Saturday, 17 November 2012

How To Swim Faster: Easiest Ways To Learn

One of the first things everyone always asks me when it comes to swimming is, “How can I get faster?” More often than not this question comes from the recreational swimmer, triathlete, or CrossFitter. And then they complain, “My legs are solid muscle and they sink so I can’t really swim.” Well, yes, and no. I too suffer from the solid muscle leg ailment (that's me in the photo below) and it has not stopped me from swimming the 50m freestyle in a little over 26 seconds, or even successfully completing 2km open water swims.

Swimming Smarter not Harder

For many coaches, swimming faster is the result of gradually increasing the length and intensity of swimming workouts so that the general fitness level increases.
While conditioning has its place, this is not all there is about how to swim faster, because swimming is a very technical sport. There are a few gifted swimmers that instinctively learn how to move efficiently in the water. Given enough time and practice, they will always improve.
But most of us only have a vague sense about our efficiency in the water. Remember, we are land animals! Because of this, swimming lots of lengths will often only make our bad habits more permanent, while our swimming technique only improves slowly or even not at all.
So what do we need to do? In fact, to learn how to swim faster and better with less effort, we need to swim smarter, not harder. Specifically, we need to work on two facets of our technique:
  1. We need to decrease drag in the water.
  2. We need to improve propulsion in the water.

Decreasing Drag

The importance of swimming with the least amount of drag is often neglected. However, this is an area where we can greatly improve our efficiency in the water.
Water is much more dense than air. Drag in the water increases by the square of the speed at which we swim. So there is quickly an upper limit on how much force we can apply against the water to increase our speed.
On the other hand, reducing drag requires skill rather than force. So there's a lot of room for improvement there. That's why it should be the top priority of learning how to swim faster.

1: Improving Your Balance

The first and most efficient way to decrease drag is to improve your balance. This means that you try to stay as horizontal as possible while moving through the water. When you do this, you disrupt the least amount of water molecules on your path, which translates into reduced drag.
As an example, while swimming freestyle, swimmers often lift their head to breathe or look ahead. When they do this, they lose balance and their hips and legs drop. Their body is less streamlined and generates more drag while moving through the water. Additionally, they need to kick harder to keep those legs up. Needless to say, a lot of energy is wasted while doing this.
Note that being as horizontal as possible is especially important for the freestyle stroke and backstroke. For the breaststroke and butterfly stroke, things are a little bit different because a body undulation occurs during the stroke cycle.

2: Swimming Taller

The next way to decrease drag is to make yourself as tall as possible in the water. The theory behind this is that for the same mass, a long tapered object moving through the water creates less turbulence than a short compact object. In fact this principle has been used by naval engineers since hundreds of years.
To swim taller in the freestyle stroke, you enter your recovering arm early in the water once it has passed your head. You also make sure to completely extend your recovering arm forward underwater before starting the downsweep and catch.

3: Compact and Efficient Kick

In world-class front crawl swimmers, the kick contributes for up to 10% of propulsion, while the arm stroke contributes for the rest. So an efficient kick is important for fast swimming, but less than what is commonly believed.
What is equally important is a compact kick, meaning that it should neither break the water surface nor move too low below the body line. Otherwise unnecessary drag is created which will only slow you down.

Improving Propulsion

Once you have reduced drag to a minimum, you can work on improving your propulsion. Again, this is mainly done by improving your swim stroke mechanics, not by building bigger muscles.

4: Swimming More on Your Sides

The first way to improve propulsion is to roll more from side to side with each arm stroke. Rolling more on your sides allows you to better engage the large back muscles in addition to the shoulder muscles. However, spending more time on your sides is unusual at first and needs some getting used to.

5: Using Your Core

This is another secret of how to swim faster. You should engage the large back, hip and torso muscles while rolling from side to side. The synergy between your core muscles and arm muscles allows you to apply more force to your swim stroke.
It is a little bit like a baseball pitcher when he throws the ball: first his body twists backward, then his hips initiate a rotation forward which is channeled through his upper body into his shoulder, arm, hand and finally into the ball, with an acceleration at each step.
Once you have integrated this technique, you will be able to swim longer and faster and tire less quickly, as your core muscles have more endurance than the ones in your shoulders and arms.

6: Anchoring Your Arms

This is the last piece of the puzzle on how to swim faster with less effort. Before applying any force on your propulsive arm, you need to make sure that your hand and forearm are aligned and facing backward. You can then effectively move your arm backward like big paddle.
This swimming technique is often called the "high elbow catch" in the freestyle stroke because you need to keep your elbow high in relationship to your wrist to be able to successfully do this.

One of the first things everyone always asks me when it comes to swimming is, “How can I get faster?” More often than not this question comes from the recreational swimmer, triathlete, or CrossFitter. And then they complain, “My legs are solid muscle and they sink so I can’t really swim.” Well, yes, and no. I too suffer from the solid muscle leg ailment (that's me in the photo below) and it has not stopped me from swimming the 50m freestyle in a little over 26 seconds, or even successfully completing 2km open water swims.

Like in other modalities, it all comes down to technique. If we use Olympic lifting as an example, your lifts significantly improve when your body is positioned correctly and the bar is traveling in the most efficient trajectory. Swimming is no different. Our body replaces the bar (our body is the load we are moving), and the “bar path” is typically our hand trajectory. But swimming has an added component. We swim in water, in horizontal position. The closer we can keep the body to horizontal, the more we minimize drag, which in turns means less energy required to move the weight load over distance.

hannah caldas, swimming technique, swim technique, freestyle, snorkelBut how about those big, muscly, sinking legs, I hear you ask? Well the solution to those is what I believe to be the number one issue with recreational swimmers, triathletes, and CrossFitters. The problem is in their head. No, not the psychological type of problem, and you won’t need a therapist to get over it, but the positioning of your head while you swim.

The position of the head while swimming is understated, and mostly overlooked, but this small detail is the answer to a lot of the problems for all the “sinkers.” While analyzing the head position of some of the non-swimmer athletes I have worked with, I noticed a high head position and tension of the neck that lead to low hips and, consequently, low body position (i.e. legs sinking). I believe a lot of these issues may initiate from inefficient/uncomfortable breathing while swimming.

So, what is the correct freestyle head swimming position? First you should be looking down. This will be easily accomplished by keeping your neck relaxed, ensuring proper head and spine alignment, which in turn will help your body remain as horizontal as possible. I am a visual person, and analogies have always helped me remember details. While swimming under Garrett McCaffrey, he used an analogy for this neck position that I will never forget, and it seems to be very helpful to everyone I have shared it with. He said, “Imagine you are a whale, there is a blowhole on your neck, and you need that hole accessible at all times so you can breathe or you will die. If your neck is angled you closed the hole and you can’t breathe. You need to position your head so your neck is at the right angle.” I can guarantee if you successfully do this your lower body will be higher in the water. Perhaps for those of us with big solid legs our lower bodies might not be the highest, but it will significantly improve body position and reduce drag.

So now that we understand what the correct head position is, how can we get it there? If you have no issues with breathing or any other basic things in water, then you should be able to get this head position by practicing with a series of drills. One I recommend is the six kick switch drill. In this drill you kick six times on your right side, six times on your front, and six times on your left side while keeping your head in the correct position. This is also a great drill for improved kicking, which further helps keeping your lower body higher in the water.

Another great way to practice the correct head position is by using a center-mount snorkel. FINIS carries a few that I highly recommend. The snorkel will allow you to breathe constantly without breaking your head position to breath. Practicing this will get your body used to the correct head position and eventually you alternate sets with and without snorkel to slowly introduce the complexity of turning the head for air without significantly raising the head or breaking the head and spine alignment.

snorkel, finish, freestyle swimming, freestyle, swimming, head position

So, what about these minor swimming issues? I call them minor, yes, but I understand for some people what I consider minor may be a major hurdle. It is pretty clear from all I described above your head MUST be in the water. If you are a head-out-of-water breather, nose-pincher, and so on, it is time to change that now if you are planning on becoming a better swimmer. Your face is going to get in the water, your hair, if you have any, is going to get wet (I highly recommend cap and goggles), and you need to be comfortable with rhythmic breathing in the water. You can start with easy breathing exercises, inhaling through your mouth above water and exhaling through the nose in water, keeping a constant rhythm. This is how we breathe while swimming also.

Exhaling through the nose will also provide a constant stream of air out and prevent water from traveling up your nose. If this is still not comforting enough, then go for the nose clip. If Missy Franklin and other swimming greats wear nose clips (granted they are wearing them for backstroke) there should be no shame in resorting to them, especially at the beginning. The nose clip is also used by a lot of swimmers while using the snorkel, although I don’t find it exactly necessary. Ultimately a lot of these minor issues are also in your head, this time the psychological kind. You will be in water; expect unexpected things and learn to deal with them.

While head position might not be the only issue, it certainly is one of the biggest culprits. Fixing the head will improve a number of other key points in body position leading you to swim faster and more efficiently, providing a more enjoyable swimming experience.

About Author
Danish Fareed is a passionate blogger who enjoys writing articles on Technology,Hacking,Daily Tips And Health Care.  Follow Me On Facebook
Danish Fareed
About Author: Danish Fareed
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