Freestyle swimming is used by almost everyone in freestyle event swimming as it gives the most speed with minimum effort. Technically, freestyle is just flutter-kicks along with alternate arm movements in the prone position to create the thrust. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Actually, it is the easiest and the most important one to learn as a beginner. But as an athlete, you must be always focussed on the right technique and posture to gain the maximum speed in minimum efforts. The task is not just to stay above the water and get through the line. The goal is to do it more efficiently and before the competitors. Working on the right basics is a significant part of the same. For a professional athlete, the off-season is the right time to work on the technique and improve the shortcomings. Here are some tricks and tips on how to improve freestyle swimming.
It is essential to keep the spine aligned with the direction of motion. This helps in avoiding extra resistance from the water. Ideally, the waterline should cut the top of the head while the face is down, eyed at the bottom of the pool. It is a common mistake to look forward rather than down. This will create some extra resistance as well as can cause the legs and hips to drop. While swimming freestyle, one of the most challenging task is to keep the legs up otherwise, kicks will be more strenuous.
To keep the body flat while maintaining the legs up, you can also press your chest a little while swimming. A human body fulcrum is located between the navel and the groin. To keep the legs up quickly, you need to push the chest a little down — a simple analogy to a see-saw setup. So head down and chest out for a horizontal body parallel to the pool floor.
Exhale in water and don’t hold your breath for very long
Breathing while swimming freestyle is done sideways when an arm is brought out of the water for recovery. The head should always come out of the water sideways with the shoulder. Time is not enough to both inhale and exhale in the position. So air should always be exhaled underwater to ensure inhalation in the above fractional time. Also, it is easier to stay relax in this case than when holding your breath. While it is not necessary it is thumb rule to inhale after every third stroke and on both sides of the body.
Kick starts from the hips and not knees
Legs move alternately with quick and compact kicks in the water keeping the feet pointed. While doing these flutter kicks, the tops of your feet should be slapping the surface of the water producing a small splash. Also, it is a common mistake to kick with bent knees or to kick-start from the knees. A kick should always start from the hips. Think of kicking a football starting, all the way from hips, through the leg to ankle. A knee bend can cause resistance. To check if you are doing it right or not, the hip-flexor muscles should be tired and sore in the end.
Just glide don’t be a windmill
Another common mistake that even top-level athletes perform is not gliding between the strokes. Unlike a cycling pedal stroke, swimming should be disconnected instead of continuous. A short glide follows each stroke before the next stroke. Time the drift when the arm enters the water above the head. Just let it stay fully extended for a moment rather than windmilling through the motion. This will help swimming feel smooth and effortless. Also, don’t forget to stay relaxed throughout the action.
Use high-elbow underwater with closed palms
Arms are used to pull the water back alternately. While one arm pulls the water from an extended forward position towards the hip, other recovers outside water from hip to the extended forward position. The high elbow technique is to bend the elbow and bring the forearm into a vertical position. This is done as quickly as possible during the underwater phase. While keeping the forearm upright in the active pulling phase, the bent elbow is kept high for as long as possible. Doing so increases the grip on the water, thus improving the propulsion.
Never overreach & keep arms straight while recovering
Make sure that the arm in the extended forward position should not overreach ahead. Extending it all the above the surface of the water can create turbulence once dropping it. This will lead to additional drag against the flow. Also, this can lead to swimmer’s shoulder in the long run as the full extension increases shoulder strain in the recovering arm. So the hand should cut the water halfway between the head top and fully extended arm.
Apart from this, the arm should be straight ahead while gliding in between the strokes during the recovery period to avoid resistance in the motion. Unconsciously, swimmers bend the arm from the elbow at the end of recovery which acts like brakes to the gliding body. Remember to extend the arm forward during the recovery underwater. Also, keep hands flat with your palm facing down parallel to the water surface.
Ensuring these measures and practising hard to get it right into your muscle memory will help you get to top your performance chart at a great pace. Freestyle or front crawl is the fastest and most efficient stroke in swimming because:
- Drag is minimised during arm recovery because of the pointed hands.
- There’s always one arm pulling the water.
Besides swimming is among the best ways to work on body fitness while risking the least chances of injuries in the activity. This is because each movement inside water requires a lot of effort and muscle strength. But unlike free motion, specific muscles used in front crawl are:
- Core and abdominal muscles in keeping the body streamlined and lifting it while breathing.
- Forearms muscles are used in pulling the water back.
- Glutes and hamstring are used in propulsion through legs and maintain a balanced position.
- Shoulder Muscles are used in hand’s entry underwater and reaching out.
So apart from swimming, one can try and develop these muscles combining other forms of training along with a proper diet to improve performance in freestyle swimming.