A great body roll can speed up your triathlon swim says Swim Smooth head coach Paul Newsome.

Improving your body roll can really speed up your swimming

A good front crawl stroke technique has between 45° and 60° of body roll or “rotation” on every stroke with your hips, torso and shoulders rotating as one together. The best way to think about this is to imagine that you’ve been skewered on a giant kebab stick running through your head, body and down through your legs. As you rotate on that stick your shoulders, hips, legs and feet rotate as one together in unison.

Professional triathletes tend to use a punchier style of stroke as it’s very effective for open-water swimming but that does not mean they swim flat in the water with little rotation. They still rotate to at least 45° on every stroke, allowing them to use the large muscle groups of the core, back and chest to help drive the stroke. A swimmer with poor rotation tends to overuse the small weak shoulder muscles that soon fatigue. Here are some key methods we use with our swimmers to help develop the rotation in their strokes.

Bilateral Breathing
At Swim Smooth we often see swimmers who rotate more fully on a breathing stroke than a non-breathing stroke. This is a natural result of your desire to “get that air in!” You can use this natural effect to help develop good body rotation to both sides by breathing “bilaterally” – which means swapping breathing sides regularly between the left and right as you swim. The most common way to do this is to breathe every three strokes. Over time this will balance out your rotation to both sides and make your stroke much more symmetrical.

Tech Toc Training Tool
If you know that body roll is a performance-influencing factor in your swimming then it’s well worth investing in a tool to help you develop it. The Finis Tech Toc sits on your lower back held by a strap around your waist. The unit has a large ball bearing in it that slides up and down the tube, making a loud “click” when it hits the end. The ball bearing will only slide and hit the end of the tube if you are rotating sufficiently – giving you instant feedback on your rotation as you swim.

Don’t Over Rotate
One word of caution with body rotation: be careful to make sure you don’t over-do it. A danger with taking your body rotation too far is that in doing so you add a dead-spot in the stroke as you really try and extend. Rotate well but keep your stroke constantly in motion with your lead hand either by extending forwards, lightly catching the water or pressing backwards: never pausing and gliding. Getting the right rotation is something that often takes a lot of practice but once you’ve cracked it you will see a definite improvement in your swim times.

The Popov Drill
The Popov Drill is named after legendary Russian sprinter Alexander Popov who won the 50m and 100m freestyle at both the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics. Needless to say, he used this drill to achieve great results!

To perform Popov, wear fins and push off from the end of the pool. Move into a side lying position with your legs, hips and shoulders at 90° to the bottom of the pool and the bottom hand supporting you out in front of your head. Start the top hand by your side and then slide your thumb to your armpit, return it to your hip before sliding to the armpit again, at which point bring your hand over and spear into the water to perform an arm stroke and change sides.

The movements of the drill are relaxed and quite slow, don’t force or hurry them. The up – down – up – and through should be continuous without pausing. If you are tight in the shoulders you may not be able to reach your armpit with your thumb. In which case perform the drill with the elbow opened out slightly, coming within a few inches of the armpit. If you do struggle for balance during the drill then check you are fully rotated onto your side at 90° and also that your lead arm isn’t crossed over the centre line in front of the head.

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

You’ll find loads more triathlon training advice in triradar.com’s Training Zone section.