Stroke Tips & Drills~1

Basic Skills
Whether you’re a lap-swimmer, a former competitive swimmer, an injured runner, a
cross-training enthusiast or just someone looking for a fun, total-body exercise routine, you can learn modern stroke technique and become a better swimmer. If it’s been years, maybe decades, since your last swim lesson, you may be surprised to learn how much swimming technique has changed if you have children enrolled in a swim program, they’re probably learning to swim in a way that is vastly different from the way you were taught. Sometimes it’s easier to start fresh than to try to unlearn your old habits.
Good technique is what enables the better swimmers at your pool to whisk by you with apparently little effort. Even if some of them have lost their physiques over the years, they haven’t lost the technique they honed as younger, competitive swimmers.

How We Learn
As with most sports, swimming is tougher to master than it looks. Your perception of how you swim is often very different from how you really do swim. Most adults overestimate their swimming speed, not to mention their swimming skills. Have a friend or lifeguard videotape you in the pool sometime, and you’ll see what we mean. The truth can be painful, but it’s very educational.
We learn through observation , imitation, instruction and even pretend play. As adults, our egos often get in the way of the learning process when we think everyone is watching us. Here’s a tip: No one is watching you, unless they’ve read other chapters in this book! You are free to experiment and explore the world of swimming with childlike curiosity.

Determining Your Skill Level
In the fictional world of Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Woebegone,” everyone would be an above-average swimmer. But in the real world, where some of you are new to the pool and others have been swimming your whole lives, we have to make some distinctions to make this book as useful as possible.
Consider yourself a novice swimmer if you’ve never been coached, if you’ve been swimming for less than two years, or if it takes you 26 or more (freestyle) arm strokes to cover a 25-yard pool length. Consider yourself an intermediate swimmer if you’ve had little or no coaching but have been swimming regularly for two to five years, or if you can complete a length of a 25-yard pool in 22 to 25 arm strokes. Consider yourself an advanced swimmer if you come from a competitive swimming background or take fewer than 22 strokes to cover 25 yard.
How Efficient Are You in the Water?
If you’re an adult swimmer taking more than 22 strokes per length of a standard 25-yard pool, it might be worth taking a closer look at your technique. As with mastering a tennis stroke, a golf stroke or a baseball batting stroke, mastering a swimming stroke takes patience and practice. You must isolate the unique demands on your arms, shoulders, hands, hips feet and legs, before you can put them all together into a single fluid motion. Good stroke technique results from two things: minimizing drag and maximizing propulsion.

Minimizing Drag
Practicing “push and glides” off the wall will teach your body to pierce the water like an arrow. You must first learn the “streamline position.” The concept of streamlining will surface throughout this book.
Stand with your arms extended in front of you, both palms turned down. Place one palm directly over the back of your other hand and align your fingers, hooking the thumb of your top hand around the pinkie side of your bottom hand. With your hand joined together (one on top of the other), raise them over your head. Stand on your tiptoes and reach as high as you can. As you stretch, squeeze your elbows in, so your biceps brush against your ears. Remember this streamlined position. It will come in handy throughout this book.

Maximizing Propulsion (Forward movement)
Stop and glide after each stroke with one arm fully extended in front of you and the opposite arm resting at your side. Make a mental snapshot of this position as you glide for six kicks. Then take another stroke and stop again, gliding with the other arm extended in front of you. Kick six more times. Take another stroke and so on. Continue pausing with one arm extended in front of you and the other one at your side, changing arms each time, remember to push all the way back on each stroke, touching your thigh, then relax your arm. Stopping your arm at this point may feel awkward, but keep practicing.

Basic Stroke Foundation
As mentioned above, to move forward in the water you need to increase your forward propulsion while minimizing the amount of body surface that comes in contact with the water, causing drag. The most important source of propulsion is your kick. That’s right, your kick. This may seem odd since it looks like your arms are doing most of the work. But without an efficient kick, your legs will drag through the water like anchors and hold you back immensely.
Watch the better swimmers look at your pool and notice how effortlessly they seem to kick. Then look at the slower swimmers at your pool. See how they thrash in the water? Ankle flexibility, not brute leg strength, is primarily what determines the effectiveness of your kick.
Practice pointing your toes as you kick. By kicking with fins when you swim, or by sitting on your insteps on a comfortable rug at home, you can increase your ankle flexibility and eventually your kicking speed. (See below.)

TIP :one of the secrets to swimming efficiently is knowing how to relax. Good swimmers seem to go farther and faster in the water, with less effort than novice swimmers. Why? Because they’re comfortable in the water. They extend their bodies fully to get most out of each stroke.

Kicking Skills
While the kick is not directly responsible for propelling you forward, it’s pretty tough to swim well without kicking well. If you don’t believe it, try this little exercise: in a safe environment, swim a few laps with your ankles bound together so you cannot kick freely. You can use surgical tubing or a small inner tube to hold your ankles together. what happens? Chances are your legs swerve madly from side to side and then sink toward the bottom of the pool as though they had weights attached. Try the exercise again. See how difficult it is to swim in a straight line when you can’t kick?

Kicking: A Closer Look
Kicking propels you in two directions: forward and upward. The forward component is of minimal value to non-competitive swimmers, but the upward component, or lift, is what allows you to hydroplane on top of the water, giving you speed. You kick also helps you counterbalance your arm stroke. What happened when you wrapped the band around your legs? You zig-zagged like an eel. Unless you have a perfect stroke with high elbow recovery and zero lateral movement, you need to kick just to maintain a straight line in the pool.
You’re probably seen novice swimmers at your pool whose legs appear to be scissoring when they kick. The problem is in their arms, however, not their legs. Next time you’re at your pool, watch how their arms cross past the midline of their bodies. Their legs have no choice but to counterbalance their arm stroke by scissoring. If they didn’t do so, they’d sink or swim in circles. You might want to share this insight with them (politely).

Checking Your ankle Flex: The Toe Point Test
Ankle flexibility is the key ingredient to kicking speed and thus, successful swimming. If you are able to point your toes, your feet will act like fins in the water. If you can’t point your toes – are you listening, runners, cyclists and triathletes? – your feet will act like anchors.
You can measure your ankle flexibility with a ruler. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your heels resting on the floor. Point your toes as far as you can without causing pain (or have a friend press down gently on your toes.) Measure the distance from the floor to your toes. If your toes are within two inches of the floor, you should have a decent kick. If your toes are two to four inches from the floor, that’s fair. If you measure four to seven inches or more from the floor, your ankles are very tight, and you probably find it very difficult to kick with a kickboard. Many runners, cyclists, weight lifters and aerobics enthusiasts fall into the latter category. (See stretching exercise below.)

Ankle Flex Exercises
1. Have a partner press down on your feet as you sit with legs extended.
2. Sitting on the floor, tuck the tops of your feet under a sofa. Slowly scoot back in the floor. Try to extend your legs fully. Be careful not to exert too much pressure on your Achilles tendon (behind the ankle area).
3. While sitting on a chair, dangle your feet and curl the tops of your toes to the floor. Press down.
4. Practice swimming with training fins on, especially when you kick.

Head-Up Kicking Drill
“Head-up” kicking will teach you proper body position – elevating the hips and chest to reduce resistance – and help you develop a strong kick. Clasp your hands together, arms fully extended in front of you, with your head out of the water. Inhale by lifting your chin straight ahead. Don’t forget to keep kicking when you breathe. The head-up kicking drill will come in handy when we discuss open-water swimming later.

Hand Skills
Experts say that after kicking, hand entry is the most critical aspect of a swimmer’s forward propulsion. When swimmers’ hands enter the water, they direct a flow of water under their arms and past their torsos. This “ lift, “ combined with a strong kick, is what enables good swimmers to stay on top of the water.
As your hand enters the water during the initial (catch) phase of your stroke, you’ll want to keep your elbow high and your palm turned slightly outward. Slide your hand forward, as if putting it into a coat sleeve. Then turn your hand and the inside of your forearm toward your feet, point your fingertips down (or slightly across your body) and press your hand straight back. As you bring your hand past the center of your torso, your thumb should pass directly under your navel.

TIP: years ago, you may have been taught to cup your hands while swimming, but your hands really shouldn’t hold water like cups do. Instead, they should work more like paddles. The most effective position for your hands is flat and open, with your fingers extended. Remember that the angle of your hand must adjust constantly to changes in the water, just as a sailor must constantly adjust the angle of his sail to changes in wind conditions.
By constantly changing the angle of your hands (sculling) you can maximize the amount of water you’re able to hold and displace during your stroke. The more you can hold and displace, the more powerful your stroke will be.

Tennis Ball Drill
Swimming with your fists closed, or while holding a tennis ball in each hand, will help you develop sensitivity to the water when you re-open your hands (or swim without the tennis balls). Without the use of your fingers, you lose sensitivity to the water, not to mention a good deal of your pulling surface. To compensate for the relative lack of surface area, you raise your elbows, hoping to create propulsion with your forearms rather than your hands. When you re-open your hands, you’ll feel as though you’ve got trash can lids attached. Your pulling surface and power will be that much greater!

Breathing Skills
Many sports make you breathe heavily, but when you’re in the water, proper breathing is essential. When your breathing technique is off, your whole stroke will be affected. Experts say 60 to 70 percent of a swimmer’s improper body alignment stems from improper head movement when breathing.
Confident swimmers turn their heads just far enough to get their noses and mouths above the water line for air. But novice swimmers, out of fear and inexperience, feel they must turn their entire bodies – head, shoulders, hips and back – just to get air into their noses and mouths. This takes you out of your optimal streamlined position and wastes valuable time and energy.
P11Tip to control your head movement in the water, try to maintain an imaginary straight line that runs from the top of your head to the base of your spine. Never lift or drop your head from that axis, even when you turn your head to breathe.