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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.
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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.

How important is the head position in swimming?

Take for example the picture below, which I’m sure many of you have seen. It is a photo taken from the bottom of the Beijing pool, and
it shows, on your left, Michael Phelps, on his way to his 7th gold medal, and on your right, Milorad Cavic of Serbia, on his way to a silver
medal in the 100m butterfly event.Had you not seen this race, however, you’d be tempted to tell me that I’ve mixed up my right and left. There is no way, surely, that Cavic,on your right, can lose this race. He has led for 99.5 m of a 100m race, and is centimetres from the wall. But Phelps touched first, by 1/100th of a second, in one of the moments of the Games.

It is against this backdrop, where gold and silver, history and anonymity are separated by millimetres, that sports sciences and the value
of attention to detail become apparent. If you look at Cavic on your right, you’ll see that as part of his early reach for the wall, he has begun
to hyperextend the neck, and the result is that his head is starting to rise out of the water. Phelps, on the other hand, has made a call to get
one last stroke in. His head is down, his arms are making one final sweep for the wall, and he is about to pip Cavic on the line.What this race comes down to then, is Cavic’s head position, which may have increased his drag (this is according to Phelps himself), and the timing of a lunge for the wall. Such are the margins between gold and silver. Phelps goes on to become the first man in history to win 8 gold medals at a Games, Cavic may never again be so close to an Olympic gold and a place in history as the man who denied Phelps the perfect Games.


Phelps - 100m fly @ Biejing 2008