The Three Ways To Develop A Longer Freestyle Stroke

There are three ways to make your stroke longer:

1) Reduce your drag so you slip through the water more easily
2) Improve your propulsive technique so you are pushed further on every stroke
3) Artificially elongate your stroke by adding a pause-and-glide

The first two are excellent ways to improve your swimming speed and efficiency. However the third only makes you slower and less efficient as you slow down between strokes and then have to re-accelerate on the next stroke. This is doubly the case in open water swimming where waves and chop slow you down even more during the deadspot in your timing.

Letting The Tail Wag Your Swimming Dog

Within our Swim Types system, an Overglider is a swimmer who has added a distinct pause-and-glide into their stroke to try and make their stroke as long as possible. If you're an Overglider you're probably an intelligent and diligent swimmer who likes to use a thoughtful approach to swimming. You have likely read on the internet or in books that gliding as far as possible after each stroke is what defines a great swimmer.

Taking fewer than 40 strokes per 50m is often held up as a benchmark where true swimming efficiency begins, however this disregards the achievements of Olympic medallists such as Janet Evans, Laure Manadou, Lotte Friis and David Davies who take between 42 and 55 strokes per 50m. It also ignores the fact that nearly all elite triathletes and open water swimmers use a shorter punchier stroke style to give them great speed and efficiency.

If you are aiming for a long stroke style be very careful not to create
it by adding a pause-and-glide into your timing.
The truth is that swimming efficiency isn't created by gliding, it's created by lowering drag and improving propulsive technique (1 and 2 above), which may or may not result in a long stroke style depending on the individual swimmer. This is the true perspective we need when considering swimming efficiency and explains why great swimmers use a vast range of stroke lengths depending on their body type, build, natural style and the environment in which they are swimming.

Equating stroke length to efficiency is a gross oversimplification of the truth because any swimmer can lengthen their stroke by gliding but will harm their efficiency by doing so. If you've added a pause-and-glide into your own stroke you'll know this is the case as you will have hit a plateau that you cannot get off. You may also have had the experience of getting slower and slower as you try and lengthen out your stroke more and more. Gliding has taken you down a cul-de-sac with your stroke and the only way out is to bite the bullet and remove the deadspot to create a more continuous rhythmical stroke.

"Putting On The Brakes"

Overgliders have a strong tendency to unwittingly drop their wrist and show the palm forwards at the front of the stroke, something we term "putting on the brakes". Pushing against the water in this way creates a lot of drag and also harms the catch that follows by dropping the elbow lower than the wrist before the catch has begun:

While Overgliders are not normally aware they are showing the palm forwards, pressing against the water's resistance in this way helps pause the stroke at the front which is something they are deliberately trying to do in order to glide. Many view this period as an opportunity to "rest between strokes" but given that water is 800 times more dense than air, all they're actually doing is decelerating.

In the correct position with the elbow slightly higher than the wrist and the wrist higher than the fingertips it is difficult to pause and glide as the catch wants to initiate itself as soon as full extension is achieved:

This fundamental link between gliding and a poor catch is one of the reasons Swim Smooth are so opposed to teaching any swimmer to pause and glide, even beginners learning the freestyle stroke. It also explains why improving the catch is critical to help any Overglider remove the deadspot from their stroke timing.

Right Can Feel Wrong

If you are a recovering Overglider you may have tried to develop a better catch technique but found it difficult to do. By swimming with the palm facing forwards at the front of the stroke you are used to feeling the water pressure on the palm of your hand and might be misinterpreting that feeling as a good catch. By correcting your hand position you will actually feel less pressure on the palm which can feel "wrong" and like you're "slipping the water".

Our Catch Masterclass DVD is our dedicated coaching program to improve your catch technique (and so remove the deadspots from your stroke timing). It's the perfect development program for Overgliders, containing all of Swim Smooth's visualisations, drills and methods to improve the key thing holding you back in the water - your propulsive efficiency.

Our Catch Masterclass DVD lets you study Jono Van Hazel's catch
technique underwater - shot using our fantastic HD filming rig in Perth.
Swim Smooth!


Tom said...

Hey Folks,

This is great!

I am 3 weeks new to SwimSmooth. I have studied TI including taking (two classes, underwater cam, etc.) and trained for rough water swims and triathlons where I have always been taught to emphasize gliding. Talk about the wall!

I also found on long open water training and races that if I drilled my arm forward into the water on each stroke with slightly less glide time, it added a distinct speed improvement. So much so that I put 100 yards ahead of my training partner who is 6'4" and generally matched to my speed. However, I still can't seem to get much faster.

The continuous stroke cycle makes a lot of sense. That with fixing my kick appears to be two promising areas I need to work on. I will work this into everything from SwimSmooth.

Also, when viewing Mr. Smooth, I noted a slight hand adjustment on the animation when the stroking arm pulls out of the water. The hand points backward for the length of the arm movement from water exit to about shoulder position. Why point the hand back?


Tom - Santa Cruz, CA

Adam Young said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for posting and great to hear that things are going so well for you! Keep up the great work, I'm sure there's plenty more to come with further improvements to your kick and rhythm and timing.

Yes Mr Smooth does like to do that, as do a lot of elite swimmers who swim with that style. I think it's slightly a stylistic thing brought about by emphasising coming through with the elbow leading the hand/wrist.

It's not an important thing to think about doing yourself but it's a recognition that many great swimmers do swim that way.

Cheers! Adam

Anonymous said...

I don't believe gliding will make you slower but bad timing in while gliding for sure make you slower! There is a sweet spot where you should start a stroke after some gliding. The time when you throw your stroke in, needs practice though. If you do the stroke too early or too late, you'll loose propulsion power.


Adam Young said...

Hi Anonymous,

Well you probably need to read this! :


Anonymous said...

Well I read the link. it is obvious! if you glide you'll be slower that's a physical fact. If you climb up a ladder with every pause you'll go slower. But i believe you give your muscles some more recover time. Even if you burn more calories.


Adam Young said...

Hi Anonymous - if you're going slower and burning more calories then you're a lot less efficient - that's a fact!

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