Swim Skill Foundations
When you are trying to improve your swimming technique and form, it can seem really bewildering. What to focus on at what time – there is so much choice!
Common theory was that the human brain could think (consciously) of 7 things – plus or minus 2 – at any one time. That has since been reviewed to 4! If you accept that as a learning swimmer, one of these will ALWAYS be breathing (it’s not that important!) and that another will always be about counting lengths or something not specifically stroke related, then you can really only focus on a couple of elements of your stroke well at any one time.
Building a foundation
So if there are only two technique parts you can really think about at one time in the water, what should you fix about your stroke first before you move on to the next area of focus? I would always advocate building a strong foundation to make the more fancy and useful skills easier.
Developing a technically correct freestyle stroke is easiest if you start at the bottom of the pyramid and give yourself a good stable base before you go on to building the next skill. This pyramid is a simple example of skills and technique from basic to advanced. Start at the bottom and check the steps as you answer “yes.” This is how I coach swim lessons individually, in groups (although less strictly) or in the endless pool.
Review the steps where you answered “no.” Are you trying to improve a high-level skill before you’ve mastered one or two of the lower steps? Working on the simplest aspects of technique can often have a huge impact on your overall performance. For example, mastering the ability to float and relax in the water can have a positive impact on stroke rate and distance per stroke. Even elite triathletes and Olympic swimmers devote time in practice on drills to keep their technique sharp and identify any imbalances or weaknesses. Spend time strengthening the base of your pyramid to see an overall improvement in speed and power.
Our pyramid of swim skills:
Breathing: Can you exhale under the water? This will help you relax – a fundamental to floating well.
Floating & relaxing: Can you float on your stomach?
Head position: Is your head in a neutral position?
Balance: Are your hips near the surface when you swim?
Kicking: Are you using your kick to get across the pool?
Rotation: Does your torso rotate with your stroke?
Catch: Does the wrist stay unbent?
Pull: Do fingertips point down and elbow stays high?
Finish: Does your hand exit the water past your hip?
Reach: Do hands extend forward and slightly down?
Center line: Do you avoid crossing the center line with your hands?
Entry: Does the arm drop into the water without pause?
Recovery: Is your arm relaxed with a high elbow?
Bilateral breathing: Can you breathe to both sides?