Effective swimming starts with balance and streamlining

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Effective swimming starts with balance and streamlining


Effective swimming can be broken into 2 simple categories:

1. Balance and Streamlining refers to the way in which you change your body position and shape, to more effectively slip through the water.

2. Propulsion refers to how you use your legs and arms to propel yourself through the water. In terms of which is more important, balance and streamlining will always come first. This is clearly evident in age group swimmers, there are lots of physically strong swimmers who travel very slowly due to poor body position. By contrast, swimmers with good body position will glide through the water with even the smallest amount of propulsion.

Start with body position..

It doesn't matter how hard you pull and kick, you'll swim slow if body position is poor, so we always start there. As you move through the water, the size of the hole you create determines how much 'drag' you create, in turn, drag dictates your speed. Imagine you are swimming though a 'pipeline', how deep and wide would that pipe have to be to fit your body through? Body position can be split into 2 simple categories which are balance and streamlining:


When viewed from the side, is your body balanced? If the head, hips and heels are all in alignment and close to the surface then you are balanced. If your head is higher and your hips and heels hang lower in the water, you are not balanced. Remember the pipeline? If your legs hang low, that requires a really deep pipe for you to swim through, which equates to a lot of drag.


When viewed from the front or from above, is your body in alignment or do you swim like a snake? If you move side to side in the water, you'll create a really wide hole and you'd need a really wide pipe to swim through! This also equates to a lot of drag. In summary, the hole you create in the water should be as shallow and narrow as possible, to minimise drag.

Anything else?

Yes.. the length and tension of your body is critical. Longer body shapes sit higher in the water and shorter bodies tend to sink. Imagine walking on deep snow wearing a pair of skis, then retracing your steps in a pair of boots. When weight is dispersed over a longer surface area, you don't sink half as much. Stretch yourself into the longest, most rigid shape possible and this will greatly assist body position.

Common errors which lead to poor balance:

1. Head is too high in water when swimming so legs sink, keep your head down and 'lean on your chest' to balance.

2. As you breathe you lift your head too high to clear the water and your legs sink in a 'see-saw' effect and the brakes go on. There should be minimal head lift, turn to breathe and try to keep one goggle lense in the water, so your mouth only just clears the surface.

2. Swimmer looks too far forwards at approaching wall, leading to high head and legs sinking. Look 1m ahead of yourself, on the bottom of the pool.

3. Short body position and no core 'tension' lead to legs sinking. You need to be long in the water and there should be tension throughout your body. Stretch the arms out, stretch the torso, keep the legs long and tense your stomach.

4. Poor kick with 'bent knees' shortens legs and leads to legs sinking. You must keep the legs long, don't bend at the knees, but keep the legs relaxed.

The coaching term we use is 'length, tension and lean'. This refers to keeping your body as long as possible in the water, tensing your stomach and leaning on your chest to help raise your legs. Other terms we use are 'sneaky breathing', this refers to lifting your head as little as possible to breathe. Only one goggle should be clear of the water and your head lift should not be obvious to an observer.

Common errors which lead to poor streamlining:

1. As hands enter water and extend forwards, they cross the centre line rather than extending in line with shoulders, this creates a snaking effect. You must ensure that your hand enters and extends in line with the shoulder.

2. As head turns to breathe, the swimmer looks behind them which twists the shoulders out of alignment. Make sure when you breathe you look directly to the side or slightly ahead.

3. The head generally moves around too much from side to side rather than staying still, this creates a 'whiplash' effect which passes all the way through the body. Keep your head still, once you have breathed, put your face back into the water and pick a line on the bottom of the pool, try breathing every 4 strokes and keeping your head perfectly still.... everything else will follow behind in alignment.

4. Poor kick with 'bent knees' means that the feet separate far too much, creating a wide 'parachute like' drag effect behind the swimmer (wide hole). This is very common, and a wide kick puts the brakes on instantly. Keep your feet close together, no knee bend, big toes brushing.

*You can't practice all of these things at the same time, at best you can focus on 2, most likely only 1. But let's be very clear, most swimmers are strong enough to swim the times they aspire to. The issue is the drag caused by poor body position which makes things so much harder.

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