A MUCH BETTER WAY TO SWIM

This is a guide to core-driven swimming. Powerful, efficient, and injury-free, it's a much better way to swim. It's how advanced swimmers swim. It's how you should swim. It's not hard to do, once you understand a few simple ideas.

If you want to swim well, this is how you do it.

Daniel, San Mateo, California, USA, swimtechniques@gmail.com


BALANCE

"It's all about balance." Richard Quick

Madison Kennedy is balanced

It's the most important concept in swimming.

Each stroke, every part of each stroke, is all about balance. Your torso must balance without the aid of arms and legs, otherwise energy that should be used to move forward will be lost stabilizing your body. Repetition of simple practice drills develops good balance.

On land, your center of balance is just below your belly button. In water, everything changes. Now you must slide your center of balance up, way up, on your torso. Swimming is dynamic so the center of balance isn't fixed, it moves around, but it should always be as far forward as possible.

Good aquatic balance minimizes resistance and allows quick hip rotation

With good balance your torso, hips, and legs are naturally, effortlessly high in the water, right at the surface. Without good balance your hips and legs sink in the water. This prevents the quick hip rotation so important in the long-axis strokes (freestyle, backstroke) and makes the short-axis strokes (butterfly, breaststroke) difficult to swim well.

Move your balance point far forward. That's essential. Where you place your balance point, more than anything else, determines how well you swim.

Everything depends on it. Only with good balance is core-driven swimming possible.

Balance has two close friends: posture and alignment. We'll meet them later.

Swimming is a balance sport.


A DIFFERENT WAY OF THINKING

"You must be open to lateral thinking." Ian Thorpe

Let's change how you think about swimming, how you imagine it.

Everyone knows the best way to swim freestyle is for your underwater arm to push forcefully back on the water, right? No, actually that's wrong, all wrong. We don't swim that way. Pushing water with your arms doesn't have anything to do with successful swimming. It puts a tremendous strain on your shoulders and opens the door for shoulder injuries to arrive. It's inefficient, you'll spend a lot of energy to swim this way. Instead, let's replace injury-prone "arm-driven" swimming with injury-free "core-driven" swimming. Now every part of your body will contribute to the cause, which is, moving forward.

Where the power is and is not in core-driven swimming

With core-driven swimming we'll take all of the work away from your arms and make hip rotation your big engine. Freestyle swam this way is faster, more powerful, and far easier on your shoulders.


SWIM LIKE A HUMAN BEING

Applies to all strokes

Your arms are not meant to propel your body. We, all human beings, are just not built that way.* Your core muscles - lower stomach and lower back muscles, butt, and upper thighs - are designed to propel your body, so engage your core. Swim using the same large muscles you walk and run with or, put another way, swim from your core outwards, from the center of your body outwards.

This is how advanced swimmers swim and there is no reason you can't swim the same way. It's not hard to do, if, and this is a big "if", you have good balance, posture, and alignment.

*Chimpanzees, apes, and other higher primates, on the other hand, do have arms designed to propel their bodies, they can swing through the jungle canopy using arm strength alone and most of their walking is done on all four limbs. Their upper body is at least twice as strong as humans, by some accounts five to eight times stronger.

Appreciate that human beings are land walkers, not tree climbers, and have a land walker's physique. That means (if you are a human being) your strength is not in your extremities, it's in the center of your body.

Applies to all strokes


A BRIEF ANALOGY

"It is abundantly clear how much Tiger uses his golf core and his hips for power and stability in his downswing." Chuck Quinton

Tiger Woods

Albert Pujols

It's not arm strength Tiger Woods uses for his phenomenal club head speed and soaring 300+ yard drives, it's core strength and fast hip rotation. In much the same way, Albert Pujols relies on the massive strength of his core muscles and hip rotation for his bat speed and breathtaking home runs.* Both of these athletes know their arms just deliver power generated by the largest muscles in their body, the lower core muscles. That's where the power is, with large, strong, almost impossible to injure core muscles - not with the much smaller, weaker, easily injured muscles around the shoulder.

Same thing in the water. Swim with your whole body, with arms only applying power produced by core muscles.

The venue may change, water instead a golf course or a ballpark, but human anatomy does not, so the fundamental principle still applies: Arms only deliver power produced by core muscles.

In any sport the challenge is to get your whole body involved.

*Not familiar with Albert Pujols? In his first ten years in the major leagues he put up the best numbers in the history of the game.


FREESTYLE ∙ IT'S A ROTATION STROKE (PART 1)

"Focus on core motion, that's where most of your weight is. Your arms and legs are just along for the ride." Ed Moses

Rotate onto your side and draw a long straight line from fingertips to toes
aka "linetation"

Most swimmers think freestyle is a top-down stroke, but it's really a bottom-up stroke. Energy runs forward up your body from feet to hands.

Look at Michael Phelps (above image).

He's set up just right: perfect balance and a long straight line from fingertips to toes. His hips are close to vertical. He is looking straight down. His arm is extended straight out in front of him as his leading hand softly feels for water to hold on to. As he bends his wrist, pressure will build on his fingertips and he'll start the stroke.

In rapid sequence, he'll kick and quickly twist the high side of his hips down, then his torso and shoulders will come around, his recovering arm enters the water heavily but cleanly and sends energy forward; he'll draw another long straight line, bend his wrist, set the catch straight out in front of him, and start the cycle over again.

He is rotating around an invisible long-axis. It's as if he had an unseen pole or rod running through the top his head and down the center of his torso and he spins around it.

Think of your leading hand at the catch as an anchor point or a bookmark (it's fixed, you swim past it). Let your hand glide forward (little finger down), bend your wrist 45° or less, put a little pressure on your fingertips and rotate around it; set the catch and swim past it. This is the shoulder-friendly way to swim, the powerful way to swim. As you shift the work down from your arms and shoulders to large core muscles in the middle of your body, hip rotation becomes the source of propulsion.



Torque is a rotating, twisting, circular force generated by the movement of your hips. It, hip rotation, is the big engine of core-driven swimming. It's where all the power is.

Notice the word this author chose to describe the amount of rotation in hip rotation: tremendous, which is something great in amount or intensity.

Three words to remember: tremendous hip rotation.


FREESTYLE ∙ IT'S A ROTATION STROKE (PART 2)


What we are doing in successful freestyle is applying a rotating force (your hips) to a fixed object (your leading hand at the catch). Let your leading hand glide forward in the water (little finger down), open up your hips (your hips approach being vertical), then bend your wrist slightly and snap your hips closed into the catch.

Think less of your arms and more of your hips. Where your hips go, you go. You'll know you have it right when you have the sensation of sliding on your hips. You'll know you have it right when you are swimming past a stationary hand.

Hip rotation drives your hips forward.


PRIORITIES

"Think of your arms first as balancing tools so that your hips and legs are lighter." Richard Quick


They're inverse, these two, balance and propulsion. With good balance you need only a little propulsion to move forward. With poor balance you need exponentially more.

Water is 784 times more dense than air. It resists your movement - a lot. Run, as fast as you can, 25 yards in waist-deep water and you'll learn all about resistance. You'll learn how real it is.

A vertical position in the water offers the most resistance, horizontal the least. Good balance keeps you effortlessly, naturally horizontal (all the way horizontal with your hips, back of knees, and ankles all in a line, all at the surface, and, from a frontal view, all nicely hidden behind your shoulders).

Advanced swimmers excel at minimizing resistance. It's how they move so quickly through the water, by minimizing resistance.

A lot of balance and a little propulsion go a long way in any of the strokes.


HEAD

"One of the biggest and most common mistakes I see people make is looking forward while they swim." Natalie Coughlin

Look straight down while you swim

Many swimmers hold their head too high in the water.

Lifting your head to look forward drops your hips and legs, which slows hip rotation and increases resistance along your whole body (our goal is to reduce resistance, not increase it). Better to relax your neck and shoulder muscles, let your head fall deeper in the water, let water wash over the back of your head and look straight down as you swim, no lines on the back of your neck.

It costs energy, more than you might think, to hold your head up lap after lap. With a neutral head, tension in your neck and shoulders will vanish, you'll balance better, your hips will rotate faster, your shoulders will have more range of motion, you'll be more comfortable and swim stronger, longer, easier.

There is a cross on the bottom of the pool to let you know when you are approaching a wall. When you pass the cross, then glance forward briefly to place the turn.

A neutral head is desirable in all the strokes.

Head position affects balance, breathing, recovery, and hip rotation - pretty much everything.


WATER

"Wait for the water." Teri McKeever



This is a fluid situation. Let's reflect on that for a moment.

Cup your hands and lift some water. In this simple act there is an insight into the essential hidden nature of water: You can hold it but you can't push it.

This has practical applications in each stroke.

It's a mindset and it changes everything.


ARM-DRIVEN SWIMMING VS. CORE-DRIVEN SWIMMING

Just say no

Let's move past these tired old ideas (above image) about how to swim, ideas that never made any sense in the first place. Your arms are not meant to propel your body, it's just that simple, so just say no to arm-driven swimming. Arm-driven swimming, still widely taught, is unimaginative, injurious, and so 1960. We can do a lot better than that. Core-driven swimming is the opposite of arm-driven swimming. In core-driven swimming your arms do as little as possible while your core muscles do as much as possible. Once you begin to swim this way, once you let large core muscles drive you forward, you'll wonder why you ever did it differently. It is, in a word, transformative.

Arm-driven swimmers use small muscles high in their body (lats, shoulders, and biceps) to do a lot of work - push water with their arms. Core-driven swimmers use large muscles in the middle of their body (everything from mid-thigh to ribcage) to do a little work - spin their hips.
Arm-driven swimming turns your arms into long levers and concentrates large forces into your shoulders. Core-driven swimming does not.
Arm-driven swimmers send their energy down. Core-driven swimmers send their energy forward.
Arm-driven swimming does not rely upon balance, posture, and alignment, they are not essential. Core-driven swimming does, they are.
Arm-driven swimmers swim flat in the water, with little or no hip rotation. Core-driven swimmers swim around their long-axis, with tremendous hip rotation.
Arm-driven swimmers try to push water, thinking the power is in their arms. Core-driven swimmers hold water, knowing all of the power is in their hips.

There is no middle ground, some of both, it's one or the other, one precludes the other.

Small muscles that do a lot of work or large muscles that do a little work, your choice, but which is sustainable, which has more potential, which is more athletic?


SHOULDERS

"Shoulder injuries are extremely common in swimmers." Dr. Rod Havriluk

Preventing shoulder injuries is the highest priority

Swimming is the best exercise, nothing else even comes close, but swimming has an unpleasant dark side: shoulder injuries. Arm-driven swimmers, those swimmers who push hard on the water with their hands and arms, will likely have shoulder injuries. Core-driven swimmers, those swimmers who only hold water with their hands while they swim past the catch, will not have shoulder injuries. Why is simple. Core-driven swimmers shift all of the work down from their shoulders to large core muscles in the middle of their body. Core-driven swimmers know their arms are not meant to propel their body, it places too much work in their shoulders, work shoulders are not designed for.

The shoulder has the most range of motion of any joint in the body, but is also the most unstable and the most prone to injury.

Too many swimmers have too many shoulder injuries, a predictable result of arm-driven swimming.


FREESTYLE NOTES

"Many swimmers use too much force." Rick DeMont



At the front of the stroke there is firm water - just below the surface - to set your hand against, to hold onto, but if your hands are stiff or if your hands are busy balancing your torso, you won't feel it. If you carry your hands lightly and your torso is balanced, you will. Then you can have an early catch and everything else will fall into place.

The catch is straight out in front of you, early in the stroke, not somewhere underneath you, late in the stroke.

The catch is straight out in front of you and to the inside, towards your long-axis (an imaginary line running up through the middle of your body and out past your head). Bend your wrist 45° or less, little finger down, set a little pressure on your hand, then kick and engage your core - engage the largest muscles in your body - as you rotate your hips and swim past the catch. Apply pressure to the water with your hand only at the catch, and then only briefly, a brief connection is enough. Press lightly to the inside, toward your long axis, not down.

In core-driven freestyle, your leading arm does not travel down and under your body, does not travel down at all. Your leading arm stays high in the water, just below the surface, on the same horizontal plane as your torso, as you swim past the catch.

Likely this will be a big change in how you swim, having your arms in front of you, not under you, but now you are longer, straighter, better balanced, with much less resistance, and have a shorter, faster, easier recovery - which are all good things.

Freestyle is an arms in front of you endeavor, not an arms under you endeavor.

This is not catch-up swimming, that's something else, that limits hip rotation and, so, is of no use.



FREESTYLE IS A LONG-AXIS ROTATION STROKE

"All of the elite swimmers of the world rotate their bodies along the long axis, the axis that their body is moving down the pool, while swimming freestyle and backstroke. They don’t just rotate a little bit. They rotate a lot." Gary Hall, Sr.

"More rotation." Michael Phelps

Swim around your long-axis

Imagine a long horizontal line that begins well out past your head and continues through your head, down the middle of your torso, and ends between your feet. Think of this line as your long-axis.

You'll be more focused and balanced if your hands are close to your long-axis throughout the stroke. If you reach up to the sky or wide to the next county or down to the bottom of the pool your hands are too far away, too far away from your long-axis. Reduce the aperture, tighten up the front of the stroke, and focus your energy.

Keep everything close to your long-axis. Keep your head and neck on your long-axis as you swim, keep your head and neck on your long-axis as you breathe, recover close to your long-axis, lay your arm into the water close to your long-axis, set the catch and hold water close to your long-axis, kick around your long-axis, but, most importantly, rotate your hips quickly around your long-axis. Freestyle is a rotation stroke, a hip-driven rotation stroke, around your long-axis.

PROPULSION IS ROTARY NOT LINEAR

Think in terms of storing and releasing energy

Slow hip rotation does nothing. Hip rotation has to be fast to be effective, has to be fast to drive you forward. Hip rotation can be up to 180° (half a circle) one way and then quickly 180° (half a circle) back the other way. Hip down all the way to the other hip down, that's full hip rotation, but think of hip rotation as storing and releasing energy, that's the purpose of hip rotation. Open your hips and you are storing energy, close your hips and you are releasing energy. The more you rotate your hips toward vertical, the more energy you create and store, and the quicker you release this energy, the quicker you spin your hips the other way, the faster you go. The good news is hip rotation is a low energy consumer; it takes almost no energy to rotate your hips while it takes lots of energy to try to push water with your arms.

Propulsion is rotary (hips) not linear (arms).

Dancers do this, golfers do this, swimmers should too

Hips and shoulders do not move as one, that's too slow. Hips rotate faster than shoulders. Disconnect your hips from your shoulders, so your hips can move freely, quickly, and, remember, the sequence of rotation is hips then shoulders, not shoulders then hips. Hips lead, shoulders follow.

The question is: How freely, quickly can you spin your hips around your long-axis?

Develop a strong sense of your long-axis, an imaginary line starting well out past your head then running through your head and torso and finishing between your feet.

She has an intimate awareness of her long-axis

Yes, a figure skater rotates far more than a swimmer, 360°+ versus up to 180° for a swimmer, but the idea is the same: Rotate around your long-axis. Freestyle is a rotation stroke, a hip-driven rotation stroke, around your long-axis.

Don't push water with your arms, store and release energy with your hips.



AN INVITATION


Don't place-your-hand-forward-on-the-recovery, toss your arm forward light and easy, like it's not important at all. Don't be concerned about a high-elbow recovery, just toss your arm straight forward, low, little finger down, so the entire length of your arm falls into water at the same time; you'll be more relaxed and send energy forward better if you do.

More ideas for a better recovery are here.



IT'S A SHORT LIST


You'll need a long straight slightly downhill aquatic line, and light fast-moving hips to swim this way, but with practice it's not hard to do. It's getting people to change how they think about swimming and try something new, that's the hard part. (More on the importance of a downhill aquatic line in More Freestyle Ideas.)


FREESTYLE BREATHING

Keep one eye in the water as you breathe

It's one of the little things we have to get right.

Your head acts much like a steering wheel when you swim, so it's important to keep the top of your head pointed where you want to go. If you bend your neck while you breathe it makes tracking a straight line difficult, so don't be a bendy straw. Keep a long straight neck in line with your spine throughout the stroke and keep a long straight neck when breathing. Breathe with body rotation but return your head to a neutral position, looking straight down, ahead of body rotation, before body rotation. Don't take too long about this, the window for breathing is small. Breathe and quickly reset your head to a neutral position, looking straight down. Exhale continuously underwater through your nose, come up empty, ready to breathe through your mouth, then quickly reset.

Breathing only on one side is, over time, stressful for your neck and shoulders. If you're not comfortable breathing to both sides, you won't be comfortable rotating to both sides, and you won't find power on both sides of the stroke. If you favor breathing to one side spend a week or two only breathing to your weak side, and soon breathing either way will be natural and easy.

Breathe with torso rotation but reset your head to a neutral position, looking straight down, before torso rotation.
Bring up a long straight neck (in line with your spine), return a long straight neck (in line with your spine).
A swimmer's head creates a bow wave and a trough behind the bow wave. You can, if you like, pivot up slightly from the waist and breathe down into the trough, and fall down into the stroke.
Torso rotation makes breathing easy.

Fit the breath into the stroke so it doesn't interrupt moving forward. Make it a small event not a big event.


MORE FREESTYLE IDEAS

"The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be." Bruce Lee

Relax

Often we are in the water a long time. You have to relax. If you're not balanced well it's unlikely you'll be entirely at ease in the water, another reason to put in the time to develop excellent balance through repetition of simple balance drills.

Tension is not your friend. It's a set-up for injuries and prevents you from moving quickly. The only place you want tension, a small amount, is in your lower stomach. This is necessary for good alignment in the water. The middle of your body, the middle of your aquatic chassis, should be firm and straight, while everything else is relaxed.



HANDS

"The primary factor which contributes to impingement syndromes is a thumb first hand entry in the freestyle stroke.” Dr. Erik DeRoche

In freestyle, always little finger first into the water

In freestyle, the recovering hand enters the water vertically little finger first - not thumb first - and stays little finger down as your arm extends forward.* This maintains external shoulder rotation, promotes torso rotation, makes for a cleaner hand entry, and a nicer, more comfortable arm extension. Staying little finger down prevents your torso from balancing off of your palm. Balancing your torso off of your palm, even a little bit, turns your arm into a long lever which puts tension into your shoulder. Don't "platform" on your palms, keep your leading hand edge down, vertical, as it moves through the water.

*Perhaps you feel otherwise, perhaps you feel it is a good idea to place you hand into the water thumb first at the front of the stroke. If so, then I invite you to shake hands with the next hundred people you meet with your hand thumb down. Hurts doesn't it? It's the same thing. That is internal shoulder rotation and it is not a good idea. Does a thumb first hand entry into the water at the front of the stroke contribute to shoulder injuries? You bet it does.

Keep your hands soft and wrists flexible. Don't store tension in your hands, don't let your hands become stiff and wooden, relaxed hands and wrists are essential for a well-defined, effective catch.




"The most effective freestylers are going to have a great anchor in the front quadrant of their stroke." Bob Bowman

In core-driven swimming your hands are anchors, not paddles




With core-driven swimming your arms don't do much. All your leading hand does is provide a firm catch straight out in front of you - that's all. No complicated underwater "S" shaped patterns, no high elbow underwater, no vertical forearm (a huge drag creator), no internal shoulder rotation, no "reaching around the barrel", no pushing water, no pull through, no "engaging your lats", no thumb touching your thigh as your hand exits the water, none of that, none of any of that. Just set a firm catch and you're done; recycle your arm forward. Change the way you think about this. Your leading hand is an anchor point to rotate around, to swim past - nothing more. Set a firm catch close to your long-axis, swim by it, and recycle your arm forward. That's shoulder-friendly swimming. That's core-driven swimming. It's simple, streamlined, and, because you're swimming with your whole body, powerful. Swimming distance freestyle shouldn't tire your arms because, you see, your arms don't do much.

It's quick hip rotation (and core motion and weight shifts), not arms, that move you forward.




Give up the back of the stroke, that is, don't let your underwater hand travel to your thigh.1 There's no power back there. When your shoulder passes your underwater hand at the catch, it's time to recycle that arm and send your energy forward again. Be a front quadrant swimmer, that's where the power is, out front, where you can turn your hips into the catch. Only work the front of the stroke and you'll be longer, straighter, better balanced with a shorter, faster, easier recovery.2 There is no need for the l-o-n-g trip back to your thigh, it's too slow, it takes too long, your hand can get stuck there (at your thigh), and it throws the timing off. Give up the back of the stroke. You're impatient to send your energy forward again, aren't you? Then recycle sooner, much sooner, as soon as you are done with the catch.

1Actually, your arm shouldn't travel under your body at all. If it does, you have switched to arm-driven freestyle. In core-driven freestyle your arm stays out in front of you, parallel to the surface of the water, as you swim past the catch.

2An armful of water is better than a handful of water, always, and in every stroke. A handful of water, what you have when you work the back of the stroke, is close to useless. You are sending your energy in the wrong direction when you work the back of the stroke.

Send your energy forward, continuously forward, not backward.




Notice nowhere have I suggested you push hard on the water while your arm is underneath your torso? That's because we don't swim that way. That's pushing water but we're only interested in holding water. In freestyle, in each of the four strokes, we swim from the core, from the center of our body outwards, as our hands only hold water.

The image in freestyle is a stationary hand holding water as your body propels itself past the catch.



CATCH

It's quick hip rotation, not arms, that move you forward, but you'll need something firm at the front of the stroke to hold onto, the catch, to make it happen. A firm, well-defined catch early in the stroke is the element that brings freestyle into focus but it's absent, not there, with most recreational swimmers. Don't be one of those swimmers; place a firm catch early in the stroke, straight out in front of you.

Think of your hand at the catch as a target

The better your balance, posture, and alignment, the firmer and more effective the catch will be, and the smaller it needs to be. Your hand is the working surface of the catch, not your hand and forearm (your forearm isn't a working surface anywhere in freestyle). Keep the catch small, just your hand. Think of your leading hand at the catch as a target. Swim through it.

The catch is straight in front of you, early in the stroke, not somewhere underneath you, late in the stroke.




They belong together, the catch and hip rotation, they are natural partners; without the catch there is nothing to turn your hips against, without hip rotation the catch loses its purpose. Some swimmers have one or the other but you need both, so put them together. Understand this one simple idea - that propulsion comes from turning your hips into the catch - and you understand freestyle. Mind you, none of this will work if your hips and legs are low in the water, so get the basic body position right - float your hips, the back of your knees, and ankles to the surface. Press down on the front of the boat. Establish balance, posture, and alignment. Only then can you swim around your long-axis.

All the swimmer below, Natalie Coughlin, has to do to set the catch is bend her wrist slightly (45° or less).

Point your arm laser straight at the far wall

You go where your arms are pointed so it's important to draw a straight line from shoulder to fingertips during the brief glide phase of freestyle. This is not the time to be casual, to drop your elbow, or to let your hand wander about. Point your arm laser straight at the far wall, exactly at the spot where you want to go. Keep your leading hand little finger down (everything moves through the water better on its side). If your hand is palm down then your hand becomes like a bow plane on a submarine, always rising, always kicking up the line from your shoulder. This unintentional rising motion is the hidden source of many shoulder injuries. Avoid that by keeping your leading arm straight and parallel to the surface of the water with your hand edge down, little finger down, then bend your wrist 45° or less, set the catch, and swim past it - swim past a stationary hand - which is easy to do if you have good balance, posture, and alignment.

You go where your arms are pointed.



The energy is not in your arm

Think of a bow and arrow. There is no energy in the arrow, all of the energy is behind the arrow, in the bowstring. Your underwater leading arm is much like an arrow. There is no energy in your arm, all of the energy is behind your arm, in your body, specifically, in your core muscles. Let large core muscles drive you forward. Set the catch, kick, engage your core - engage the largest muscles in your body - as you rotate your hips and swim past the catch. That's swimming with your whole body and that's powerful. Advanced swimmers rely on large, almost impossible to injure core muscles, not small, easily injured arm and shoulder muscles, to drive them forward in all the strokes. Anyway you look at it, it's a much better way to swim.

The energy is in your hips.



KICK

No bicycle kicks please

The kick in freestyle is misunderstood. Kicking water to the bottom of the pool doesn't do much but when the kick speeds up hip-rotation, it does. The purpose of the kick is to act as a platform, a platform to rotate off of. Kick, then turn your hips.

For new swimmers:

Don't start the kick by drawing your knees down and forward in a cycling motion. That is a bicycle kick and it belongs on a bicycle.1 Some cyclists and triathletes have to unlearn this leg motion, moving the knees down and forward to start the kick. Beginning swimmers should kick from the hip with a relaxed straight leg, no bend at the knee. This keeps the work in the large muscles of your core and away from the small muscles around the knee and it keeps you streamlined. Kick from the hip or higher on your body, not your knee.

Don't let your legs separate much side-to-side; that's an attempt to balance your torso off of your legs and it signals poor balance.2 The kick serves hip-rotation, not balance and not propulsion, not really. There is another don't: Don't hide your feet deep in the water, the kick is at or close to the surface. Keep your feet in the water, kicking air does nothing. Ankle flexibility plays a big role in an effective kick; with the front of the foot in a more horizontal position you'll have a better connection to the water. The kick is your big connection to the water at the back of the stroke. Kick, then turn your hips.

1Preferably a Colnago Master which looks like a million dollars and rides like a dream.

2Swimmers can balance their torso off their arms or their legs but both are a waste of energy and both should be avoided. Your arms and legs have other, more important things to do, namely, to set the catch at the front of the stroke and create a platform, a platform to rotate off of, at the back of the stroke. Your torso, where most of your weight is, should balance all by itself.

For more advanced swimmers:

Bending only your inside leg, the leg on the low side of the stroke, pulling that knee down slightly while keeping your foot at the surface, adds leverage to the kick and more speed to hip rotation. It puts the snap into the stroke.

Freestyle swimmers with light fast-moving hips can easily reset hips vertical on each side of the stroke and begin the stroke by kicking to the wall.

The kick serves hip rotation, serves to make hip rotation faster and more powerful.



BEAT

"When you want to change rate you do not go to hands as paddles. You go to the rhythm oriented area. The rhythm oriented area for freestyle is the hips." Bill Boomer

Hip rotation sets the beat

You swim at the pace your hips are rotating so don't be a "slow rotater". Rotate your hips quickly, forcefully, and remember, the sequence of rotation is hips then shoulders, hips then shoulders, not shoulders then hips. Hip rotation is the metronome and sets the beat. You can swim faster than the beat, faster than your hips are rotating, but you switch from an hip-driven stroke to an arm-driven stroke when you do, and you lose your big source of power - turning your hips into the catch. When the music speeds up, rotate faster, much faster - spin your hips into the catch - but stay in time and stay with a hip-driven stroke. Get long, straight, and narrow. Minimize resistance. Keep your arms in front of you, not under you. Swim faster, not harder (which are two different things).

Hip rotation must be fast to be effective. Slow hip rotation does nothing.



BALANCE

"It's really important to stay balanced throughout your body." Natalie Coughlin


Swim freestyle slightly downhill, that is, press your chest and head a bit deeper into the water and your hips will ride higher, and you'll be able to rotate your hips faster. A downward aquatic line to the front, just a little, improves your balance; it shifts your balance point forward and the farther you shift your balance point forward, the better you'll swim.* That's true for all the strokes. Swim slightly downhill as advanced swimmers do, not uphill as most recreational swimmers do. With a downhill aquatic line (a ½ a degree is enough) the dynamics of swimming completely change, you can spin your torso past the catch. With an uphill aquatic line, all you can do is (try to) push water with your arms. Which way your aquatic line is pitched can be a subtle thing, but it has a profound impact on how you swim and it all starts with the right head position; keep a neutral head, a long, straight neck in line with your spine, and look straight down as you swim. Let water wash over the back of your head. Try it. Why so many swimmers lift their head is one of life's mysteries. It, looking forward with head held high, guarantees an uphill aquatic line, poor alignment, more resistance, and slow hip rotation.

*You'll know you have the balance right when your whole body feels light, almost weightless. Now you can rotate your hips quickly and this stroke is all about quick hip rotation. Hip rotation is the source of all propulsion.

Swim freestyle and backstroke slightly downhill

Add this one last ingredient, a downhill aquatic line, to what you already know is important: a neutral head, good balance, posture, and alignment, and quick hip rotation - then you can swim past a stationary hand, which is how you should swim.

Swim past a stationary hand.



"The errors that occur do so on the body line." Bill Boomer


If you want to swim quickly, minimizing resistance is more important than creating propulsion. The most streamlined position is long, straight, and narrow, nicely balanced with a slight downhill aquatic line, rotating from hip to hip as you swim past a stationary hand holding water straight out in front of you.* On each side of the stroke, draw a long straight line from fingertips to toes. Feel how the water flows around you and erase any drag creators. Don't point your forearm at the bottom of the pool, that's a huge drag creator. Keep your arm out in front of you, parallel to the surface of the water, on the same plane as your torso, as you swim past the catch. Your head can be a significant source of drag, yet another reason to keep a long straight neck in line with your spine and look straight down. Breathe with torso rotation but keep your head and neck on your long-axis while you breathe. Feet can also be drag creators; as you develop ankle flexibility they will be out of the way in a more horizontal position. Elite swimmers excel at minimizing resistance, at being on their side, fully extended with a long straight aquatic line. It's how they move so quickly through the water. They shape their vessel carefully.

*Freestyle in one sentence.

The easiest and largest gains in swimming come by minimizing resistance.



RESET YOUR HIPS VERTICAL

"We want swimmers in freestyle to be on their side as much as possible." Bob Bowman

Slice through the water on your side

Swim freestyle as a hip-driven long-axis rotation stroke and you'll slice through the water like a racing yacht instead of plowing through the water like a barge.

Reset your hips vertical on each side of the stroke, it's a small motion, but it sets you up for the stroke. Appreciate this is the most athletic position, the most powerful position, with the most stored energy and the least resistance, on your side, hips vertical. If you cannot reset your hips vertical easily, quickly, upgrade your balance, posture, and alignment until you can.

Everything moves through the water better on its side. We only transit through being flat in the water on the way to where we belong, on our side drawing long straight lines.

That's all we're really doing in freestyle and backstroke, drawing long straight (slightly downhill) lines in the water.



Swimming is more than freestyle, much more. There are more posts on the...