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3 Steps to Faster and Easier Swimming: Skill (Part II)

freestyle swimming skills for faster and easier swimming technique

This 3-part blog series was contributed by triathlon swim coach Andrew Sheaff of Mastering Flow. Andrew specializes in swim skill development for athletes of all levels. This is Part II of the series.

In my previous article, I laid out a 3-step framework to simplify the process of improving your swimming.  To swim faster and easier-

  1. Learn to get comfortable in the water
  2. Learn the key skills in freestyle
  3. Train to be able to sustain these skills

Using this framework, you can establish the foundation for swimming success, learn the most important freestyle skills, and train in a way that allows you to execute these skills in races.

In the last article, I described how managing air is the key to establishing comfort in the water, which in turn is the foundation for effective swimming.  In this article, I’ll describe the key principles for effective swimming and how to begin to use these principles to improve your swimming.

Skill Made Simple

Swimming technique can get really complicated really fast.  There are thousands of articles, videos, and books written on the subject.  There are detailed descriptions of how every joint, bone, and muscle should be moving at all times.

While this information is valuable, it’s not always practical for someone with a limited swimming background that just wants to drop 5 seconds per 100 meters during their swim leg.  

Instead, it’s incredibly powerful to have a simple set of rules that help you put all of this technical information into perspective.  With the proper perspective, it then becomes possible to put that information into action every time you get in the water.

The Key Principles

Swimming fast comes down to two key principles-

  1. You need to create as little resistance as possible as you move through the water
  2. You need to move as much water backward as possible to move you forward 

That’s it! Think about any piece of technical advice you’ve ever been given, heard about, or read about.  When you put your mind to it, you’ll realize they all come down to one of these two principles.  In every case, implementing that advice will help you either eliminate resistance or create more propulsion.  

Knowing that all ideas about technique are accomplishing one of the same two objectives, then it becomes a matter of deciding which technique ideas are going to have the biggest impact on your skills.  

As an example, creating a huge paddle with your whole arm will make a much big difference than adjusting your pinky finger.  It allows you to put your focus where it matters most.

Putting It Into Practice

With these principles in mind, learning better skills becomes much simpler.  You know exactly what you need to accomplish to swim fast.  Below are three simple strategies that you can use to start exploring how to apply these principles positively impact your swimming.

Where the head goes, the body follows.  If you want to minimize resistance, your body needs to move through the water in a horizontal manner.  The exercise below is a great way to explore how to optimize your body position by manipulating your head.

Another challenge many individuals struggle with is the act of breathing.  While breathing effectively is going to be nearly impossible if you’re not comfortable in the water (see previous article), the skill of breathing can be challenging even if you are comfortable.  The exercise below requires you to breathe low and straight, both of which reduce the resistance you create.

Lastly, you need to move water backward to move forward.  This exercise allows you to practice that skill in its simplest form.  There’s no other way to move forward.  Play with different hand positions, different arm positions, or different ways to pull.  The strategies that move you forward the most are going to be the ones you want to stick with.

What Should YOU Do?

If you’re at the beginning of your swimming journey, it’s important to internalize these concepts and play with them occasionally.  However, you’ll want to spend the majority of your time working on getting comfortable in the water.  Here’s why.

Getting comfortable in the water is THE best way to minimize the amount of resistance you create in the water.  It ensures that you’ll swim level in the water, and that you’re not using your arms and legs to help you stay afloat.  Not only does a lack of comfort create more resistance, but it also prevents you from using your limbs to move water backward!  

For everyone else, these principles should be the focus of everything you’re doing, every time you’re in the water.  This is true whether you’re actively learning new skills, or whether you’re training to sustain the skills you’ve already learned (more on that next time). 

At all times, you should be striving to reduce resistance and increase the amount of water you move backward.  Your skills can never be too good, and there are always better and more efficient ways to move through the water.  The only way you’ll find them is if you’re paying attention.

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Andrew Sheaff Triathlon Swim Coach
Andrew Sheaff
Triathlon Swim Coach at Mastering Flow | Website

Andrew Sheaff is a triathlon swim coach who specializes in all levels of athletes from beginners and children to Olympic medalists and NCAA Champions. Andrew leads Mastering Flow, a coaching and training platform designed to simplify the process of swim skill development so that individuals can find comfort, ease, and speed in the water.