Move on from breast stroke by practising the basics of freestyle (otherwise known as front crawl) so you’ll be swimming faster by next season, says Elizabeth Hufton.
Team Talk: Starting Out
This is a handy guide to beginning freestyle swimming, but at some point you will need to see a swimming coach for some one-to-one advice. As you will have already seen, swimming is a complex action and one that takes years to become comfortable with; a good coach will stop you from struggling on your own and help you learn the stroke faster and with less stress.
1. PUSH AND GLIDE
A flat body position is the first thing to get right for good freestyle swimming. Start by just pushing off from the wall of the pool, stretching your arms out straight in front of you (overlap your hands as if you were diving) and gliding as far as you can. Keeping your legs together and straight, but relaxed, should help you stay flat, and think about pushing your chest down in the water to level out your legs.
2. PRACTISE KICKING
Adding the kick without upsetting your body position is the next phase and can be very tricky for runners and cyclists, who tend to bend the knee. Kick gently from the hip – imagine your legs are ‘switched off’ and all the energy needed for the kick comes from those hip joints. Keep your legs straight, but not locked, and let your big toes brush each other. Point your toes but don’t strain – your ankles should be relaxed.
3. ARMS AND ROTATION
Efficient freestyle and relaxed breathing comes from good body rotation. As each arm enters the water in freestyle, your body rotates towards that side, so the other side comes up and you have time to breathe. Practise the arm action and rotation by lightly holding on to a float in front of you, kicking gently and performing front crawl one arm at a time. If you can manage without the float even better.
4. PRACTISE BREATHING
For many new swimmers breathing is hard to master, and feeling you can’t take enough air in really hampers your stroke. While performing one-arm front crawl (step 3), with or without the float, practise breathing: the key is to use a natural, relaxed exhalation under the water, letting all the air out of your lungs, so you’re ready to inhale in time with your stroke as you rotate your face out of the water.
5. START THE STROKE: ENTRY
Now try putting these elements together. As with learning any new skill, this needs patience – don’t try to skip the basics. The stroke begins with your hand spearing the water: your shoulder blades should be rolled back and your elbow should always be above your hand. As your hand enters the water, your arm extends forwards and your body rolls to this side.
6. MAKE THE CATCH
The ‘catch’ is the point when you ‘grab hold’ of the water and push it past you to pull yourself forwards. Without pausing your hand at the front of the stroke, tilt it and bring your forearm and hand underneath and to your side. You’re aiming to feel the resistance of the water and push it backwards, not down. As you do this, your body rolls back the other way so your body faces the bottom of the pool.
7. RECOVER AND INHALE
Keep pulling your hand right through the stroke, close to your body, with your elbow high; your hand should exit the water by your hip. As you do so your body naturally rolls to this side, allowing your head to turn with it so you can inhale as the arm ‘recovers’ over the water ready to take its next stroke. Don’t lift your head, just let it turn; your forward motion should create a bow wave so you have space to breathe.
8. MAINTAIN YOUR KICK
Don’t forget about your kick while you’re performing the stroke. A good kick will aid your propulsion while a bad one could undo the hard work of your upper body by creating drag. Try to keep a constant rhythm with your kick, but most importantly keep your ankles relaxed, your knees straight and remember to use your glutes to kick from the hip, your toes lightly brushing each other.
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