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home » swim problems and fixes

I watch many new swimmers with form issues that slow them down, so I'll list a few here with guidance for what to focus on to make positive changes.

Poor body position can do more to slow you down than any other form flaw. Consider the resistance you feel when running shoulder deep in water; it is huge and you can barely move. Many athletes swim with hips and legs dragging, enough additional resistance to slow them down substantially. The least possible resistance for swimming is when your body is perfectly horizontal, and so this is your goal.

To get a feel for perfect body position kick face down with arms at your side. This is not a drill, and you don't need to kick a full length, it's just a way to occasionally get a feel for hips and legs at the surface.

Your body only has so much float; if your head and chest are too high your hips and legs will drop to compensate. When I see too much of a swimmer's shoulders and head above the surface, dragging legs are inevitable. Only a sliver of your head should be above waterline. Water hitting at forehead level means your head is too high. For some the sensation of pushing chest and head lower feels like swimming downhill. For many athletes swimming in a wetsuit is uncomfortable because it lifts legs with buoyancy, forcing upper body lower, but in fact this is what you should feel all the time wetsuit or not.

When your head is in post ion to breathe the waterline should 'split' it in half; if a little water gets in your mouth no worries. If the water is flat on race day your nose should still be in the water as you sight. The more you lift your head, the more you slow down.

It's true, you don't need a great kick to swim well, but you do need some kick to keep your legs up. I good kick also helps keep you going straight. Athletes with no kick take a huge hit in speed when race day is not wetsuit legal.

The only valid excuse for a weak kick is if you have inflexible ankles. I find some of the best trail runners (very stable ankles) are also the worst kickers. To get some force to drive you forward you'll need to point your toes; a few really can't, but most can if they work at it. When I swim after a run I often get cramping in my arches holding correct foot position.

For the majority of weak kickers the cause is simply not working at it! Yes, it can be slow and frustrating to spend training time kicking, but it's worth the effort. I spend about 10-minutes of an hour workout just kicking. I challenge myself, keeping a mental note of best times at kick distances up to 250m/yds.

The way a swimmer's hand/arm unit is placed in the water can either 'put on the brakes' or set up a powerful pull/push stroke cycle. The current fad of focusing on glide will not work for 99% of triathletes focused on gaining speed. A split-second of glide works for elite swimmers because they can kick faster than I (we) can sprint all-out with both arm and legs. The most significant difference between a triathlete swimmer and one-sport Olympian swimmer is the power behind their kick. And at the moment of glide all that's maintaining your momentum is your kick.

So my recommendation is to start your stroke by entering the water directly in front of shoulder, and not too far out front, finish extension in the water going to a depth of at least 6-inches, and immediately begin your pull. Do not lock-out your elbow and glide on a straight arm, extend to the point just short of locked elbow and begin stroke by flexing wrist pulling towards your body, not pushing down!

Note that most swim shoulder injuries are caused by pushing down at begriming of stroke. This creates no usable force to pull you forward and stresses small muscles at shoulder. When your stroke is correct the lats should be the muscle doing the most work, and it should also be the muscle that is most fatigued by end of workouts.

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