In the summer months swimming is a great form of training that works many muscles of the body, several of them skiing-related. I have always found swimming to be very similar to skiing, in that fitness only goes so far, especially if your technique is awful. Since I have several years of competitive swimming behind me I’ve decided to share some technique advice for freestyle (front crawl) in the hopes that it will encourage more people to get out swimming, and swimming faster!
High elbows: A common mistake for most swimmers is to keep their elbows straight during the recovery. This leads to extra stress on the shoulders and can cause shoulder injuries. During arm recovery your elbow should be bent so that it is the highest point of your arm. A good way to fix this is to do the “thumbs up” drill: point your thumb while recovering your arm and drag it along the water’s surface. This drops your hand and brings your elbow up, saving your shoulders from extra stress.
Reach long: Once you have corrected your arm recovery, it will be tempting to begin your pull with a bent arm. Your hand should enter the water when your arm is fairly straight, as this gives you a longer reach so you can get more power from your pull. To get your arms fully extended, “catch-up” is a good drill. Keep one arm fully extended ahead of your body (almost in a streamlined position). Begin the recovery of your opposite arm, and let your hand enter the water so that it slaps the hand of your extended arm. Perform a full stroke with your arm and repeat. Make sure to alternate arms with every stroke.
Extend your arms: To get the maximum amount of power from your pull, you should fully extend your arms during the finish of your pull. It is easy to finish your stroke early and leave out an extra bit of push from your triceps. Focus on fully extending your arms at the end of your stroke.
Body rotation: Freestyle relies on the side to side rotation of your body to help with forward propulsion. Even when you are not breathing, your body should still rotate slightly to the side of your recovering arm.
Breathing: Breathing should always be done bilaterally, or switching between sides. It is very easy to get into the habit of only breathing on one side which can cause you to become weak or incapable of breathing on the opposite side. In racing it is crucial to be able to breathe on both sides in order to watch the other racers on both sides. If your “bad side” feels awkward at first, throw in some one-armed free during part of your swim. This will force you to practice breathing on your other side and will help make it feel more natural. Just make sure to do the same amount with your other arm, otherwise you will get a weaker arm! Also, try to breathe as little as possible during training, as breathing slows you down. Try to limit your breaths to every 3, 5, or even 7. Make sure you do not tilt your head too high out of the water when breathing; you should just be able to get in air without choking on water.
Kicking: Long distance swimmers rely primarily on their arms to propel them through the water, as kicking requires more energy. This makes it easy to neglect your kick, an important part of swimming. Ensure that you are still using your legs, but find a balance that will not cause you to burn out too soon. A good drill to get you using your legs is “6-kick”. For every stroke you take, count out six kicks from your legs. This will likely slow down your stroke, so let one arm rest in a streamlined position while the other is moving.