There are many reasons to love a good swim workout. It’s low-impact, makes your heart pound and it fires up literally every muscle in your body. Not to mention, swapping out land-based activities for aqua time is a great way to cross-train.
However, working up a good sweat in the pool is more than just donning your swimsuit and splish-splashing around. Like all exercise, form and technique help you make the most out of every minute. To stop you from feeling like a fish out of water, we talked to the pros to find out how to swim better and faster. Time to dive right in to tuning up your technique.
10 Tips for How to Swim Every Stroke
1. Engage your core.
The key to swimming efficiently is maintaining a streamlined position, and that requires a strong core. That means tight abs, glutes and lower back. Most people tend to relax and just float around when in the water, but you want to work. ”If you don’t tighten your core, you’re kind of like a jellyfish, wriggling everywhere,” says Melis Edwards, author of Deep End of the Pool Workouts: No-Impact Interval Training and Strength Exercises, which outlines interval-based pool workouts designed to develop power, strength and endurance, particularly in your core.
2. Exhale into the water.
In other words, don’t try to both inhale and exhale when your head is above the water. “You’ll never get the appropriate amount of oxygen so you’ll feel out of breath,” says Jaime Benes, former coach and COO of the Santa Clara Swim Club and current VP at swimoutlet.com. “Remember to release air under the water so when you turn to the side, you’re getting as much air in as you can.”
3. Swim with fins.
During practice sessions, take your drills beyond the kick board. “[Fins are] a really nice way to work on your stroke and not have to worry about propelling your body up,” says Benes. “The fins do a lot of that work for you.”
4. Don’t stare at the black line.
When you’re swimming, avoid looking straight down or up at the wall. To help find your proper head position, Benes suggests this approach: “Make a fist with your hand and put it between your chin and your chest. That’s where you want your head position to be,” she says. Tilting your head down this way will also help your body be more buoyant in the water.
5. Think of your hand as a fin.
When you’re in the water, you want to swim with the ease of a fish, so think of your hand as a fin through every stroke (and every type, from backstroke to freestyle). Keep a slight scoop so you can move more water. “This allows you to propel yourself a little bit further and get a little more traction with each stroke,” Benes says.
6. Draw a line down the center of your body.
As you pull your arm through the water during freestyle, make sure your hand doesn’t cross over the midline of your body, says Benes. Then, finish your stroke with your thumb near your hip. “That’s the power point of your stroke,” says Benes. “You want to focus on a long stroke out front, draw down the midline of your body, and then push really hard from your hip to fully straighten your arm.” The result? You’ll maximize your efficiency and distance traveled every time you do the full circle.
7. Rotate in the water.
Ideally, “you’re never flat in the water. You’re always rotating ever so slightly from one side to the other,” says Benes. She explains that as you freestyle through the water, you should position your body at roughly a 45-degree angle, like you’re on a diagonal and cutting through the water. The movement then comes from your hips and shoulders.
8. Keep your head level in backstroke.
First things first, backstroke is more than just floating on your back. You have to keep your body in a streamlined position, not to mention swim without seeing where you’re going. In an effort to bring the hips and legs up, you may tip your head too far back in the water, leading to an inefficient stroke. Benes suggests focusing on something in your line of vision that’s high in the sky — not a person on the deck. “This will help your head be in the right position and you’ll swim straighter, too,” she says.
9. Use your lower half in butterfly.
The power in your butterfly comes from your kick — but it’s not your typical movement. But that means you have to push your hips forward, instead of bending and kicking down from your knees. “Imagine popping your butt up every time you kick so that it almost comes out of the water,” says Benes. “This will help drive from the hips versus your knees.”
10. Maximize your glide in breaststroke.
While you may associate breaststroke with the older folks in the pool, the secret to supercharging your stroke is in the glide. “Once you’ve gone through your entire pull and kick, hold it for a second longer and get as far as you possibly can before you start your next stroke,” says Benes. “This will give you a long, smooth glide.” Plus, you’ll get a little more time to relax, a bonus if you’re swimming speedy laps and need some active recovery time.