Get your body position right for front crawl and you’ll save time and energy, says Elizabeth Hufton.
Learning to swim is a real challenge as an adult, and at any public swimming pool on any given day you might see someone kicking up and down a lane in frustration as they try to learn the mystic art of keeping their legs horizontal, chest in the water and lungs full of air – all at the same time.
Body position is a key factor in swimming freestyle successfully. When I learned to swim ‘properly’ as an adult, in my late 20s, it was lesson number one. The teacher had us sculling on our backs, then our fronts, trying to teach the class to relax and float horizontally in the water.
At the time, it was pretty frustrating, but there’s a good reason for starting like this and if you imagine swimming in an endless pool, you’ll see why.
Imagine the water rushing against you from the front of the pool. If you stand up in the pool, you’ll feel it pushing you backwards. Once you start swimming, all being well with your stroke, you can slip through that current.
The difference is the surface area you’re offering into the water resistance – just like sitting up on a bike and creating more drag, presenting more of your body to the oncoming water will put the brakes on your swimming. If your legs drop in the pool, as many muscly cyclists and runners’ heavy legs do, then the effect might not be quite as dramatic as standing up but make no mistake, you will be putting the brakes on your freestyle stroke.
Not only this, but getting your body position wrong has a knock-on effect on your rotation, breathing, kick and arm action – every aspect of the stroke is interlinked, so it’s difficult to overlook one problem, especially if it’s severe. However, moving to a horizontal body position isn’t as simple as just raising your legs up in the water.
Over the years I’ve seen many triathletes struggling up and down with kick floats, as I did, trying to keep their legs up and body horizontal, but going backwards. My breakthrough came from a friend suggesting I try pushing my chest down rather than kicking my legs up – what Total Immersion coach Terry Laughlin calls ‘pressing the buoy’. Ditching the kick float helped too; after all, if you’re creating artificial buoyancy in your top half, it stands to reason that your back end will sink in reaction. I’ll never be first out of the water in a triathlon, but one thing I have nailed is the horizontal body position, and you can too.
MAKE IT WORK: 3 ways to improve your body position so you can swim faster
1. Kick from the hip. If you find your legs are thrashing away but you’re going nowhere, slow down your kick and move from the hip – you may have been bending your knees, dragging your legs down and creating drag.
2. Use a pull buoy sometimes. Creating lift in your legs doesn’t teach you how to kick properly but is a powerful way to demonstrate how much faster you’ll go if you can keep that chest down in the water and keep your legs up and together.
3. Change your head position. Try swimming laps looking almost behind you, with your chin tucked in; looking straight down; looking a metre or so ahead; and then looking forwards. Notice the impact of each on your body position.
TEAM TALK: Starting out
“Racing outdoors and can’t nail your body position? Don’t panic – the wetsuit will keep your legs lifted.” Liz Hufton.