will spike quickly. It’s the same when you are swimming. When you start to breath correctly ability to swim more distance will increase dramatically.
Proper breathing in the freestyle stroke involves two things. First, when your face is in the water breath out completely. You can breath out from your either nose or your mouth, your preference. Be sure to breath out the entire time your face is in the water. This keeps water from entering your breathing, makes sure you are breathing deep enough.
Second, rotate your body and take a breath. While the arm of the side you are breathing on is out of the water, rotate your body and take a breath. You want a quick bite of air, and go back to breathing out. Ideally you should only have one goggle out of the water when you breath. If you are looking up when you breath, you are over rotating. A good cue to remember is to act like you are laying on your side with your arm stretched out like a pillow.
Below is a video from Bob Bowmen, Micheal Phelp’s coach on swimming breathing. He gives some great insights into proper freestyle breathing.
In this video from USMS, they do a great job explaining common mistakes in freestyle breathing:
Good Freestyle Breathing = Breath out face in the water + Rotate your body to breath.
In Part II, we will go over the stroke and catch. Now get to the pool and practice that good position.