Swimming is the hardest of the three triathlon disciplines to master for most of the triathletes I coach. Probably the biggest reason is that swimming is the most “technique dependent” of the disciplines.
If you just jump in a pool and start flailing Lifeguard certification around you not only won’t improve, but you may actually “groove” a bad stroke and make it even harder to train yourself correct form. Regular swim stroke analysis is critical if you are going to groove a good, consistent freestyle stroke.
Here are 5 keys I use to evaluate the swim stroke of the triathletes I coach:
1. Hand entry – If your head is at 12 o’clock, your hands should enter the pool at 1 and 11. This helps prevent “cross over” which basically makes you swim like a snake back and forth through the water. You lose a lot of energy constantly trying to keep going straight. This also prevents over-rotation of the shoulder and hips which can also bleed power from your stroke.
2. Hand glide position – This is where you start your pull. You want to make sure you hand reaches to the pool wall and glides for a moment at head depth before you start your pull. This lets you get every last bit of forward momentum before starting your pull and lets you get some “glide time” for a second or two on each stroke – that way you are fresh when you get out of the water.
3. Kick – You want your kick to be efficient and you need to conserve energy here for the upcoming bike and run. Your legs should be straight behind your body with no bend at the hip – not stiff, but also not too loose. Your kick should start at your hips. I like to pretend that I am wearing flippers while kicking.
4. Level in water – You want your head, shoulders, hips and legs to be in line and at the same level under the water. Watch to make sure your hips and legs don’t sink below the level of your arms, head and torso.
5. Hand exiting the water – Make sure your hands exit the water at the bottom of the hip – not at waist. This will give you an extra boost at the end of your stroke and again get the most forward momentum off of each stroke. I notice that students start pulling their hand out early when they start to get tired.
A lot of time it is better to see this in action to really get a picture of it in your head. I have posted some video of me illustrating each of the 5 triathlon swimming keys at my website (I call it the 3-minute swim class). That is a good way to study the keys.
You can use these same 5 keys to evaluate your own stroke as you swim. Try swimming a few warm-up laps at the beginning of each triathlon swimming workout focusing on just one key at a time. If you have a friend who can help you videotape your stroke you can also evaluate your stroke that way – it is really helpful to see yourself swim and you’ll see big improvements if you make stroke analysis a part of your swim training.