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How Swimmers Can Improve Their Technique

Swimming better and faster starts with the ultimate fundamental–proper technique. Here’s what swimmers need to know about getting their technical game tight.

In our quest to be faster swimmers we hit the weights, pound out the lactate sets, and push race pace as often as our body allows us in swim practice. As a result, we tend to forget the fastest path to faster swimming—better technique.

Being technically efficient means that you can glide through the water with less effort. It means you are creating less drag. And it means you are going faster through the water.

Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you hit the pool deck with technical change on your mind:

It takes time and repetition to change your technique.

If you are serious about making a change to your stroke, this requires devoting a sizable amount of time and practice yardage to promoting and solidifying this change.

Doing it once, for one main set, or for a couple hundred meters during warm-up, won’t cause the adaptations you want. Be persistent, and put in the reps. Your bad habits in the pool weren’t created overnight either.

Press time-out on the competitive instinct.

Racing our teammates is a fun way to challenge ourselves and them, particularly during breath-shaking workouts. Having someone to go goggle-to-goggle with can push us to new heights.

However, when it’s technique work we are supposed to be focused on, avoid that primal urge to sprint through what is supposed to be focused, “perfect” swimming in order to slap your hand on the wall first, throwing that focus off-balance in a flurry of white water.

The competition at this point becomes you—out-perform the technique you used on the previous lap on the next one. And the one after that, too.

Your focus and attention levels will get tested.

Our bad swimming habits are hard to break. When we do something for months and months on end, and then suddenly want to change things, whether it’s a new arm recovery, a better hand entry, or using more hip rotation, the new thing is at odds with what you’ve been doing to date.

The more natural and automatic your training habits, the more focus and time you’ll need to create change. This kind of focus is hard, particularly when we are used to not having to think about our technique.

Every time you catch your mind wandering and your technique reverting back to its old ways bring your focus back and hit reset.

Persist past the struggle.

Technical changes can be difficult because there is usually a dip in performance before we start improving. Because of this swimmers revert right back to the status quo.

For example, if you have been a lifer at breathing every two strokes, breathing bilaterally will be awkward and difficult in the immediate short term, even though eventually the benefits of breathing this way will outpace your past ways.

As a result of this struggle we like to go back to what’s familiar and non-struggley. Persist through the awkwardness—a better looking and faster stroke awaits you on the other side.

Trust that your stroke will improve.

When something feels right it can be hard to understand the need to change your stroke and technique. That adjustment will likely initially leave you swimming slower, even more sloppily.

You see this all the time with athletes who are bigger and stronger; they can power their way through the water for a while with less-awesome technique (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), and as a result ignore opportunities for technical improvement.

Have trust in the process, have faith in your coach’s instruction, and improvement will happen.

Focus on one change at a time.

Ever try to think through the entire process of swimming a stroke?

Hand entry, hand placement, bending your wrist just a little at the beginning of the catch, keeping your head straight, breaking the surface just enough to breathe, keeping your ankles loose, rotating your hip, bracing your core—on and on and on.

Trying to think about every single aspect of our swimming ends up having the opposite intended effect—it leaves us feeling overwhelmed, our brain a jumbled pile of chlorinated cues.

To speed up change keep is simple and hit up one specific technical element at a time. (Or one element per lap/set/workout.)

An odd benefit of this kind of unilateral focus is that when we do one thing exceptionally well in our swimming, it tends to bleed into the rest of our stroke without us really having to think about it.


The perks of better technique—like you don’t already know—are huge. Bigly, even. You’ll be a more efficient swimmer. You’ll be a faster swimmer. And you’ll get a sense of mastery from improvement.

And something else…

The kind of deliberate swimming that is required to improve technique, when you are actually focused on what you are doing in the pool instead of letting your brain roam like a free-range chicken on Red Bull, you will not only be more engaged in your practice, but you will enjoy your swimming more, too. Giddyup.

More Stuff Like This:

3 Things Swimmers Can Do to Develop a Better Attitude. Having a better attitude helps you face adversity, be more coachable, and of course, swim faster. Here’s a few things swimmers can do to improve their attitude.

7 Things You Can Do Today for a Better Practice Tomorrow. Want to get ahead of tomorrow’s workout? Here are 7 simple things that you can do today to make sure tomorrow’s practice goes down like a cool glass of success.

Do You Warm-Up with Purpose? How focused are your warm-ups in practice? Here’s how to get more from the part of your workout that gets the least amount of love.

Posted by Alex Work, Created Sat Jun 24, 2017

Why Swimmers Should Use Fins While Warming Up

Like you need an added excuse to wear fins—Here’s why wearing fins on during warm-up will help ease shoulder pain and prepare you for faster swimming later in practice.

When it comes to pieces of swimming gear, nothing gets swimmers excited quite like getting to wear swim fins.

After all, the joys of ripping across the pool at Mach-1 are universal. It doesn’t matter what stroke you specialize in, getting to strap up the fins ranks as a highlight during those long swim practices.

Besides getting to go super duper fast, wearing fins also helps to serve some other sneaky little benefits. Although a lot of swimmers use them as a crutch, or lean on them to make the intervals during tough kick sets, using fins during warm-up will:

1. Loosen up your hips and ankles. Your legs, those big, muscular and oxygen-thirsty stems that they are tend to take longer to warm-up. There are lots of benefits to wearing swim fins beyond the ability to go really, really fast: they help to increase ankle flexibility, develop overall leg power and capacity, and teach you how to kick efficiently. Added speed means your body is more sensitive to drag and resistance in the water.

2. Takes it easy on your shoulders. As a competitive swimmer one of the “perks” of the hilarious amounts of mileage done during training is the wear and tear on our shoulders. At some point, we all run head-on into the dreaded swimmer’s shoulder. For some it’s a career-long epidemic, while for others it’s the random acute injury. Whatever the case, it sucks. And one of the ways that you can help to lessen the load on your money makers is to warm up with fins on. When you consider that most warm-ups are in the 1-1.5k range, and that they often involve cold muscles in your shoulders, chest and back, strapping fins on can be an easy to get things warmed up while slowly introducing your shoulders to the workout.

3. Gives your breakouts some TLC. The break-out makes up a stunning proportion of short course races. It’s your baseline speed—at no point (except for the dive) are you going faster when swimming than in the moments that you are pushing off the wall and breaking out. Wearing fins, and getting your target number of underwater dolphin kicks, will help reinforce a more streamlined, drag-free breakout experience.

4. Leg endurance + warm-up. Most swimmers, when swimming, don’t kick. Okay, maybe they are freestyle kicking, but let’s be honest, a 1-beat kick isn’t really kicking. Sure, the same could happen when putting on fins, but whole fun in wearing fins is going fast, and the only way you can do that is with some measure of kick.

Posted by Alex Work, Created Tue Feb 28, 2017

Some Fun Gift Ideas for Athletes

Looking to find something for the athlete in your life? Or looking to spoil yourself? Forget shaker cups and water bottles, here are the ultimate gifts for athletes.

There is a mountain of gear when it comes to things that are going to help your performance as an athlete. With so much stuff out there it can be easy to feel a little overwhelmed. And so what ends up happening? You end up buying a shaker cup. No-fail gift, right?

If you want to take your gift giving to the next level this year check out the gifts for athletes guide below. Nearly all of the items, varying from a couple dollars to nearly a grand, are things that I currently use or have used with fellow athletes.

If there is one thing we as athletes want, something we really, really want above all else…

To perform better.

And how can we accomplish this?

  • By recovering faster and being injured less,
  • Eating better,
  • Improving workout habits and motivation.

This is how the gifts in this guide are organized.


Posted by Alex Work, Created Tue Feb 21, 2017

Reasons Swimmers Should Be Foam Rolling

The foam roller has become a popular item in local gyms and weight rooms over the past few years. Everyone from first-timers to elite level athletes recognize the value in spending some time rolling back and forth on the brightly colored tubes, slowly working out the knots and releasing and loosening the myofasical tissue.

We know using the foam roller feels good, but what are the exact benefits that this wonderful new tool provides? Here are five proven ways that using a foam roller will help you become a better, more mobile athlete.

1. It will help to reduce muscle soreness. We’ve all been there—after a devastating workout we hobble home, limp up the stairs, and collapse into the couch, wondering how we will be able to roll out of bed the following morning. While foam rolling won’t completely eliminate the limiting effects of crushing muscle soreness (DOMS), it has been shown by numerous studies to help reduce its severity. When participants used a foam roller immediately after a workout for 20 minutes, 24 hours later, and again 48 hours later, they reported significantly less soreness compared to the control group.

2. Foam rolling will help you recover faster. That rugged soreness that infects our bodies after a thorough thrashing at the gym usually means we end up waiting longer between workouts. While we have already talked about reduced soreness, foam rolling can also keep athletic performance at its peak. When a group of college athletes did a 20-minute foam rolling protocol they were much better able to perform compared to the control participants in a series of athletic tests, from a 30m sprint to a change-of-direction test. Spending some time on the foam roller will help you bounce back faster.

3. Using a foam roller will help improve mobility and flexibility. Almost all of us have a couple muscles and areas where we are eternally stiff and inflexible. For most, it is the hips and hamstrings from being a culture of sitters. Combining a foam roller with static stretching has been shown to be more effective at improving flexibility compared to either one of them on their own. Use your foam roller to target those eternally stiff trouble spots so that you can enjoy the freedom of full range of motion.


Posted by Alex Work, Created Mon Feb 20, 2017

Tips for Breaststroke Swimming

The breaststroke is the oldest and the most challenging of the swimming strokes to conquer (yes, even trickier to master than the butterfly stroke I would argue). Being able to time the kicking and pulling motion is difficult enough, but then comes another barrage of concerns:

·        Do you recover your hands and arms above the surface of the water?

·        How wide should your knees be when you do the breaststroke kick?

·        Should you pull down or out when doing the pull?

·        When should you exhale when swimming breaststroke?

Here are some tips for how to swim better breaststroke:

The kind of pull you do depends on the distance you are swimming. There are two kinds of pulling motions that breaststrokers tend to perform. The first is a “Y”-shaped pull, where the hands scull slightly outwards before pulling downwards. The second is a straight push down motion, with the hands perpendicular to the bottom of the pool. The latter is most useful for very short races and short course racing, while the “Y”-pull is more suitable to longer short course events (200s and up) and long course swimming.

Your hands should recover just below the surface of the water. When you have initiated the pull movement, and you are bringing your hands around for the recovery, it’s common to do all manner of things from here. Some swimmers lunge their hands forward at shoulder width, some keep their hands under the water altogether, while others shoot their hands out of the water like a dolphin breaching at high speed. Ultimately, what you do will come down to what is most comfortable, but insure that what is most comfortable is most efficient. For most world class breaststrokers you will see that they bring their hands forward at the surface of the water, or just below.

Your knees should be around shoulder-width during the kick. Commonly you will see swimmers do the breaststroke kick with their knees and feet together. While your feet should come together at the end of each kicking motion, your knees should be approximately shoulder width apart. Turning your ankles at a 90 degree ankle requires insane hip and ankle flexibility that most swimmers simply do not have, and so you need your knees to be agape in order to be able to push the water backwards with the inside of your feet.

Blow out your breath right before you pick up your head to breathe. When you are swimming breaststroke the goal should be to stay high and straight in the water. This means being buoyant. Holding your breath until the last moment, until right before you have to pick your head up again to take another breathe allows you to float and “skim” across the top of the water. Those handful of moments holding your exhalation will keep your center of gravity nice and high in the water.

In Sum

Swimming breaststroke is tough—I know I struggled with it for years (and continue to on the days when the timing isn’t there). But remember these simple tips the next time you hit the water and you will be well on your way to swimming better breaststroke. 

Posted by Alex Work, Created Sat Feb 18, 2017

Why Swimmers Should Be Training with a Snorkel

The swimmer’s gear bag has really filled up in recent years. Where at one point water-born athletes only had to worry about having a kickboard and pull buoy on deck now we have various sizes of paddles, fins, ankle bands, and one of the more recent additions—the snorkel.

Here’s why you should be making more use of the swimmer’s snorkel in your gear bag:

1.. Proper head positioning. One of the common mistakes swimmers make when swimming freestyle is improper head position. Whether the eyes are being picked up—creating a situation where the forehead acts as a snow-plow in the water, adding substantial drag—or swinging side-to-side (common with swimmers who cross-over their feet when flutter kicking), a snorkel can help to “center” your head when swimming.

2.. You don’t need to worry about breathing. When you don’t have to worry about timing your breaths you can concentrate more fully on your stroke. Seems like a simple thing, but you would be surprised how often your hips and shoulders are thrown out of position by the very necessary act of turning your head to breathe. This is particularly apparent with swimmers when they are doing 1-arm freestyle. With one arm at their side, the swimmer is out of balance, and are forced to turn half their body in order to gulp down some of that precious O2.

3.. Improved hip position. This piggy-backs the proper head position aspect of using a snorkel, but it is worth mentioning because of how much of an effect it carries. When your face is down and in line-with your spine your hips will naturally rise. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s tough to overstate how much of a difference having high hips in the water makes on overall swimming speed. When you are moving across the pool the goal is to have as narrow a profile as possible. Why? Because the more drag you are fighting, the harder you have to work to swim fast. The simplest way to become a faster swimmer isn’t more training, or more strength…it’s to be more efficient in the water. Using a snorkel, and the higher hip positioning that comes along with it, gives you the sensation of high hips.

4.. Stroke balance. Research into swimmer’s shoulder, that pesky injury that every chlorinated athlete has stumbled into with varying degrees of consistency, has shown that muscular imbalances are a leading cause of this chronic and acute injury. Breathing every two strokes, particularly when we are tired mid-set or towards the end of a long season of training, becomes second nature to the point that we don’t even notice it. When you put on a snorkel the fact that you are not breathing means you are simulating bilateral breathing, forcing you to pull and recover with equal timing and equal force. At the end of the day this has two very real effects: you become a more well-balanced swimmer (i.e. faster), and you help to lessen one of the leading causes of swimmer’s shoulder.

The Takeaway

When it comes to better training there are fewer better investments you can make then picking up a snorkel. You can learn more about the benefits and research on swim snorkels, as well as reviews on some of the more popular snorkels on the market here.

Happy swimming!

Posted by Alex Work, Created Sat Feb 18, 2017