Swimming is a great form of exercise that gives you a full-body workout and is suitable for all ages, so you probably won’t be too surprised to hear that swimming is the second most popular form of exercise in the UK, with walking coming out as number one. In fact, 14% of adults regularly visit their local swimming pool. However, despite this high participation percentage many of us aren’t getting the most out of our workout due to poor swimming technique.
A recent study has found that 98% of recreational swimmers do not do enough to make any significant gains when it comes to aerobic fitness. This is due to a combination of not swimming fast enough to put our body through its paces, or not swimming for long enough to make a difference to our fitness levels.
As with every sport, regular practice is the key to making sure we improve but with swimming there is an element of technique involved which will push your pool time to the next level. By paying close attention to your swimming technique you will not only find swimming much more enjoyable, you will also reap the benefits by swimming faster and making your time in the pool more efficient.
Where do I start?
One of the most popular swimming strokes is front crawl so let’s focus on perfecting the four main factors which make up this stroke, but elements of this can also be applied to other swimming strokes too.
1. Body Position
If you were to imagine how you look in the water from the side, your body should be flat from head to toe and you should be parallel with the surface of the water. This might sound simple enough but if you are angled ever so slightly wrong it can really impact your speed. For example, if your legs are too low in the water, they will cause your frontal surface area to increase and slow you down. Another common mistake is having your head too high, again this will lead to poor streamlining and will affect your length time.
To further improve your swimming speed it is also important that during front crawl you rotate your body approximately 45º as you raise your arms to reduce drag. By doing so you are able to extend your reach in the water and it also engages the stronger back muscles giving you more power in your swimming stroke.
If you watch professional swimmers, you’ll notice that they don’t cover a greater distance with faster strokes, they actually travel further with each stroke they take. This is about improving your efficiency as a swimmer. Aiming to travel a greater distance with fewer strokes not only ensures your technique is spot on but it will also conserve energy enabling you to complete more lengths.
Improving your distance isn’t just a case of kicking harder. It’s about carefully breaking the stroke down so you can focus on maximising your efficiency at every stage. To keep a track of your progress it is worth counting strokes per length of the pool to gauge your progress.
When swimming a lot of people make the mistake of using their legs to power the stroke, when in fact, 80% of the power should come from your back, arm and shoulders. During front crawl your legs are there just to balance you in the water. Once you try out this new way of approaching front crawl you should see great improvements.
Timing is everything when it comes to maintaining a streamlined position and can make or break your stroke. Ideally you want to avoid ‘wind-milling’ your arms but instead, one hand should be entering the water just as the other one starts pulling. By doing so you will achieve a faster stroke whilst also conserving energy.
The best time to take a breath is while your arm is recovering but your head should be back in the water before your hand enters the water again. Many of us are guilty of keeping our heads out of the water for too long as we try to inhale and exhale each time, this only leads to us gasping for breath. Instead, try to exhale while your face is submerged in the water.
Practise makes perfect when it comes to perfecting your swimming technique so don’t expect to become a perfect swimmer overnight, especially if you’ve picked up bad swimming habits over the years.
To get the most out of your pool time, it’s better to swim three or four times each week for 20 or 30 minutes rather than one or two long sessions. Don’t be afraid to experiment with swimming equipment too such as hand paddles or kickboards, these can be useful tools for really honing in on different aspects of your stroke as well as varying your work out helping to keep it enjoyable. And finally, don’t forget your goggles!
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