Swimming efficiently is like a jigsaw puzzle; only when each piece is in its proper place is the whole picture correct. We present seven key points and 20 technical exercises for freestyle swimming.
1. Water position
Ideally, the body should be as “high” in the water as possible. This means that the head, torso and legs form a board floating in the water at the surface, where propelling the body encounters the least resistance. The water position is natural and is related to the specific fat distribution of the swimmer. Because women have a higher fat percentage than men and also because this fat is distributed more favorably for swimming (on the thighs/hips), women naturally lie better in the water than men. This is particularly noticeable in strong runners who have little body fat and strong leg muscles. In women, the fist-sized cavity of the uterus also has a positive effect on the water position. As central as the water position is for swimming, it can only be trained to a limited extent.
Key: Tense buttocks and back muscles helps tremendously to keep the body upright. In case of a bad/deep water position the key is: core tension and stability.
Training tips for water position
- Beginners: Regular classic core stability training on land, always including strengthening elements with arm movements. For example, raise and lower the free arm in lateral support, move one arm forward and to the side in abdominal support, etc.
- Advanced: Learn to float in the water: Practice airplane and starfish with buoyancy aids, choosing smaller and smaller over time. Assistance from second person, large pull-buoy between ankles, small pull-buoy between ankles and/or knees, pool noodle on feet, champagne cork between toes.
- Expert: challenging paddling exercises such as front paddling, torpedo paddling, dolphin paddling, backward paddling, etc. In the beginning, possibly practice with buoyancy aids or mini-leg stroke, later completely without leg stroke.
2. Head position
“The head controls movement” is a commandment from swimming theory. It is easy to verify that it is true. Push off from the wall about 50 cm below the water surface in the arrow position, keeping your chin slightly lowered toward your sternum. As a result, you will float downward to the bottom of the pool. The reverse also works: as soon as you lift your head after pushing off from the wall, your body steers toward the surface of the water. Head position and water position are closely linked, which is why the key to a calm, high and stretched water position also comes down to the head.
Key: When crawling, ideally you look vertically down at the bottom and keep your head in a straight extension of your spine. The worse the water position, the more important the vertical downward view! For orientation in the indoor pool or open water, it is usually sufficient to look forward every ten to fifteen strokes.
Training tips head position
- Beginners: The best way for beginners to learn the correct head position for crawl is to swim longer distances with a front snorkel (simplified: with fins).
- Advanced: “Play” with head position while crawling to learn what constitutes a head position that is too low or too high, or even bent to the side. While crawling, hold the head exaggeratedly far down for one lane, then exaggeratedly far up for one lane, then angled to the side. At the end comes “redemption” and (hopefully an “aha” moment) when your gaze is straight down and your head and body are high and straight.
- Expert: Advanced swimmers stretch and play with head control on all positions. Dolphin: Lift head out of the water only far enough forward so that the tip of the chin is just in the water, gaze angled down forward into the water. Back: Balance a half-full plastic bottle on your forehead, keeping your head absolutely still and looking up. Chest: Tuck a tennis ball under your chin.
Breathing in crawl swimming is ideally done in an alternating rhythm of 3 to the side. This means: arm stroke right without breathing, arm stroke left without breathing, arm stroke right with breathing, etc. The head remains in the breathing position on the side until the hand appears next to the head in the return phase. The head turns back to the straight position while the hand extends forward into the water. Breathing positions diagonally backward, upward to the ceiling, or forward are not desired because they are very unfavorable to a high, stretched water position as described above.
Key: The head turns only 90-95 degrees to the side while breathing, the lower eye remains in the water and looks underwater at the wall. Those who have water running into their mouths while breathing sideways should not turn their heads out further, but merely lift their chins up a little to expose their mouths.
Training Tips Breathing
- Beginners: In order to learn and consolidate the timing and position of breathing in the crawl stroke, it is advisable to practice one side at the beginning (i.e. in a rhythm of 2). Be sure to practice both sides and not just the ” good side”! One-armed stroke with a board, 2-armed stroke with a board and breathing on each 2nd arm stroke, one-armed crawl with 2-armed breathing, 2-armed stroke on a board alternately. Easier: With fins.
- Advanced: “Play” with head position while breathing, i.e. one lane turn head exaggeratedly far up, one lane lift head forward, one lane turn head back to realize at the end how economical and comfortable direct side breathing feels.
- Experts: swim crawl not only with 3-breathing, but train to perform under oxygen debt (hypoxia training). For example, with breathing pyramids (3-5-7-9-7-5-3), speed training with 5- or even 7-breathing, or a mix of reduced side and conscious front breathing as used in open water.
4. Body rotation
In crawl, but also in backstroke, the body rotation around the longitudinal axis is an important part in the economical and efficient progress. The philosophy of “Total Immersion” compares the swimmer’s body to a ship’s bow. If you rotate your body sideways around the longitudinal axis with every arm stroke, you make yourself as slim and long as a rowing boat. If you swim crawl without rotation, you lie in the water like a wide fishing boat that generates powerful resistance.
Key: Stretch out as long as possible with each dip of the arm and rotate the body off to the side so that the shoulder of the pull arm looks completely free out of the water and generates no water resistance. In a rotated out position, the body is longest; and in addition, the arm has plenty of room for a high elbow in the recovery phase, even and especially with limited mobility.
Training tips body rotation
- Beginners: many exercises let you clearly experience lateral rotation: Superman one-sided, Superman with 6s alternation, Superman in 3s alternation. In the beginning, fins are an advantage.
- Advanced: screw swimming, aerial crawl, crawl with shoulder-beat-tap.
- Expert: concentrate on rotation in the hips once during sprint series and try to initiate the movement impulse for arm work with hip rotation. Some top American swimmers use the Finis swimming metronome as a timing device for this.
Very often, athletes who are stuck in place during classic kick training with a board have insufficient flexibility in their feet. Or it turns out that although they actively strike downward, they execute the recoil too powerlessly. Another reason for inefficient leg stroke is the so-called “cycling”, where the knees are bent too much, the thighs are almost perpendicular to the direction of swimming and accordingly have a braking effect. Also undesirable: legs open wide to the side. Ideally, the legs and feet should remain on axis at all times, so that the big toes are always almost touching. If you find it difficult to stretch your feet, you could invest a lot of time in foot exercises to make your feet more flexible. Or eliminate an active leg kick from his exercise program and concentrate on keeping the legs as still as possible and using them only to stabilize the body position. The less leg braking, the more efficient. If you really rely on thrust from the legs in swimming, you can’t avoid training them regularly, because the leg muscles are a real “oxygen guzzler”. If you overdo it, you will get sore and swim into the “wall”, symbolically. Sprinters use a so-called 6-leg stroke (3 leg strokes per arm stroke), while long-distance swimmers and triathletes use a 4- or 2-leg stroke.
Key: The leg stroke is the real engine in crawl swimming when three conditions are met. 1. good flexibility in the ankle, 2. steady downward and upward movement from the hips with the feet turned loosely inward (no bent knees, flex feet or open legs). 3. regular training.
Training Tips Leg Stroke
- Beginners: Check their crawl leg kick by doing it supine and holding a board over your knees with arms extended. If the knees bump against the board, this is a clear indication of “cycling”. Stretch your knees! During the same exercise, you should also see even water bubbles above the toes. If these are missing, the upstroke is missing.
- Advanced: It makes more sense than the classic “leg kick with board” to do the crawl leg kick standing vertically in the water, in the supine or lateral position, or with a front snorkel. Here the body position corresponds to the natural water position during crawl swimming, without overstretching the neck or hanging in the hollow back. If you like it more difficult, perform the crawl leg stroke in the supine or lateral position and extend the free arm upward-outward (for supine: extend both arms outward). Easier: with fins.
- Experts: When it comes to training the oxygen debt in the legs, top swimmers like to resort to the swimming board. Here it is no longer a matter of consolidating a correct leg stroke, but only of performing “vomit series”, which, by the way, also have their effect with fins.
6. Underwater arm pull
Ideally, after dipping the fingertips, the arm stretches out straight (in the extension of the body axis) far forward with simultaneous body rotation to the side. Now you have the perfect starting position to initiate a maximum pull underwater by folding the forearm down as early as possible while the elbow remains high up. Common mistakes: crossed immersion, which causes the body to lurch. And: The stretched arm is first brought straight towards the ground before the elbow is angled far too late. This wastes valuable space in the impression with each pull.
Key: The longer you stretch, the more effective the impression, provided you angle the elbow as early as possible. Also note: The extended arm is left in front until the other arm (which is now in the recovery phase), has left the water.
Training tips unserwater pull phase
- Beginners: Practice the basic movement of the immersion and push-off phase, preferably with one arm and fins. Freestyle with an extra long glide phase with or without finger paddles also help to learn a correct dive and push-off phase.
- Advanced: perfect the “high elbow” underwater with a variety of exercises: Dog crawl, tilt window paddle, windshield wiper paddle, crawl single arm “nature”, with fist or finger paddle.
- Expert: Stretched arms, a long body position and high elbows under water are elementary not only in the crawl, but also in all other positions. Therefore, the above exercises belong in the repertoire of every swimmer.
7. Arm stroke recovery phase
Ideally, the pull-off hand is moved as far back as possible towards the feet before it leaves the water, thus initiating the recovery phase. If you lift your hand out of the water at hip level, you will give away valuable centimeters in the impression. Now it is important to guide the arm forward to the immersion position as directly as possible. Detours in the recovery phase via the side result in undesirable centrifugal forces that cause the body to lurch.
Key: In the recovery phase, the arm should be traced with a high elbow parallel to the body axis. The elbow leads the movement and is the highest point at all times, while the forearm and hand dangle downward in an inactive and relaxed manner.
Training tips recovery phase
- Beginners: Simple exercises to learn a strength-saving and economical return phase are thigh taps, shoulder taps, zipper.
- Advanced: practice furrow crawl, spider finger or aerial crawl.
- Expert: Position swimmers practice the recovery phases as follows: For dolphin, pull thumbs through water while backs of hands face forward. For back, tap your nose; for breast, clap your hands.
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