To all those resolving to start off 2015 with renewed focus on technique, I wanted to share some freestyle swim tips that have helped me in my training and coaching.
I like to think through each arm stroke beginning with the finish, then recovery, entry, catch, and push*:
1. As the hips rotate, finish the stroke, pushing water back past the hip.
2. Use momentum from the finish to “swing” the arm forward (relaxed forearm) in recovery. The armpit should clear the water’s surface during recovery. Avoid trying to control the arm.
3. During the hand entry, the shoulder should be internally rotated, so that the elbow is higher than the hand. This sets up a good high-elbow catch.
4. The fingertips drop and point to bottom of pool, with the wrist remaining straight (to prevent elbow dropping!). The elbow stays forward and high during the catch. The latissimus dorsi (aka. “lats”) should be engaged here!
5. Push* the water back (behind you) using your forearm (fingertips to elbow) as a paddle. Don’t forget to use those lats! They are large muscles for a reason.
*I like to use the word “push” vs. “pull” to emphasize a high elbow position and make a point of pushing water back. The word pull makes me think of a “pull-up” movement, which is not an appropriate analogy for the freestyle stroke.
Thinking through the stroke backwards helps me to see how each movement builds on the previous movement. For example, without a strong push back and finish, the recovery can become flat and lazy, leading to poor hand entry and catch positions. Without a quality catch position (internally rotated shoulder, high elbow, straight wrist), the push is less effective. Besides the efficacy cost, a poor catch position (dropped elbow) may lead to shoulder injury over time.
A proposed drill set to include in your training sessions:
3 rounds of the following progression (round 1: right arm focus, round 2: left arm focus, round 3: both arms focus)
2 lengths with focus on strong finish
2 lengths with focus on recovery with exposed armpit
2 lengths with focus on internal shoulder rotation and entry with hand below elbow level
2 lengths with focus on straight wrist and high elbow catch (engage lats!)
2 lengths with focus on pushing water back (use lats!)