Check out this image of five time Olympic Gold medallist Ian Thorpe:
You can see the full extent of the "body bend" that is required to extend the lead arm forwards in front of him while still keeping his hips and legs high near the surface. This is all down to the large degree of flexibility that Ian has in his upper and lower back, shoulders and lats.
Note when you try and get into this position yourself, you are not consciously thinking about bending through the body (or you could easily end up snaking laterally through the water). Instead you are simply aiming to extend forwards beneath the surface whilst keeping the legs high.
Without good flexibility, when extending forwards into this position with the lead arm, your body and legs will be pushed lower into the water:
As adult swimmers it's unlikely we'll ever get to the level of flexibility that elite swimmers such as Ian have in their upper body but even small improvements will bring the legs higher and so give you significant gains in speed and efficiency.
Way back in 2011 we posted here about a simple hip flexor stretch to bring your legs higher in the water: www.feelforthewater.com/2011/09/simple-stretch-to-reduce-drag.html and in this post we're going to introduce another key stretch to bring you similar results:
The Mermaid StretchFor our variation of the Mermaid stretch you will need to sit on the floor and position your legs such that the sole of one foot rest above the knee of the other leg:
If you find this leg position uncomfortable then release the knee and let it slide up the other calf a little.
Hold a towel, or even better a theraband in both your hands and raise above your head. Apply a light tension to the towel or band and lean over towards your outer foot, as demonstrated here by our new Community Manager Myffy (welcome to the team!!):
You should feel the stretch run all the way down your tricep, through your lat, your side and down to your hip. Take long, controlled breaths during the stretch.
This is a powerful stretch so only apply gentle pressure and stop right away if you experience any back or shoulder pain.
If you are nice and flexible (like Myffy above), then you can increase the power of the stretch by pressing the arms further apart, applying more tension to the band.
Without moving your legs, also stretch to the side away from your legs. This will feel significantly easier:
Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat two or three times to each side.
Whilst we can’t promise this stretch will have you swimming as fast as Ian Thorpe, we can promise that an improvement in flexibility will definitely improve your freestyle stroke!
Also see our dry land training programmes in the Swim Smooth Guru to increase your flexibility and further finesse your freestyle stroke: