The front crawl, or what is also referred to as freestyle, is a classic swimming stroke and is considered the fastest of the different contemporary strokes. It is usually taught to children and beginning swimmers, but despite being a basic stroke it requires a great deal of timing, coordination, and technique to execute properly. Besides, this swimming stroke is used by most (if not all) triathletes as it makes swimming faster and allows them to clock in much quicker than other competitors.
Many swimmers, especially the competitive ones, always try to look for ways to improve their speed and performance in the water. Truth be told, there is no single best solution to this particular problem. Fortunately, there are certain guidelines that you can follow that will help to improve your speed and overall performance when swimming freestyle.
1. Do Dryland Exercises
Most beginning swimmers think that to improve their speed they need to spend hour after hour training in the water. Although this is true, they often forget that dryland exercises are just as important as in-water training. In fact, for many professional and competitive swimmers, dryland exercises are essential and always a part of their overall training program. Combining both in-water trainings with dryland workouts helps them to swim faster and stay competitive.
Dryland exercises are important since they help to improve a swimmer’s muscle strength, stamina, and overall athletic ability. All these combined help to improve their performance and consequently, their chances for success. Aside from that, it also helps to eliminate the occurrence of injuries during practices and competitions.
2. Work on Your Core
To move efficiently through the water, swimmers must have a coordinated movement of the upper and lower body. Accordingly, the key to this coordinated movement is having a strong core, which is primarily composed of the abdominal and lower back muscles.
Aside from being the link between the lower and upper body, your core muscles play an important role in your swimming, and consequently in your speed, in several ways.
- Improves rolling or body rotation movements which is necessary for efficient pulling and kicking.
- Maintains spinal stability which helps to establish a good solid base of support that allows the swimmer to execute proper stroke mechanics.
- Keeps the swimmer’s body streamlined while swimming which reduces drag and makes the propulsive power generated by the swimmer more effective.
All in all, if you fail to work on and develop your core muscles, you are putting yourself at risk of technique flaws and swimming inefficiencies which can negatively impact your speed and overall performance. Not to mention the possible injuries that you may sustain from having a weak core.
3. Develop Muscular Strength
Aside from having a strong core, swimmers must also develop muscular strength if they want to improve their speed. By developing strength in your triceps, quads, lats, and other muscles, you will develop muscular strength that will help you to power through the water. Remember, water provides a significant amount of resistance and to power through this resistance, you will need to have strong muscles.
When doing dryland exercises, you can develop your muscle strength by engaging in weight lifting and resistance exercises using gym equipment and machines or even your own body weight.
One thing to remember is that you should not focus solely on one body part like your arms or legs only. Instead, you should focus on achieving a balanced workout for your whole body and targeting those muscle groups that are used for swimming. Swimmers will usually have a different strength training program from a regular bodybuilder since a regular bodybuilding program will lead to bulkier muscles and will result in less flexibility in the joints.
4. Improve Your Endurance
Endurance, both muscular and cardiovascular, is important to swimmers. This is especially true for swimmers who are engaged in swimming long distances like triathletes. With high levels of endurance, you will be able to swim for longer (not necessarily faster) than most other athletes, which is sometimes more than enough to win you the medal.
There are many dryland and water-based exercises that you can do to improve your cardiovascular and muscle endurance. For instance, you can go jogging or running, or you can go rowing (which also helps to improve the aerobic activity in your arms.)
5. Use Straight Arm Recovery for Short Races
With straight arm recovery, your arm remains straight when you place it in front of you and your elbows stay locked as it exits the water. Although some experts would say that a bent-arm technique (more on that later) is more effective, there are some swimmers and coaches who employ straight-arm recovery especially in sprinting events, and actually, win. There are several reasons why this approach is popular amongst many swimmers.
For one, the simplified pull allows for more resistance against your forearm, which in turn causes you to pull more water per stroke. This style also allows you to get your arms around exceptionally fast while pulling more water. Also, the straight arm style forces the need for a high level of body rotation, which in turn powers an aggressive hand entry and a high tempo stroke rate.
As mentioned earlier, the straight arm style is recommended only for sprints and short distances. This is because this type of arm recovery uses a lot of power and can be very exhausting which makes it difficult to use for swimming distances that are longer than 100 meters. However, it should be noted that there are some veteran and powerful swimmers who can perform a full 50 meter or 100-meter race using straight arm recovery techniques.
Some swimmers only use this technique for the last few meters of their race, usually during the last 10 or 15 meters. This is because this approach helps them maintain the stroke rate going at the end of the race right when fatigue is starting to set in.
6. Use Bent Arm Recovery for Long Distance Swims
Whereas straight arm recovery is used in sprints and the last few meters of the race, the bent arm recovery is used by long-distance swimmers. It is ideal for such distances because it requires less energy to execute which means that you won’t tire out easily.
Bent arm swimming is considered more efficient when it is used in conjunction with body rotation. It recruits more muscle groups, puts less emphasis on specific shoulder muscles, and helps the swimmer to sustain their momentum through the water for longer by delaying muscle fatigue.
When done properly, a high elbow recovery allows for a good angle for the hand entry by enabling the swimmer to dive their hand into the water and immediately initiate the pulling motion. Although it’s been said that high elbow is most recommended for long-distance swimming, some professional swimmers use high elbow even in sprints.
7. Keep Your Fingers Pointed Straight
One way to generate more power in your freestyle stroke is by keeping your fingertips pointed straightforward. By doing this, your hand and forearm will be pointing straight down toward the bottom of the pool or the pool’s floor. This allows you to generate more power from the larger muscles of your back in addition to the smaller muscles of your shoulder and arms.
Keeping your fingertips pointed forward helps improve your speed because when the hands (and consequently the fingers) are pointed inward or outward, your strength diminishes and prevents you from generating enough power for your stroke.
8. Spread Your Fingers
There is research that shows that spreading your fingers slightly is a good way of somehow increasing your speed. In fact, many competitive swimmers do this, so instead of ‘scooping’ the water as they pull, they are actually ‘raking’ through the water. Although quite a few researches are showing why this method is effective, there are still many questions that remain unanswered regarding this topic.
The reason put forward as to why spreading your fingers can help increase speed is because it can somehow help to increase the surface area of the hand. At most, the effect that the added surface area provides is more than sufficient to make up for the effect of the water lost between the fingers.
9. Be Mindful of Your Kicking Pattern
Your feet also plays an important role when swimming as it helps you paddle through the water, thus aiding in propelling you forward. By coordinating your kicking pattern with your stroke, you will be able to move through the water faster. Experts put forward several tips when it comes to the correct kicking pattern for freestyle swimming.
- Many experts would agree that your feet should be slightly submerged in the water instead of letting them sink.
- You should also keep your knees slightly bent. Don’t bend your knees excessively since this will hamper your feet’ and legs’ free movement and range of motion.
- Keep your toes stretched as this helps you to keep your hips centered and maintain your posture.
Applying these tips and with the proper kicking technique, you will be able to swim faster and improve your clocked timing by a considerable margin.
But then again, remember that each expert will have a different opinion and you are still responsible for finding the most suitable pattern for you. Also, once you’ve figured out which pattern works best for you, try to master that pattern and rhythm and never deviate from it.
10. Align Your Spine
Most beginning swimmers usually have a fear of keeping their faces submerged in the water. However, it is important that when you’re doing freestyle, the water should cut the center of the top of your head and your face should be pointed at the bottom of the pool. This way, you can keep your neck in alignment with your spine.
Think of your posture when standing on land with your neck and spine aligned and your face forward. This should also be your posture when swimming.
11. Rotate but Don’t Over-rotate
Body rotation is essential when swimming. Those swimmers who can execute the proper rotation are beautiful to look at as their bodies cut through the water smoothly, but more importantly, they are more efficient swimmers and can perform better and faster.
However, there is one thing to remember: don’t over-rotate. Many swimmers over-rotate and thus negatively impact their speed and performance.
12. Proper Nutrition and Diet
Swimming is a physically demanding sport, so you’ll need to make sure that you have sufficient energy or else your performance and speed will suffer. However, you have to choose which foods to eat since not all types of food will be able to provide you with the energy your body needs for this sport.
For instance, many coaches would recommend that you avoid eating foods with simple sugars and high in fat especially before a competition. Instead, you should indulge in foods that are high in complex carbohydrates since these types of food will help to keep your glycogen stores topped up.
Also, pace your fluid intake or drink minimal amounts of water but drink more often to keep yourself hydrated. You should also eat less but more often to keep your blood sugar levels consistent. During competitions, you should avoid eating heavily since this will make you feel lethargic.
13. Have a Training Journal
When it comes to equipment, most swimmers usually think about their swimming caps or goggles. However, there is one item that should never be missing from a swimmer’s gym bag: a training journal.
A training journal is a must for every athlete, swimmers included. This is where swimmers log in their speed and performance after every swim.
But more important than just logging in their activities is evaluation. Evaluate the entries made in your journal so you can see and track your progress. You should also write down any particular technique or method you applied and how effective it was. This way, you’ll see what’s working (and continue improving on that) and what’s not (which you should eliminate from your swimming style).
You should also write down other aspects related to your swimming like your goals, frequency of practice, how you feel in the water, and others. By looking at these things, you will have a better idea of what you can do to further improve your swimming performance and speed.
14. Be Open to Learning
Some people will have different ideas about how you can improve your speed when doing freestyle. When you join a swim club, for instance, a coach may tell you to use a straight arm approach, but when you join a different school they may tell you to use a bent-arm style. The truth is, there is no right and wrong advice as even professional athletes have proven that one style is not necessarily better than the other.
Thus, you should stay open to learning. Keep in mind though that you should be a learner but not necessarily a follower because,e in the end, you will be the one to decide which of these devices are most effective for you. Aside from listening to your coaches and swimming buddies, you can also watch videos of professional athletes and try to mimic their styles and techniques.
15. Practice, Practice, Practice
If you really want to improve your swimming speed, then it goes without saying that you’ll need to train regularly. For some serious athletes, they can train for hours up to six times a week, but in general, practicing at least four times a week should be enough to see significant results and improvement.
As they say, practice makes perfect. By regularly practicing, you are more likely to nail down the perfect form for you. It will also help you develop better cardiovascular endurance as you train your lungs more and more often. If you are skipping your training regularly, then you can be sure that your speed will suffer.
In line with that, you should also mix up your training and incorporate both dry land training and in-water training. You should also do other exercises like speed drills, endurance exercises, and strength development.
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If you really want to swim faster, you will need to put in a lot of hard work. This means putting in the time (or making time no matter what) for practice and training. It also means listening to your coaches, doing your research, and more importantly, applying what you are learning. Remember though that lectures and reading can only help you to a certain degree, and that nailing down the perfect swimming technique that will generate significant speed and make your swimming faster can only be mastered with practice. So grab your swimming goggles, give the above-mentioned tips a last read, and head on down to the water.
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- How Top Swimmers Can Go Faster: It’s All in the Fingers, Live Science
- What to Eat During Swimming Competitions, Swim England Masters