From a technical point of view Karlyn Pipes-Nielsen has one of the best freestyle swimming strokes in the world. Karlyn holds over 160+ FINA Masters swimming world records and travels the world teaching her incomparable approach to swimming. From head to toe I don't know of another swimmer on the planet that executes freestyle swimming with as much symmetry?and speed.
Karlyn and I may teach differently (I favor one-on-one), but we agree on the key fundamental principles of teaching. Karlyn is a great coach with extraordinary enthusiasm for swimming and life. She communicates what she practices in ways that people can understand and apply and I highly recommend everyone take one of her clinics (www.aquaticsedge.org).
One technique we both teach is what she calls, the "Y entry" and I call it the "V-Line Entry".
More: The Principles of Freestyle Swimming Technique
Fundamentally, these are the same and are based upon placing the entering arm and shoulder in a position of strength. That is, making the entry line somewhat wider than the shoulder (each person is a bit different based upon mobility and flexibility).
This is a more physically powerful position, puts lets pressure on the shoulder, and engages the large latissimus dorsi muscles alongside the back bilaterally. Looking directly from above the swimmer, their body shape resembles either a "Y" (body and arms) or a "V" (arms at entry).
To get this position right, there are a couple of points to keep in mind.
First, better swimming is achieved with a "front quadrant" (FQ) style—both hands in front of the shoulder during the catch and early stages of the pull. The FQ is like a "catch up" stroke where both hands are in front, but the hands don't touch in this instance.
Second, the extension and entry should be clean, reaching forward and downward (downsweep) in an arching manner to make the catch.
More: How to Train the High-Elbow Catch in Swimming
Once the V line is achieved—we use a mirror on the pool floor with video, but you can use your shadow alongside the black line in the pool—the swimmer often notes improved tempo bilaterally, symmetrically moving from left to right sides. And this is VERY important to instill with all swimmers. That is, making the stroke the same on each side, with the same position, tempo, balance and effort.
How long it takes to re-learn and restructure the stroke is something to keep in mind as well. There is flexibility, mobility in joints and stability factors that couple with learning and should be assessed. Those changes take time to develop and to become habitual.
Set aside several weeks or more of low intensity/high-technique orientation training. You'll want to do multiple workouts each week—four or more—as you'll need this time to adapt, rehearse, and train the neuromuscular pathways.
Make each of these swims accurate, controlled, effortless and smooth (A.C.E.S.).
More: Effective Warm-Up Exercises for Your Swim
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