5 ways to improve your swimming technique

Master triathlon swimming

Trying to improve swimming technique for most triathletes will always be a long, arduous and frustrating process and for 99.9% of us, we're unlikely to ever inherit the amazing technique of Michael Phelps. I've been swimming for 22 years. I still drop my elbow, my legs are still kind of all over the place and my breathing throws me off balance. I guess on the whole my technique isn't too bad and after 22 years I sure have some good swimming fitness so I can just about swim near the front in almost all races. 

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.


What I'm saying is technique is massively important to improve your swim level but it shouldn't completely replace your hard workouts in the pool. Ideally you can incorporate both into every swim set and often by working one area you will improve the other. These are my top 5 ways to improve your swimming technique. 

In swimming everything you do should be propelling you forward. You should be as buoyant as possible and doing anything you can to reduce your drag in the water. Your head can feel like this huge dead weight ruining your streamline, so practice keeping it out of the water a little by looking up a bit and keeping your forehead close to the surface of the water rather than looking directly down. A snorkel can help you do this so you can tick off some distance whilst getting used to your head being in that position. 

Poor swimmers usually struggle to co-ordinate their legs with their arms. Ideally your kick should just be tapping away behind you like an outboard motor giving forward momentum with your stroke but also keeping out of the way and not disrupting the stroke. Improving the rhythm of your legs is another thing worth working on to improve your technique. It's mostly practice and kicking drills that will help but you could also try drills like super slow catch up where you keep a constant rhythm with your legs and fit your arms in around that. 

Catch is that point of the stroke where your hand enters the water and you feel like you have a good strong feel on the water to pull yourself through. The catch phase in most athletes starts too late and by the time they have good feel for the water, their hand is almost half way through the stroke. The best drills to improve catch are doggy paddle and head up polo stroke. Here you should focus on fixing your elbow straight away and bringing your latts (back muscles) into action rather than your shoulder.

Core work is one of the things that will improve your technique for swim, bike and run and it should be a staple every week in your training programme. In terms of swimming it'll help your body position in the water and give you a solid platform to pull hard on the water without breaking your technique. It can be done at any time but it can also be effective just before your swim workout. There are many exercises to strengthen your core. I love the TRX exercises and find that's a great way to get strong. 

When we get tired in the water our technique will often get worse and worse as we fight to keep on top of the clock. One way to combat that is to increase your endurance in the gym. It can take quite a lot of swimming to build fitness strong enough to stop your arms getting so exhausted, but the gym can replace that to a certain extent. The best exercises are pull ups, lateral pull downs, cable weight machine pulling exercises and bench press. Hopefully you'll find that you are able to swim harder for longer and maintain your technique throughout.

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