Most of us are taught that to become a better swimmer we must train harder and train for longer. This was true 20 years ago when not a great deal was understood about how we move in the water. The reality is swimmers of all abilities (especially beginners) need to focus on the correct technique more than anything else. Thrashing out lap after lap doesn’t make a person faster. The key is in reducing the amount of drag. This is where huge leaps of improvement are found.

Here is a list of five tips to help you swim like an Olympian:

  1. Don’t train to get fit, train to achieve perfect technique: Everyone must start out by first getting technique right, and then progressing on to improving fitness. If you’re focus isn’t on swimming with correct technique from the beginning, any training you do will not help you for the long-term.
  2. Find a coach or mentor: An unwritten law of swimming is ‘whatever it feels like you’re doing in the water, you’re probably doing the exact opposite’. The quickest way to get better at swimming is to have a qualified person give you feedback on your technique. Coaches can be found locally or found online. Many online coaches can give you feedback on your technique if you email a video of yourself to them.

  3. Educate yourself: Just like a doctor studies medicine to become a good doctor, to become good at swimming you must study it also. It is much cheaper than a college education though! To achieve correct technique you need to watch the DVD’s, read the books and buy the programs which teach it.

  4. Find a training partner: Training with a partner or a group of people makes swimming a lot more enjoyable. It also increase how hard you train and how far you swim because time will go by much quicker. It has been proven that running with another person increases your pace by 18% compared to when you run alone. I’m sure it is no different when in the pool. Find someone who is faster and fitter than you, as this will help you rise to their level rather than take the easy road.

  5. Never quit: Becoming a good swimmer doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a few weeks to really change your technique, and many months to see a noticeable improvement in your fitness. The key is to be consistent and train regularly. If you train for 3 days in a row and then take a week off, you can’t expect to see results. You must be consistent with it and always focus on practicing the right technique.

There is one swimming drill which will dramatically improve your technique, power and feel for the water if you practice it prior to a race or competition. This drill easy to do and only takes a couple of minutes each session. In this article, I’m going to explain to you how best to perform it and how often, and why it increases a swimmers power and feel for the water when practiced prior to a competition. The drill I’m talking about is sculling.

When I was a little kid, sculling was one of the the first things I was taught after I’d learnt the basics of floating, kicking and breathing. At the time, it felt like sculling wasn’t a beneficial exercise and I was never told why we did it. After 12 years, I finally discovered why it’s such an important drill to do, especially in the week leading up to a race.

Before an important race or competition, swimmers will taper for 5-10 days. Tapering means to reduce the volume of training so the body can rest and recover in order to perform at it’s peak. When swimmers taper they become prone to losing the ‘feel’ of the water because they have gotten so used to swimmer regularly. As they taper they swim less and their body can find it difficult to ‘remember’ the correct technique. Sculling is the solution to this.

‘Front scull’ is the most common sculling technique. It is performed on the front with the swimmer facing the bottom of the pool. The swimmer should put their arms in front of their head and scull in and out with their hand and forearm in a sweeping motion. The hands should be bent downwards slightly at the wrist in order for the swimmer to move forward. The upper arm should remain still while the forearm is moving side to side. During the out sweep the thumbs should be facing down and during the in sweep the thumbs should be facing up. Depending on a swimmers ability, they may want to do this drill with fins if they are a beginner. Amateurs should do the drill without fins and more advanced swimmers should use a pull buoy to isolate the arms.

Sculling is important because allows the swimmer to become familiar with the initial catch position of the stroke they are practising for. In ‘front scull’, the sculling is performed at the initial ‘catch’ position of the freestyle, butterfly and breaststroke strokes. By getting the initial catch correct in these strokes, it sets up the swimmer for a powerful pull through and helps overall with their stroke.

Practising sculling in training and leading up to a competition can help a swimmer maintain the all important ‘feel’ for the water. ‘Front scull’ helps a swimmer practice the correct position for the initial catch in freestyle, butterfly and breaststroke. This is vitally important so the swimmer can develop power in their stroke. Sculling is a simple drill to perform which if practiced for a few minutes each training session, can greatly improve a swimmers ‘feel’ for the water.

Swimming can be a difficult sport to learn if you’ve never been taught the very basics. One of the biggest issues most beginners face is breathing in the freestyle stroke. Even for veterans of the sport, breathing can be a nightmare if you don’t know the correct technique and method for easy and effortless breathing in freestyle.

The prospect of swallowing water can stop people from learning swimming as it can all seem too difficult after they’ve given it a shot three or four times. If you are having breathing problems in your swimming, don’t despair. There is an easy solution which can be implemented right away. Here I will outline the three keys to overcoming breathing problems in swimming.

1. Breathing out

The most important aspect of breathing technique is the breath out. The reason most swimmers choke on water is because they blow out all of their air too early or too late. The swimmer should breath to the side of the recovery arm (the arm which is out of the water) and take a big breath of air. As the head enters the water, begin blowing a small amount of air out of both the nose and the mouth. Continue doing this until just before you take your next breath. As you go to breath again let all your air out quickly through your nose and mouth just before you take that next breath. Remember that last sentence and your breathing problems should be fixed.

2. Rotation

To breath effectively it’s necessary to breath to the side. The easiest way to do this is to rotate the shoulders throughout the freestyle stroke. This makes it easier to get the mouth out of the water so not as much head rotation is required. Use your body roll and momentum to help rotate your head when breathing.

3. Stay relaxed

A secret to effortless swimming, not just effortless breathing, is to stay relaxed. Too often swimmers will tense up, hyperventilate and force themselves through the water. This isn’t how to swim fast. You must stay relaxed, keep calm and allow yourself to glide through the water. During your breathing, keep calm and allow yourself to breath normally without forcing air in and out.

There you have it, three important tips which will help you breath easier in freestyle. Remember to let all of your air out quickly through your nose and mouth just before you take a breath. Use your body roll and momentum to help rotate your head when breathing, and stay relaxed and breath normally though out the stroke.

As a coach of both elite and amateur swimmers, it is apparent that one of the biggest issues facing adult swimmers is the ability to generate power from their kick. There is a noticeable difference between those swimmers who were taught correctly as a kid or teenager, and those which have never been shown the correct technique for kicking in swimming. In some cases, I’ve seen people being dragged backwards because of their kick (true story!). There is a simple way to dramatically improve your kicking power even if you have bad ankle flexibility, and you can implement it starting today.

There are two keys to correct kicking technique in swimming. Swimmers must point their feet down (pointing in the opposite direction to where they want to go) and they must turn their feet and big toe inwards. Most swimmers will get the first point correct without being shown because it happens naturally during the kick, however the second point is something which needs to be learned.

By pointing the feet and big toes inwards (towards the centre line of the body) it increases the area of the feet which is used to generate propulsion and it increases the ankle flex of swimmer during the kicking motion (without needing to increase your ankle flexibility!). The feet and legs should remain ‘relaxed’ throughout the kick as this helps with leg flexibility.

Swimmers who are able to understand and apply the principle of turning the feet inwards will experience a much more powerful kick in each of the four competitive strokes. It may appear too simple an answer to the kicking problems which so many swimmers experience, but it is the first step to correcting kicking in swimming.

Last night at training during a set of 4x25m of butterfly at max effort, I was called aside by my coach. He’d noticed that my ‘sprint’ butterfly looked more a 400m butterfly. Why, I wondered? I was trying my hardest (or so i thought). I was aiming for minimum splash and maximum power. I was also feeling efficient and fast in the water. What could it possibly be that my sprint butterfly was missing?

His answer: Kick.

My kick had a very noticable pause inbetween each stroke. Rather than keeping a continuous kicking motion, my feet were waiting at the surface of the water before I took each stroke. How I didn’t notice this myself is a mystery, but it usually takes someone else to pick up the flaws in anyones stroke.

I’ve never been a great butterflier. Any kind of sprinting would see me at the back of the field, but anything which required long and relaxed butterfly would suit me well (A 400 IM for example!).

So, was this the solution to my slow butterfly?

On the next 25m sprint, I kept a continuous kick where I really worked the up-kick hard. My kick was more fluid and provided me with a lot more power. I felt much quicker and my coach had told me that I was sitting up much higher in the water (this is a good thing). This may be the advice I need for a faster butterfly swim.

Is your butterfly sprint missing a continuous kick? Would you benefit from a  consistent dolphin kick with a powerful up-kick?

At your next ¬†practice session why not experiment with a harder, more continuous butterfly kick and see if you can reduce your butterfly sprint times. It worked for me and it’s something I’ll be working on over the next few months.