I remember the first time I tried swimming for exercise. It was after a marathon, and I was looking for active recovery that would offer little impact on my sore body.
Swimming seemed reasonable enough.
After only four laps in the pool, I began to seriously doubt whether I was in shape. How could that be? I just finished running a Boston-qualifying marathon time. How is it possible that I’m not in shape?
Sure, I didn’t have swim-specific fitness; however, my main problem was that I was swimming very inefficiently, thus increasing my drag in the water, and increasing the amount of effort it took to schlep my body from one end of the pool to the other.
It doesn’t take too long to figure out that swimming is a very technique-reliant sport. You will not get much faster by simply swimming from end to end. So, what’s the trick to improved efficiency?
Whether you are an elite swimmer, or hopping in the pool for the first time, drills should comprise some part of every swim workout.
For beginners, the most important drills to focus on are balance-related. When we bike or run, we have several points of contact to assist ourselves in achieving a bio-mechanically efficient position. In the water, we have none. Therefore, we have to improve our balance to ensure that our body position is as level with the water as possible, so as to reduce drag.
The most common problem for beginners is that the lower body drops in the water. Ideally, you want to swim parallel to the water. You can see the difference in the images to the right.
So, how can you achieve this straight line in your swimming? Balance drills. Here we offer a basic overview of two types of balance drills–front and side–with modifications you can add as you improve.
Front Balance Drills
The key to this drill is keeping your head and neck even with your spine, and avoiding the temptation to hold your head up, or to look up. As soon as you look up, or even tilt your head upwards, your legs and hips will drop.
Begin the drill by floating face down, with your face in the water. Extend your arms straight out in front of you, parallel with the water surface, for improved balance. Keep your palms facing down toward the bottom of the pool. Look downward, with your eyes focused just a few feet ahead of you. Lean or push into your chest, which, as Joe Friel describes in the Triathlete’s Training Bible, may give you the sensation of swimming “downhill.” This