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Conquer Your Swim Weakness

  • By Jené Shaw and Aaron Hersh
  • Published Oct 21, 2013
  • Updated May 6, 2014 at 7:36 PM UTC
Illustration by Matt Collins.



The Terrible Technique Triathlete

You can churn the water like a steamship, but you don’t seem to go anywhere.

Why you have this problem: If you’re self-taught or developed bad habits, you could be swimming with flawed technique. Accurately identifying your own technique quirks in the pool is surprisingly difficult. You may think your arms are gripping the water perfectly and your ankles are skimming the surface, but reality might be far different. Even if you’re a relatively efficient swimmer, technique can always be improved. “Just because someone can swim a 20-minute 1500 doesn’t mean they have perfect technique,” Murray says. “They could make their catch more dramatic, or their forearm more vertical and improve even further.”

Fix it! Three-time Olympic medalist turned swim guru Gary Hall Sr. strongly suggests finding a coach who focuses on technique rather than fitness. He believes thehigh-elbow catch position is key to efficient technique. Most coaches stress the importance of keeping the forearm vertical to develop a strong catch, but Hall says that is not enough. “Look at all the fastest swimmers in the world and their elbows are almost at the water level,” says Hall. He also stresses shoulder flexibility to allow this catch style and ankle flexibility. Whipping action at the end of a kick creates power, but the foot has to be able to point far downward to snap effectively.

Try This:

» Shoulder flexibility: Your shoulders have to be flexible to catch the water with a high elbow position. With thumbs pointed upward, straighten your arms and have a partner pull them together behind your back.

» Ankle flexibility: Free your ankles to create power by rotating the foot backward as far as possible, curling the toes toward your heel. Hold this for 30–60 seconds and do it several times a day.

» Technique-based coaching: Find a coach willing to analyze your stroke and work with you one-on-one to address your weaknesses. Video-recording your stroke—above and below water—is the best way to identify your individual weaknesses. Ask a friend to record a few laps using a phone in a waterproof case or affordable action video camera, such as the GoPro HD Hero2.

RELATED: Swim Technique Drills

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