Stroke Tips & Drills ~ 2

The Stroke
The Catch

The freestyle stroke begins here, with your hand reaching forward and slicing into the water. Your elbow should be up (and remain higher than your hand throughout the stroke). Your hand and forearm should enter the water at a 30- to 45-degree angle. Keep your hands relaxed thumbs down and palms facing outward. Then extend your arm into the water fully. Your hand should be four to eight inches below the water’s surface before you begin the first phase of the pull.
The Entry
Your arm should enter the water in front of your shoulder, so the bubbles just miss your ear. If your arms come in closer to the centerline of your body, you may be swinging your hips out to the side, causing extra drag and impinging on the muscles and tendons in your shoulder. A wider entry can cause your entire arm to drag forward through the water.
Your fingertips should enter first, followed by your hand, forearm, elbow, triceps and shoulder, all entering through the same (12) “hole.” Imagine that you are putting your arm into a coat sleeve – everything goes down into the same tube, to slip into that tube, your elbow has to be bent and held high. Don’t force your arm into the coat sleeve. Relax and let your arm’s own weight pull it down. Great swimmers always look relaxed in the water because they are relaxed.
The Pull
Your underwater pull is best described by changes in the direction of your hand sweep. The down-sweep begins after your catch, with your wrist flexed at a 45-degree angle and your hand facing out-ward. This motion is a down and outward pattern that maintains a high elbow position. As your hand passes laterally, your body should be rolling toward your opposite side to assist in the out-sweep. Once your hand passes outside your shoulder – i.e. at its deepest point – it should change direction to face inward, backward and slightly upward toward the midline of your body.
The pull phase of your stroke should not be dominated by elbow extension, but rather by body roll coupled with the upward motion of your slightly flexed elbow.
The Recovery
As you lift your arm out of the water, increase the bend in your elbow. Continue keeping your elbow higher than your hand, and lead the arm swing forward with your elbow. Point your fingers backward and allow them to trail behind until you are midway through your recovery. At this point your fingers should take over the lead. Your hand should enter the water at a 30- to 45-degree angle, thumbs facing downward, to begin again with the catch.

Freestyle Breathing
Head Position
Between inhalations, hold your head so the waterline is at mid-forehead level. Exhale easily but steadily from your nose and mouth. When turning your head to breathe, maintain a straight line between the top of your head and the base of your spine.

Your shoulder should roll up and back when you stroke. When breathing on your stroking side, simply follow your shoulder back with your chin. Inhale as soon as your mouth clears the water. Your body should already be rolling back to the other side. Your chin will lead your shoulder as your face returns to the water.
TIP Bilateral breathing, often called alternate-side breathing, requires you to change breathing sides after each stroke cycle. This skill eliminates neck and shoulder fatigue and promotes better balance and body alignment. Bilateral breathing is an essential navigational skill in open water, too.

Freestyle Drills
Like many people who want to swim faster, you may be tempted to increase your arm turnover in an effort to increase your speed. Sounds logical. But when you look over at the fastest swimmers at your pool, thy seem to be moving their arms slower than you are, not faster. What’s going on here?
The secret to faster swimming lies not in making your stroke faster, but in making it longer. Single-arm drills are a great way for swimmers, especially uncoached swimmers, to increase the length and efficiency of their stroke.
By stroking with only one arm at a time, you can examine each part of your stroke sequence in minute detail. This will allow you to uncover technique flaws as well as strength imbalances between your left and right sides.
Single-Arm Drills
When doing single-arm drills, begin your pull by flexing your wrist and digging down for the bottom of the pool. If you are using your right arm, you will breathe on your right side. When? As your right hand finishes its stroke at your thigh. You should be looking at a point between the 12 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions when breathing on your right side and between the 10 o’clock and 12o’clock positions when breathing on your left side. By learning to limit your head turn, you will keep your body in a more fluid position and waste a lot less energy. (See illustrations on page 12.)
Count the number of strokes you take per length of the pool. If you take fewer strokes with one arm than you do with the other, you’ve uncovered a strength imbalanve. You’ll want to spend more of your drill time on your “ weak” side than your “strong” side.
In addition to the one lap left/one lap right single-arm drill sequence, you can do three strokes right/three strokes left, followed by two right/two left, one right/one left, then back up the “ladder.” You also can alternate between right- and left-arm strokes with a momentary pause in between. This is known as catch-up swimming, a staple of many competitive swim programs. (picture single-arm drill)
This drill is especially helpful for swimmers who have difficulty with the finishing stage of their strokes – the recovery. Thumbsies – a drill in which you literally drag the thumb of your trailing arm along the body from mid-thigh up through the armpit – is also good for teaching you to make your hands enter the water in front of your shoulder. If one of your hands has a tendency to enter the water beyond the mid-line of your body, causing you to zig-zag down your lane, thumbsies may be a big help.

The stroke

The backstroke is not so much swum on the back as it is on the side. Accomplished backstrokers have the ability to rotate power-fully and rhythmically from one side to the other. They spend as little time as possible flat on their backs – where the water’s resistance is greatest – and as much time as possible on their sides, where they minimize the amount of body surface that must push through the water.
By rotating your body at the beginning of each (back) stroke, your hand can enter the water at a deeper level than it could if you remained flat on your back. The deeper your hand, the more powerful a fulcrum you’ll have to push water behind you.
Your head position is the key to controlling what the rest of your body does in the backstroke. Your head is the only thing that should never move in backstroke.

Backstroke Breathing
Head Position
Point your nose skyward at all times. Find a point on the ceiling and keep your eyes focused on it as you swim. This will remind you to keep your head still. Your chin should be slightly tucked, as though your head were resting on a small pillow.
There is a breathing rhythm for the backstroke, although most novice swimmers hold their breath to avoid swallowing water when inhaling. Try swimming easily on your back, inhaling on one arm recovery and exhaling on the other. Do this for one breath on each stroke cycle. When swimming harder, inhale as one arm exits the water and exhale as it re-enters. This will give you two breaths on each stroke.
Tip: To remind yourself not to hold your breath, avoid pursing your lips or puffing your cheeks. Just relax and keep your face slack.
To make the backstroke motion second nature, you’ll need to mix in drills frequently with your “straight” swims. Alternate one length of drills (see below) with one length of straight swimming.

Drills for Learning the Backstroke Body Position
Barbecue Skewer Drill

Start by lying on your back and flutter kicking with your arms resting on your sides. As you kick, roll one shoulder up toward your chin. Hold it there briefly, return to the neutral position and then roll the other shoulder up toward your chin. Fight the urge to take a stroke. During each rotation, your whole body – from shoulder to toes – should rotate on the same axis, perpendicular to the water’s surface, as if on a barbecue skewer. Your head should remain still throughout this drill.
Hold the side-lying position briefly on each rotation. Once you’re comfortable with the feeling of controlled body rotation, practice it with the arm stroke included.
TIP: Flutter kicking on your back while wearing training fins will teach you to keep your hips elevated for better body position and a stronger kick.
Six-Six Drill
Start by lying on your back with your legs extended and toes pointed. Flutter kick on your side for six kicks (or three counts), with your bottom arm extended overhead and your top shoulder touching your . Your head should remain fixed with your nose pointing toward the ceiling – try to keep your eyes focused on the same spot on the ceiling. After six kicks, take a stroke, recover fully and then briskly roll to your other side. Repeat this stroke-recover-roll sequence with a side-lying pause between strokes. The idea is to reduce the pause gradually until you’re swimming in a nearly normal rhythm.
When rolling from side. Imagine that your body is rotating on a single straight-line axis that runs from the top of your head to the bottom of your spine.

Drills for Learning the Backstroke Arm Stroke
To understand how to incorporate your arms into the backstroke, imagine that you could reach down about two feet below the water’s surface and grab a convenient handle for leverage. This handle would allow you to pull your body past your hand (rather than pull your hand past your body).

Single-Arm Drill
This drill utilizes the same rotating kick position as the barbecue Skewer Drill (see page 14). With your left arm resting at your side, stroke a length of the pool with your right arm only. On the next length switch arms so you’re stroking only with your left. At the completion of each pull, make sure the shoulder on your stroking arm is touching your chin. Count your single-arm strokes per length-aim for 10 to 14 if you’re in a standard 25-yard pool.

The Stroke
The breaststroke has several benefits for fitness swimmers: It’s an excellent way to vary the challenge and pace of a workout, the leg motion is terrific for toning your inner and outer thighs, and the arm motion is great for toning your chest muscles.
Contrary to how it might look, breaststrokers do not move their arms and legs simultaneously when they swim. Rather, they pull, inhale, kick and glide, although there is some overlap between the elements. There should be a clear distinction between the kick and pull. As with other swim strokes, it’s a good idea to break down the breaststroke into its component parts before trying to put it all together.
Arm Motion
Imagine your hands tracing a heart-shaped Valentine in the water, beginning and ending with your arms extended in front of you, just below the water’s surface. During the pull, your arms should trace a smooth, outward, downward curve followed by an accelerated, sharper upward movement that brings your hands together beneath your chest. In the recovery, your arms should shoot straight forward, returning to your starting position.
Leg Motion
Most fitness and competitive swimmers prefer the newer, narrower “whip kick” to the old-fashioned “frog kick.” Bend your knees-not more than hip-width apart – and bring your heels together near your buttocks. Simultaneously flex your feet and turn your toes outward so your lower legs form a V. then whip your lower legs down, around and together in an outward, backward semi-circle, finishing with your knees straight and your toes pointed. This circular back-ward motion is the main propulsive force behind the kick.
Body Position
Prone and streamlined. At the beginning and end of your stroke, extend your arms in front of you with your hands together, four to eight inches below the water’s surface. Your palms and thumbs should be angled slightly downward. Straighten your legs behind you, keeping your hips and feet just below the water’s surface. Your hips should be undulating visibly during the stroke cycle.

Breaststroke Breathing
Hear Position
Hold your head still, with your eyes fixed at a point on the water just in front of your hands. Keep your chin locked and slightly tucked.
Two common breaststroke errors are breathing too early in your stroke, which robs your pull of its power, and lifting your chin to breathe. Instead, keep your face in the water as your hands press down and outside the shoulders, then breathe as your hands reverse direction and sweep inward again.

TIP: Breathe by lifting your torso rather than just your chin. As your hands sweep inward, your arm action should lift your shoulders out of the water. Inhale as your body clears the water. Fully extend your hands before your face goes back under.

Breaststroke Coordination
The correct sequence should be: Pull, inhale, kick and glide. Bend your knees to begin your kick at a pint just after you’ve inhaled, with your arms under your chest. Then, as your arms begin their recovery, your knees should be bent to their fullest – some breaststrokers have enough flexibility to touch their heels to their buttocks. Your legs should supply at least 50 percent of your propulsion in the breaststroke.