Learning to Swim – Like a Pro

Summer is on the way and that means beach fun and pool parties… all are fantastic reminders that swimming isn’t just fun – it’s a vital skill with the power to keep you healthy and fit. Yet, even those who claim to be “strong swimmers” often have much they can improve about the way they swim.

Your kick should be the foundation of your swim skils – and most people have a much weaker kick than they know. The “flutter” idea is regularly misinterpreted by amateur swimmers to mean a gentle kick or a soft kick with relaxed ankles and knees. And while flexibility in your ankles is, indeed, important it shouldn’t come at the expense of engaging your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Do a few kickboard workouts in the pool and you’ll quickly see how you can get more force (and speed) from your kick.

Breathing, too, is something best perfected by training. Unlike running, swimming is a cardio exercise that benefits from well-timed breathing. For obvious reasons, your natural breathing rhythm may not work so well in the water. So, it becomes important to take deep strong regular breaths in order to feed muscles the oxygen necessary for performance. Swim laps slowly while training yourself to side breathe, usually every other or every 4th stroke. Then, pick up speed, working on not pausing when you breathe. Keep your forward momentum smooth and fluid while still incorporating breath. The faster you swim, expect to take more breaths (like every other stroke) so you don’t run into oxygen deficit and end up running out of gas before you finish the distance.

Arm position is one of those techniques that novice and expert swimmers both understand is important, but few except swimming’s elite understand that their freestyle or backstroke arm sweep needs serious work. The natural tendency of the arm is to move laterally (to the side) as it rotates forward or back. This results in both wasted motion and a poor angle of entry back into the water (which is the most important part of the stroke). You can work on this by keeping your wrist turned sideways, perpendicular to the water and keeping a slight bend in your elbow. Then, once your hand breaks the surface of the water, straighten your arm and hand back out, close your fingers, cup your hand and literally push the water back and behind you. Using a pull buoy or simply standing while studying your stroke is a tactic even Olympic swimmers use to perfect their strokes.

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