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Swimming Mechanics – Reteaching the Freestyle Action

Swimming is largely a technical sport, and arguably the most technical of the three that triathletes have to master. Furthermore, the largest issues arise when poor mechanics are already present, which means that general fitness and training, strength work, wetsuits and swim squad will all be limited! The best results will come when reteaching the entire freestyle action, so proper mechanics are present. ETPA run an innovative stroke correction program called Swimfast which was created by Mat Tippett and continues to be developed by Mat and Jamie Edwards. The program breaks down the freestyle action into four fundamental components and reintroduces them in a sequence of drills. The program utilises a combination of specific swim drills, and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) in order to ‘retrain’ the muscle firing patterns and different components of the nervous system. This is the second article in the series that will summarise the sequence of learning which is utilised in the Swimfast Program. Last issue looked into streamlining and buoyancy, as well as the back half of the stroke. It also touched on some specific strength and performance based skill acquisition which will assist in skill acquisition. This article will look into rotation through each stroke and following articles will discuss the ‘catch’ and then recovery. Each article is one part of a teaching sequence/methodology which has show great success over the 10years of teaching.

Part 2: Rotation through Each Stroke

Now that you have established a more streamlined and buoyant position in the water (article 1) we can start to look at rotation through each stroke, and ensuring it results in forward movement. Before we move on, it is important to note that it is critical that you keep recapping and reinforcing the changes made by revisiting the drills and performance visualisation tasks on a regular basis. Learning to rotate through each stroke involves a progression from simple streamlined kicking on one side all the way through the ‘Popov’ drills (some universal drills based on the swimming style of famous swimmer Alexander Popov) then applying these changes to your ‘freestyle action’. Start with a few 25m bouts of streamlined kicking on your side. One arm is up – in front of you in the water, and the other is by your side. Your body will be on a 45 degree angle, the palm of your front hand should be down and your ear should be on your shoulder. The key here is to imagine where you would like to start your stroke from, and replicate this position when completing this drill. You should find yourself looking across the pool at the lane rope or wall. When you need to breath, simply tilt your head up so your mouth is out of the water and then return to the streamlined position – do NOT lift your head! Now we move onto the Popov drills. There are two variations; one stroke changeover and three stroke changeover. Here is a link to Mat Tippett completing the one stroke changeover.

Note that Popov is a drill designed to teach stroke length and rotation and is a bridge between drill swimming and the normal freestyle action. The same principles of buoyancy and streamlining you practiced during the kicking apply during this progression. Lead with your front arm, not the arm by your side and use that as a trigger to start each stroke – remember you are aiming to drag water from the top of your stroke, all the way through until you finish your stroke by your thigh. Another way to visualise it is to imagine you are grabbing hold of the water and pulling yourself past that chunk of water.

Complete a number of 25m efforts of this drill. Use a base of about six-eight kicks on one side (this is easy kicking only), including one breath between each stroke/changeover. Always return to the same streamlined position whilst remaining relaxed and buoyant before starting the next stroke.

Next we progress to Popov three stroke changeover. The only difference here is that you complete three full strokes instead of one. You still relax when kicking on your side, ensuring you are buoyant and streamlined. You still take one or two breaths between each changeover. Popov three stroke changeover tends to be slightly more dynamic than the one stroke changeover and you should really search for forward movement with each sequence. It is important to note that breathing is NOT part of the changeover; your head should remain in a neutral position until the three strokes have been completed. Once you are kicking on your side again, then you breathe. Once you have completed some 25 and 50m bouts of this drill, finish off with some normal swimming trying to integrate the drill into your freestyle action.

Dry Land Work – Increasing flexibility

No prescribed strength work for this component but some stretching on a foam roller to improve your range of motion and consequent ability to achieve a ‘streamlined position’ is advised. Even spending 5-10mins a day stretching and rolling through the upper back will be beneficial.

Performance Based Visualisation Training

There is no specific neuromuscular or visualisation training but reinforcing the strategies from last issue will assist in continuing the development of your stroke: 1. In front of the mirror go through the motions of 10 strokes. Watch each stroke in the mirror and ensure you are finishing at full length and your triceps are engaged. 2. Complete 10 strokes in the same fashion, but with your eyes closed. Again, search for full stroke length and engage your triceps. 3. Next, when lying in bed close your eyes and visualize 10 strokes but without moving your arms. Think about what it looks like and how it feels.

Sample Session

1-200m warm up 6 x 25m streamlined kick on side – 45degree angle, head down, palm down, relaxed kick/15sec rest between each – alternate left/right with each 25m lap 50m swim 8 x 25m Popov 1 Stroke changeover/15sec rest 50m swim 4 x 25m Popov 3 Stroke changeover/15sec rest 4 x 25m Popov 3 Stroke changeover/15sec rest – really emphasise the forward movement with each stroke! 50m swim 4 x 25m swim but concentrating on stroke length rotation through each stroke/10sec rest 1-200m easy swim down

Part 3 coming soon! Please direct all questions to or

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