A common question we get asked at Swim Smooth is what should you think about during a race in terms of your stroke technique? Should you think about being long and smooth or turning your arms over as quickly as possible, or what?
First up whatever you focus on, it needs to be very simple. Swimming is a very technical sport and there's lots of elements to the freestyle stroke but in a race where you are sustaining a strong effort you don't have much spare capacity to think about anything complicated. Plus there's probably technical aspects of the race to be keeping an eye on such as any current, swimming straight and finding a good swimmer or two to draft off.
Because of this you're largely going to swim on autopilot (hopefully with good technique from good preparation in training) whilst keeping an eye on perhaps one or two simple things in your stroke.
Here's 4 ideas on what you might focus on. For the right swimmer each can be brilliantly effective and make the difference between a great performance or a poor race. Experiment with these in training - ideally within a tough training set such as a CSS or Red Mist session - to see which keeps you smooth and swimming well:
1. Exhaling smoothly into the water - super simple this one and so easy to overlook but can make the difference between having an enjoyable swim or a full-blow panic attack. Most swimmers feel anxious in open water to a greater or lesser extent and the first thing you do when anxious is hold your breath underwater - which raises the CO2 in your blood stream and makes you feel even more anxious! Simply blowing bubbles smoothly into the water breaks this vicious circle and instantly calms you down. Recommended for any swimmer but particularly anyone nervous swimming outdoors.
2. Legs straight, feet turned in and big toes tapping with a light flutter. Another very simple tip but incredibly effective for anyone who tends to kick from the knee or scissor kicks in their stroke. Converts the drag created by a poor kick into a little propulsion to lift the legs higher and push your forwards. Recommended for any swimmer with a tendency to kick from the knee - you should instantly feel smoother and more relaxed in your stroke.
3. 1-2-Straight. The majority of swimmers have some level of crossover in front of the head where the lead arm crosses the centre line. Not only can this harm your propulsion and create a scissor kick but in open water it can cause you to veer off course, losing you even more time!
|You are much more likely to cross the centre line with the lead hand when breathing.|
A great mantra to address this is to repeat to yourself 1-2-Straight where the 1 and 2 are normal strokes and Straight is your breathing stroke - the focus being on keeping the lead arm extended straight in front of the head, not crossing over. Of course this will also have you breathing bilaterally which will help you swim straighter still. Recommended for anyone with a crossover or who regularly swims off course.
4. Pressing the water backwards with a good rhythm. This one focuses on the propulsion in your stroke in the right way. If you think about pressing the water back hard then the tendency is to press down on the water during your catch or wrench the water causing your arm to slip backwards with little traction. A much better focus is to think about where you should be pressing the water (backwards to send you forwards) but instead of focusing on doing it with force, think about doing so with a nice smooth rhythm. This tends to create the right amount of force in the right place to send you efficiently forwards. Recommended for intermediate and advanced swimmers.
There's a choice of four very effective things to focus on in your next race. Don't attempt to think about them all, pick the one that worked best for you and keep focused on that and you will have a fantastic race.
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