11 May 2005

How to swim

Swimming is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise, since it utilises all the major muscle groups of the arms, trunk and legs.

Swimming is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise, since it utilises all the major muscle groups of the arms, trunk and legs.

Whether you are swimming to keep fit, lose weight, or improve performance, you will benefit from improving your stroke technique. Particularly in the beginning, when you have just taken up the sport, mastering the technical aspects of the stroke can provide the biggest challenge, apart from your fitness levels.

The main focus below is on freestyle (crawl), since this is the most commonly used stroke and assumes some knowledge of the basics of the stroke. If you are in any doubt about swimming, it’s best to speak to someone personally to get advice.

Basic tips

  • Aim to swim in the most horizontal position you can maintain. In other words, your shoulders, hips and legs must be as near to the surface as possible. This is the most aerodynamic position.
  • Try to look at the bottom of the pool, so that your head is down in the water, and then lean with your chest, since this brings you into the ideal position.
  • Use long fast kicks making sure that your whole leg is moving up and down.
  • When your arm comes over, stretch it forwards as far as it will go, slicing it into the water with your thumb first, and try to minimise the size of the splash.

Intermediate tips

  • Let your shoulders and hips roll slightly from one side to the other, but do not move your head – keep looking at the bottom of the pool. To train this, you can practice swimming on your side, rolling smoothly from one side to the other.
  • Keep your legs as close together as possible – imagine your toes touching one another as your feet kick.
  • You will be able to take a breath more quickly if you breathe out into the water just before turning your head out of the water, so practise breathing out under water, then turning the head to breathe in.

Advanced tips

  • Once you have finished pulling with the arm underneath the water, pull the arm up out of the water by leading with your elbow as if you are trying to push it up to the roof of the gym. This makes the arm movement more efficient.
  • Try to learn to use the legs a little more slowly. This may sound contradictory to the advice given earlier on, but by now, you should have an efficient body position and so you needn’t kick quite as much. Therefore, aim to kick with different rhythms. Count the number of times you kick each length and do some training where you try to kick less often than usual. The longer you swim, the slower the kick.
  • Concentrate on making sure that your arm is stretched as far as it can after entering the water and pull the hand right through to the top of your leg when in is underwater before pulling up with the elbow as explained earlier.
  • Learn how to breathe to both sides for a more efficient stroke and change from breathing every single stroke to breathing every second, or even every third stroke.

These tips should hopefully help you to improve your swimming and get the most out of it. Many swimmers lose a lot of energy because they do not have the correct body position in the water and they do not use the arms and legs effectively. However, if you spend some time in your regular swims concentrating on these tips, you will find that you become much more comfortable in the water and get more out each swim.

(Ross Tucker – Sports Scientist)


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