Five Top Tips on Beginner Freestyle from the authors of Swim Smooth
Author: Paul Newsome and Adam Young from www.swimsmooth.com
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About The Freestyle Stroke
Freestyle is a fantastic stroke. When you are competent at the stroke it's easy, fluid, smooth and fast. If you only swim breast stroke at the moment you'll find it feels completely different - freestyle is much more flowing. You know how awkward it is if you try and walk really quickly? Freestyle is like breaking into a run – it's a great feeling!
Learning freestyle presents some challenges, the most obvious of which is how to adapt to breathing in a face down position. Many novice freestylers have some anxiety about putting their faces in the water whilst swimming. Don't worry, that's entirely normal. Every year we work with hundreds of swimmers who want to learn the freestyle stroke and meet these challenges.
An excellent freestyle stroke in action. Check out our Mr Smooth visualisation for a better understanding of what a good stroke looks like.
Here are our top 5 tips to help you learn freestyle:
Tip 1 - Get help from a swimming 'Buddy'
If you know a competent swimmer you trust, it will help a lot to have them in the water with you. We call them a swimming ‘buddy'.
Having a buddy in the water with you is reassuring. They can remind you of what you need to be doing and they can point out where you are making good progress with your stroke technique. They can also hold you in specific positions whilst you get a feel for them.
We have written an article for freestyle swimmers who want to be a buddy and help their friends or relatives learn to swim the stroke, click here for more information...
Tip 2 - Develop a feel for the water
Water is an alien environment to us; something we're not used to. Start off by simply learning how your body moves and feels in the water – it's so important. At first you don't even need to try and float.
Practise sculling in shallow water to develop a feel for the water.
Stand in the shallow end with your hands in the water and start to move your hands and arms around gently. Think about using your hands like paddles. Push against the water and feel the pressure on your palms - this is the beginning of something called 'feel for the water' that is very important to swimming technique.
As you get used to this, try crouching down in the water and let it take some of your weight, all the time continuing to move your hands and arms.
Do this for about 5 minutes. Even when you are moving on to learning the freestyle action we recommend you start every session with this exercise.
We much prefer using a pool that is nice and warm for novice swimmers, a cold pool can add to feelings of anxiety.
Tip 3 - Blow Bubbles
Not many people know this, but the most important skill in freestyle is to be able to exhale freely into the water. Most people instinctively hold their breath when their face is in the water. This will make the stroke much tougher. When you are swimming freestyle all exhalation should be into the water, so when you turn your head to breathe you only need to inhale. This is the secret of breathing in freestyle.
Holding your breath adds to feelings of anxiety and makes you more stressed. Instead, develop a new habit of exhaling into the water – this will relax you, just like breathing techniques in yoga.
Let the water take your weight - if you sink that's a good thing!
Start in the shallow end and practise putting your face in the water and simply hum through your mouth or nose to create a long steady stream of bubbles. Feel like you are sighing.
As you get used to this you can develop things by crouching or sitting down to sink lower into the water. A buddy can be useful here to give you some support.
If you become so relaxed that you start to feel yourself sinking this is great thing – it shows that you are building a good degree of confidence in the water.
Keep working on this skill – the habit and technique of exhaling into the water is very important.
Tip 4 - Break things down into manageable chunks
Attempting to perform the full freestyle stroke without any preparation is a recipe for failure. The key to learning the stroke is to break things down into small manageable chunks.
In swimming coaching we do something called 'drills'. A drill is an exercise that allows you to practise one part of swimming technique without the difficulty of doing it all at once. Drills sometimes exaggerate a movement so that you can get a feel for it. Here are some drills we recommend you practise to develop your stroke technique:
Kick on your front and just focus on exhalation.
- Kicking on your front. With your arms stretched out in front of you and hands placed one on top of the other, kick down the pool. Start with your head out of the water the whole time. When you can do this, move on to putting your face down in to the water between breaths – make sure you are blowing bubbles into the water! If you have fins (see tip 5) perform this exercise with them on.
Practise arm recovery on dry land.
- On dry land practise your arm recovery technique. Lie on your side with the lower arm out in front of you. Practise moving your top arm over and placing it into the ‘water' in front of you. Keep your forearm and hand totally relaxed and lead the movement from your elbow.
Progress to kicking on your side with one arm out in front for support.
- Kicking on your side. Back in the water, kick down the length again, this time on your side with the lower arm out in front and the top arm resting by your side. Start with your face out of the water all the time. As you get used to this, try putting your face in the water between breaths – look at the bottom and blow out continuously into the water. If you have fins (see tip 5) perform this exercise with them on.
Use these drills to work on different aspects of your technique before attempting the full stroke.
Even Olympic swimmers work on drills to improve and maintain their stroke technique. Drills can be fun and they break up the monotony of swimming lengths. Include them in every swimming session you do!
Tip 5 - Use Fins
We recommend you invest in some swimming flippers (called 'fins' in swimming). These are smaller and more flexible than scuba diving flippers.
We recommend you get something mid-length and floppy, e.g. USA, UK, Australia
Many of the fundamentals of freestyle swimming can be learnt more effectively with a little bit of extra propulsion from wearing fins. Use the fins to perform some of the drills and techniques we outlined in tip 4.
Wear the fins for specific exercises, not all the time. Warm up at the beginning of a session and warm down at the end of a session without them.
Some people believe that using fins in your swim training is cheating, we don't. Used in the right way for the right things they are a powerful tool to help you learn to swim.
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