Have you ever watched yourself swim freestyle on film? Video analysis is all the rage these days, and for good reason: When you slow down your stroke, you can break it into several segments and figure out where you need to make adjustments. This helps determine which individual drills will help improve your overall efficiency.
The first step toward more efficient swimming is to reduce drag. You might be creating more swim drag than you think. There are a number of ways swimmers interfere with their own forward movement in the water. Here are three of the most common freestyle mistakes, and drills to help you learn how to swim faster.
More: 7 Tips for Swimming Newbies
A lot of swimmers end up crossing their arms over the center line, decreasing the effectiveness of their catch (the part of the stroke where the swimmer "catches" the water and pulls it back) and making their shoulders more susceptible to injury.
Try this on dry land: Raise your right arm into the air. Your hand should shoot straight up into the air directly above your shoulder -- not float over your head or off to the side. This is the line you should follow in your stroke.
Fix it Drill: Incorporate several sets of drills into each workout where you focus solely on your arms. Some athletes reach for the corners of the pool, although that sometimes results in overcompensation.
Better yet, if you have a lane to yourself, swim directly over the black line. Keep each arm on its respective side of the black line throughout each stroke. Lift your head higher than usual during this drill to monitor your arm movements. Pay particularly close attention during your breathing strokes as this is when you're most susceptible to crossing over.
More: 4 Ways to Improve Your Swim Technique
At the front end of your stroke, are your fingers pointed up or down? In an effort to reach full extension on the front end of the stroke, swimmers often flex their hands to the point where their palms are facing forward. This creates a wall that, pushes against, rather than slices through, the water.
Fix it Drill: Relax your wrists. Let the fingers hang limply throughout the entire stroke. Watch your fingers and palms to make sure they don't point upward.
More: 4 Steps to Easy Breathing in Freestyle
Do you try to compensate for sinking hips or poor upper body form with a stronger kick? The harder you kick, the easier it will be to stay afloat and the faster you'll go, right? Wrong. When you kick to compensate for poor form, you waste energy lifting your lower half up, rather than propelling yourself forward.
Also, if you have a really aggressive kick, you might be creating more swim drag than propulsion. Total Immersion swim coach Jan Javier compares it to swinging your arms when walking. Your arms naturally swing opposite from your legs, which helps maintain stability and momentum. In the water, you want to capture that natural, opposing flow.
Fix it Drill: Incorporate a few laps using swim fins into each workout. Swim fins exaggerate the kick and force you to slow it down and make each kick purposeful. They also help you get a better feel for how your legs and feet should move through the water.
Be sure to kick from the hips all the way through your toes, and kick up as well as down.
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