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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.

The best way to save energy in swimming freestyle is to rotate from side to side.

We rotate for a few reasons. It is important because it reduces the amount of drag our body creates in the water. Does it waste energy going side to side? It does and it doesn’t. Rotation does use energy (only a small amount) however we are using the momentum of our stroke to get from one side to the other. Also, by rotating it allows you to anchor your hand in the water and to move past that anchor much faster and easier than you would by swimming flat. Thus faster swimming!

How far should I rotate? Depending on your ability, most elite swimmers will rotate to about 45 degrees. This doesn’t mean you can’t! It may take some practice before you get this angle comfortably, but it is worth the effort once you do. Long distance swimmers generally rotate more than a sprinter would. If you are racing a triathlon or more than 400 meters in the water, work hard to rotate as much as possible for a longer stroke. During sprinting, it is best to limit your rotation slightly in exchange for a higher stroke rate.

What is the best way to work on my rotation outside of the pool? The best way is to increase your core strength (abdominal strength). This is good news! For guys it means you get to work on that six pack abs, and girls get will see a flatter stomach doing these exercises. The best methods for increasing core strength are prone hold and pilates. Prone hold is simple and can be done before bed each night, and pilates is an excellent way to improve your swimming muscles.

An important point in body rotation: Make sure your hips and shoulders stay connected. This requires a strong core as we mentioned earlier. Your shoulders should rotate with your hips and should move at the same time. It can work best by concentrating on moving your hips first and your shoulders second.

There are some common questions that pop up by new swimmers about how to breath properly in freestyle swimming. A swimmers ability to swim efficiently relies heavily upon getting the breathing correct. In freestyle swimming, body position needs to be correct before anything else. But for many, once they throw in breathing…it all goes haywire! This is a result of lack of balance and breathing by moving the head and not rotating the body to breath, plus a few other things.

These are the four breathing mistakes made freestyle, as well as how you can overcome them:

1. Not Getting Sufficient Air

There are a number of reasons this typically happens in freestyle swimming. To begin, make sure you breathe out all of your air before rotating to take a breath. When learning, there are some people who try to exhale and inhale while they are rotating to the side for oxygen. There just isn’t enough time to do this! Exhaling should only take place in the water in the form of bubbles. The timing might seem difficult at first, but eventually you will get accustomed to it. Second, you may find yourself sinking when you breathe. Be sure to roll to the side to breathe, and not rotate your head to look straight up. Practicing side kicking drills and shark fin drills, as shown in the Mastering Freestyle program with Australian Champion Sam Ashby will also help you with this challenge.

2. Your Leading (Extended) Arm Sinks When Taking a Breath

This is to do with lack of balance. When you take a breath, your other arm should be extending in front. For a lot of swimmers, the extended arm drops down into the water, dropping the elbow and sinking their body while trying to inhale. The side kicking drill and shark fin drill mentioned earlier will also help to improve this. Another useful drill that will help with this challenge is the fist drill which is also a part o the Mastering Freestyle program. This drill forces you to swim without the use your hands, therefore improving your balance in the water.

3. Sacrificing Speed While “Pausing” During Breathing

It’s typical for many swimmers to be cruising along feeling smooth and comfortable and then you take a breath and it feels as though you’ve lost all your momentum. To stop this, when you breathe, focus on first breathing to the side by having your mouth parallel to the waters edge, rather than breathing over the water. It may take a while to perfect, but once you do, it will get rid of the pause, and improve your speed overall.

4. Sucking Water In When Taking a Breath

In training, this can often occur because of #1 and #2 above.  There are numerous drills to practice which will help you with this such as the side kicking and shark fin drills, so too as one-arm drill. One-arm drill is simply a full stroke but with one arm while your opposite arm rests at your side. Breathe on the opposite side of the stroking arm. This dill isn’t easy but once you get you may notice a major improvement in your swimming!

In swimming, effective propulsive movements are SLOW to FAST.

In every stroke you reach long, feel the water, catch and then accelerate through the pull to the recovery.

A powerful stroke starts with an effective feel on the entry and then a strong catch. Once you have got that strong catch, it’s the acceleration through the stroke which makes all the difference.

A big mistake which amateur swimmers too often make is they pull through the water before they have reached long and ‘caught’ the water. Missing this step causes bubbles on the hand as the swimmer pulls through. This makes the stroke ineffective as the swimmer is pulling through air and not able to accelerate by holding the water with their catch.

During the ‘catch’ phase of the stroke (between the hand entering and the pull through) the main objective is to reach long to reduce drag, and to allow the air bubbles to leave the hand and forearm. Once they have left, the swimmer can begin the pull through with maximum effectiveness. The difference between pulling through without bubbles on the hand compared to pulling through with bubbles is many seconds difference.

If you can master the slow to fast movement with the arms and combine this with a ‘no bubbles’ approach to pulling through, you can drastically improve your swimming. It’s worth practicing the two disciplines until you get them right. It sure beats training harder and may allow you to improve your times with less effort.

As most people know, freestyle is the fastest stroke, most efficient stroke, as the body maintains a streamlined position with the arms and legs are able to apply constant propulsive forces. The arms perform an alternating action while the legs perform a continuous flutter movement.

Body Position

The body position needs to be streamlined and kept ‘long’ with the arms extending above the head to lengthen the body even further. The back and the legs are remain straight except during the flutter kick.

Head Position

The water line should meet at the top of the head and the head should be kept down at all times. The eyes should look down to the bottom of the pool and not ahead. Doing so will keep the body streamlined and reduce the frontal resistance. If the head is looking forward, the legs, hips and torso will sink, increasing frontal resistance.

Body Roll

Body roll in begins with the arm action. The whole body rotates along its long axis when the hand enters the water in front of the head. This rolling action increases the power of the stroke by introducing the core (stomach) muscles into the stroke. The hips and the shoulders should remain in line as the body rotates. Freestyle should be thought of as swimming by alternating from side to side, not swimming on your front.

Hand Entry

The hand should enter the water forward of the head and between the midline of the body and a parallel line from the shoulders. The first part of the arm to enter should be the fingertips, and the elbow should be kept higher than the forearm and hand. The forearm should be at around 30 degrees with the water. The arm should be about 2/3 extended when hand enters the water. The rest of the extension occurs underwater after the entry.

Some common errors on entry

1. Hand at rotated to 90 degrees on entry – reduces ability to pull and increases injury risk

2. Extending fully before entering – creates bubbles on hand during pull through

3. Entering too early – drag is increased and momentum is lost

Pull Through

The ‘catch’ phase begins with the front hand while the opposite hand releases the water. The wrist should be flexed outward, downward and backward in order to expose the palm and forearm to the water. As the elbow starts to flex, the hand should sweep downward and slightly outward. Two keys to a successful pull are to get a strong catch with the water and maintain a high elbow position when the hand pulls past the head and shoulders.

The hand should continue to sweep down towards the midline of the body and then upward and in close to the lower chest. The hand should accelerate throughout the entire pull phase in order to gain maximum speed.

The last propulsive phase is sweeping the hand backward, upward and outward.

Kick

Kick begins from the hip and the upper leg muscles. The legs remain primarily in line with the body with the ankles flexed but relaxed so that the big toe on each foot should turn towards each other. Flexibility and loose feet and ankles is the best way for an easy and efficient kicking technique.

There are two speeds of kicking known as six-beat and two-beat kick. Six-beat kick is when the swimmer performs three downward beats per arm stroke. Two-beat kick is when the swimmer performs one downward beat per arm stroke. Both kicks are advantageous in their own right. Six-beat kick provides more speed while two-beat kick is more energy saving and better for longer distance.

Breathing

Breathing should be a part of the body roll. The face should turn with the body and breathe when the opposite hand enters the water. Breath in when this hand pushes back and your opposite arm is recovering. The face should turn back into the water while the recovery arm moves past the face.