As a swimming coach I have always tried to coach the swimmer rather than the stroke, the reason for this is that everyone is an individual and there is no one size fits all. As soon as I start to tell swimmers to do this and that or that they have to look like that swimmer then problems would start to occur. There are many things out there on the web nowadays that claim they have the key to the perfect stroke! Well I am here to tell you there is no such thing a perfect stroke. Now once again with all my blogs there are two sides to the story; competitive and leisure. I will try to touch on both sides but I will tend to sway towards the competitive side of swimming whether it be in the pool, during a triathlon or for an open water event.
Why have I made the statement there is no such thing as a perfect stroke? Well lets look at 2 of the factors impact upon how you will swim.
Height: Your height will impact upon your stroke. I tend to find that shorter swimmers will have a much higher stroke rate and are more capable of holding a higher cadence over distance, whereas taller swimmers are able to really take advantage of the contact time (Amount of time the arm spends pulling) due to the distance from entry to exit being far greater.
Flexibility in the shoulders: Now in an ideal world I would tell everyone to really work on improving flexibility within their shoulders but the reality is many people either wont do this or haven’t the time. As you do more swimming flexibility will improve in the shoulders but likeliness is unless you focus on improving this there wont be a huge difference therefore how flexible your shoulders are will have an impact on how your stroke will develop. There are other factors that will have an impact upon how you swim but these 2 in my books are the biggies. Now taking into account that these 2 factors (and several more) vary from person to person it is impossible to put your finger on one perfect stroke. So what do I do? As a coach I have my go to plan which allows me to create and build a stroke that best works for the swimmer. There are always things that are a guarantee when trying to build your own front crawl stroke:
Body position: The aim here is to have a stable and controlled body position that lies flat within the water, the flatter the body the better the water will flow over, therefore decreasing drag and potentially leading to lift in the stroke. I always get my swimmers to imagine a piece of string running through their fingertips all the way through the body out through the feet and tell them to imagine someone pulling tight on this at each end.
Kick: Big area of controversy here as many triathletes have told me that they don’t need to kick in their swim as this helps preserve energy, well this is hogwash. Kick is the single most important part of your stroke it gives stability and some drive. When developing your leg kick you want to make sure that you have a relatively shallow kick that doesn’t come out of the water and doesn’t kick too deep. Imagine you are swimming in a tube, anytime you come outside of that tube you are increasing drag, apply this thinking to your leg kick and make sure kick is built upon a good strong bodyposition.
Do not Glide: Gliding is when there is no effort being put into forward movement, so as long as you are pushing against the water you are not gliding. As soon as you start to glide there will be a decrease in speed in the water this means that every stroke thereafter you will have to put extra into it to get up to speed, whereas if you were to eradicate the dead spot and maintain your velocity ( Speed) you will have a far more efficient swim.
Swim in a straight line: This is where you will need to play around with your recovery phase if you want to make sure that all energy is put into moving forward, for example if you are swinging your arms uncontrollable some of your energy will go into moving from side to side, try it now and swing your arms wildly like a monkey and feel the impact it has upon the rest of your body. Now not only are you wasting energy but you are also taking your swim position off of its straight line.
Always push the water in the opposite direction to where you want to move: During the catch phase you want to ensure that you are pushing the water straight behind you so as you start to pitch your hand in any other direction your body will move in the opposite direction e.g. if the palm of your hand is facing at the wall you will start to move side to side, really focus on controlling your catch phase and pushing the water in the right direction. As long as you are doing the above then what you do around this is entirely up to you as long as it feels comfortable you can’t go far wrong. So this is why I always tell everyone to listen to their own body and build a stroke that is perfect for you!