7 things to help improve your swimming - Plus 4 Actions
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
This note will help you recognise what makes improving your swim technique difficult.
Knowing this you can be prepared and ready yourself to be patient and to be rewarded.
Also review some ways to Swim Smarter to achieve not just better technique, but better fitness, well-being, and if this is what interests you - performance.
Across many years of personal swim experiences, from learning to swim, to Olympics and World Champs, open water and triathlon swimming, watching other swimmers, and talking with hundreds of coaches, I have seen and experienced that focusing on technique can be very rewarding.
All good swimmers and knowledgeable coaches understand that having a sound technique provides many benefits, including:
Reduced drag, and maximise momentum
Maximise power potential in the pulling phase
Decrease effort so as to achieve higher levels of performance
Maximisation of speed potential
Enhance endurance potential i.e., pace over distance/duration
As you endeavour to improve your swim technique, I want to encourage you to put some time and focus into trying to improve.
The benefits are way worth it!
That feeling of gliding effortlessly through the water, being relaxed while swimming and being able to swim easily for extended durations, at a level of exercise intensity to achieve all the physical, mental and body benefits are some of the great rewards of swimming technically well.
You Deserve IT – Technique is the big game-changer to get the most out of your swimming
To help you along here are some thoughts to keep in mind.
1.1 Why is improving swim technique tricky?
The action of swimming is highly repetitive.
It is this repetitiveness which makes adopting technique changes feel so foreign, difficult, and perhaps in the improvement transition process, not helpful.
By way of example,
Say you do 45 strokes for 50m, and you do 2km a session, and you swim 4 times a week. That is 7,200 strokes a week 3,600 with each arm.
In a calendar month that is about 32,000 strokes.
Repetition develops a neuromuscular proficiency which I talk about next.
At the most intense training period of my swimming career, and with a stroke rate of about 40 per lap I was doing about 80,000 strokes a week. That is a lot of repetitive reinforcement.
However even doing this volume, and during the primary period of my technique development, I was coached for 30minutes 3-5 days a week, outside of the conditioning workouts, solely practicing technique improvement.
1.2 Neuromuscular proficiency
This is how the brain and central nervous system recruits and controls movement and stability in skeletal muscles. The common name for this is ‘muscle memory’
Let’s bring in the old saying here, that Practice makes Perfect.
In this case it should be Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.
With so much repetition of movement, i.e., the number of strokes noted above, stroke technique imperfections are reinforced.
This being so, we need to think of using the best technique as a Neuromuscular Skills Proficiency i.e. we need to practice the skill of good technique to achieve the aims of:
Make swimming easier (and more enjoyable)
Decreasing the effort for same speed performance
Maximise speed potential
Maximise endurance potential
1.3. Skill development in Water
Another element in the challenge in improving swim technique is that you are in the water medium.
Duh! I hear some day.
I introduce this as there are a couple of things that being in the water, that makes the technique improvement process tricky, versus skill development in dry-land sports
Its also to encourage you to be patient with pursuing your swimming technique improvement pathway.
It takes time but is well worth it!
You may know that water is 800 times denser than air, so not aligning the body with appropriate technique for your style, creates unwanted drag i.e., a force acting on your body that is opposite to your movement through the water.
Put simply swimming better is all about producing propulsion in the most efficient way and minimising drag.
Drag reduces your momentum, uses more of your energy, and produces fatigue more quickly.
Reduce the drag and you will better glide through the water.
Also note that swimming technique is highly interactive. Change a hand entry placement will likely alter part of the kick action as the body seeks to balance itself.
Swim technique is all about Newtons Third Law of motion i.e. that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction
1.4 Proprioceptive development in a 3D-enviroment
We all use the proprioceptive capacity of our body every day, in fact every movement.
Using feedback from proprioceptors i.e., neurons located within muscles, tendons, and joints the signals are transmitted via the central nervous system to the brain where the information is combined with other sensor input including what we see.
The informational feedback includes joint position, movement, and force the muscles are applying.
This functionality ties into Neuromuscular Skills Proficiency, I mention above.
Swimming is quite unique as every movement you do is in a 3D environment where your body is acting against a medium that moves in all directions.
This being so it is particularly challenging to improve and hone your technique.
Matching what you feel to what you are doing - The video technique analysis and feedback video process that you can read about in the SWIMTECH information, comes from years of personal experience and coaching swimmers of all ages.
It couples what you are actually doing with your technique, with what you are feeling and via video analysis, what you can see.
Matching the feel and see input, your proprioceptive swimming development can therefore progress more easily and as a consequence your swimming can improve.
The SWIMTECH video analysis process:
• Sets out clear technique improvement objectives
• Provides video analysis and feedback so you can see what you are feeling as you chase technique improvement
1.5. Develop a feel for your stroke
A main aim of developing your swim technique is to build a sensitivity to the pressure of the water on your skin, in particular your hands.
Drag is very difficult to identify without video analysis, but propulsion is easier to identify.
In all stokes, except breaststroke the hands/palms, when pulling/providing thrust, need to be perpendicular to your line of movement through the water for as long as possible, with a propulsive feel.
Aim to be sensitive to the pressure of the water on the fingers and palms of your hands when pulling.
In all strokes except breaststroke, your hands provide most of your propulsion (in breaststroke your legs provide up to 80% of the propulsive power)
To get a basic feel for this try closing your hands into a fist, while pulling. You will find a lot of the propulsion disappears.
Open the hands again and feel the propulsive pressure.
1.6 Timing of breathing
The timing of your breathing, the head alignment and motion of your head movement to breathe is very important in all strokes.
Correctly timing your breathing and the action of your head can improve the biomechanical power of the propulsion phase of your stroke and reduce drag.
Depending on your aims the timing of the head movement to breathe, varies from sprint to longer swimming.
All this is a foundational element of improving your stroke technique for your style.
1.7. Proofing technique improvements
There are several parameters by which you can prove to yourself the benefits of technique improvement.
In a separate post and as standard information provided to SWIMTECH users, I show you how to use the Personal Improvement Challenge (PIC) process.
The PIC formula uses speed, as measured by lap times, stroke rate – strokes per lap, and exercise heart rate (EHR) which you can take manually or use a wearable.
Tracking your improvement is a great way to reinforce your focus, and practice to continue your technique development.
Actions to improve your swimming
2.1 Swim Smarter
Spending time improving technique is to swim smarter.
Take some time to reason how much time and effort you spend swimming, versus how much time you spend focusing, practicing, and developing your technique.
When helping SWIMTECH users I often find that individuals will spend 3 - 10 hours a week doing swim conditioning and 0 time on technique - Swimming smarter has really worked for these folk.
Swimming smarter provides many benefits, including:
Swim faster in races
Swim the same distance, in the same time, using less energy as measured by your exercise heart rate
Swim the same distance you used to do but faster, using the same energy as previous, measured by your exercise heart rate, by using your more efficient technique
Be able to hold a faster pace over distance as you will have more power/endurance and less drag that will produce less fatigue
2.2 Know your personal technique aims - for your style
Have a clear idea of your personal technique goals – The SWIMTECH service levels provide the expertise to set your goals and for you to become interactive with your stroke
2.3 Make Space
Dedicate a part of your swim sessions to practicing your technique corrections, and building a better feel for your stroke - I can be as simple as minutes a session
2.4 Best Practice Session construction
As a SWIMTECH user, you receive interval sessions to achieve maximum benefits, in the session durations you can choose
Sessions are matched to your goals, and to your level of swimming via Session Selection Sets that you can swim, to help plan your sessions and again from time to time to keep your sessions in line with your fitness and goals
Improving your swim technique will open more session options and session variations to you that will supply additional interest and motivation, making swimming more enjoyable.
No matter what type of benefits you seek from your swimming, for fitness and wellbeing, Masters competition, Triathlon, recreation, or mental health, weight management, asthma control,and others, you will get more benefit through improving your swim technique.
All the best for your swimming, and until next time.
Graham Windeatt OLY