Here in Perth we frequently use a simple drill sequence with the Swim Smooth squads, it's a progression that you can easily introduce into your technique sets or during the warm-up of any session. You may already be performing a similar drill and not truly appreciate the dramatic improvement it can make to your stroke with a different focus.
Your Stroke While Breathing
As you know, here at Swim Smooth we very much favour an individual approach to correcting someone's stroke. However, within our drill set we use several of our 'core' drills with nearly all swimmers as they tackle a wide range of stroke flaws. One such drill is kicking-on-your-side using a pair of flexible fins, it's a very powerful but often misunderstood drill.
Most swimmers (around 80%) lose stroke form when going to take a breath in. This is a critical point in your stroke for two reasons:
1. Most swimmers hold onto their breath underwater rather than exhaling smoothly and continuously whenever they are face down. As a result they feel a strong urgency (or even a desperation) for air, such that when they do go to breathe their focus is entirely on the breath, allowing stroke flaws to creep in elsewhere in the stroke.
2. Many swimmers breathe only to one side and as a result have developed a lop-sided stroke, twisting through the middle when they breathe and crossing the mid-line with the lead hand in front of their head.
You are really very likely to have one or both of these issues in your stroke and be losing a huge chunk of speed and efficiency as a result. If you are swimming in open water then a lop-sided stroke and crossover will make you swim off course and lose you even more time. In fact our work with GPS devices shows swimming 20% or more over-distance is very common for swimmers with a crossover, an incredible statistic.
The following drill sequence is designed to tackle these issues and help you improve your stroke while you are breathing.
Kicking On Your Side
Using a pair of flexible fins, kick on your side for 25m with your left arm extended out in front of your head with the palm of your hand facing the bottom of the pool. The other arm should be held by your side, as if it's resting in the front pocket of your trousers. Whilst on your side, kick relatively gently using the fins to provide propulsion so you can focus on what is happening in front of your head.
Hold good posture by drawing your shoulder blades together and back, which will straighten you out. This is a fundamentally important position in freestyle to avoid rolling the shoulders too far forward, which can be partly to blame for a crossover in front of the head in the first place.
If you are very flexible through the upper back and shoulders you may be able to over-do this and draw the lead arm wide. Think straighter, not wider!
Breathe to your right hand side whenever you need to and return your head to look down in the water, maintaining good exhalation. Feel smooth, rhythmical and calm but with a sense of poise about your body.
After 25m of this drill, transition straight into 25m of normal freestyle but still only breathe to the right side. Breathe comfortably every 2 or 4 strokes and maintain focus only on your lead arm spearing straight forwards as you breathe to the side. Try focusing on the middle finger of that lead hand and where it is pointing, aiming gun-barrel straight down the lane!
Now repeat on the other side as 25m kick with the right arm extended (breathing to your left) and then 25m normal freestyle only breathing left.
Same Drill Different Purpose?
You may have tried a similar drill many times before but perhaps focused on something else such as body rotation. This sequence provides a different meaning to the drill by focusing on your posture, holding yourself straight and aligned, even whilst breathing.
Try this sequence before a challenging main set and see if you can maintain a good focus on your posture and alignment when you turn up the speed dial. You could well swim a PB set right off the bat!