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The 5 Biggest Freestyle Swimming Mistakes

If you’re stuck with your swimming, skill is the key to speed.

Faster swimmers are BETTER swimmers.

If you want to go faster or longer, you’re going to need make some changes to how you swim.

Of course, you don’t want to waste your time and energy on skills that won’t make a big impact.

What kind of investment would that be?

Instead, you want to work on fixing the biggest mistakes so you can get the most speed out from the effort you put in.

To help you improve as quickly as possible, today, I’m going to describe the biggest mistakes that triathletes make in their swimming.

I’m going to describe why they’re problematic.

Most importantly, I’m going to show you the simplest ways to create change.

You’ll notice that I don’t really tell you what to THINK about.

I show you the best exercises for helping you FEEL these key skills.

Learning skills is a sensory experience, and the better you can feel, the faster you can change, which means better swimming is in your future.

1. Sinking Legs

Learning to manage body position in the water is challenging.

It requires a skillset that’s not like any other on land.

As a result, many struggle with this skill, and it’s almost universally present in those without a lot of swimming experience.

Many triathletes swim with their hips and feet well below the surface.

Why does it matter?

Swimming with sinking legs is like swimming with a parachute.

It’s putting on the brakes!

That means slow swimming and HARD swimming.

Worse still, the instinct is to KICK to compensate for the low legs.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t do much to solve the problem, but it does expend a lot of energy, hurting your endurance.

Hopefully, you can see why this is a problem.

Here’s how you fix that problem.

You learn what it feels like to be supported in the water by your lungs.

You learn what feels like to create tension in the back of the body.

Your lungs hold you up so you can pull your legs up the surface.

Once you can feel what that tension is like, you can hold that tension when you swim.

All of a sudden, your legs are riding higher and you’re swimming easier.

Use this exercise to learn to create tension in the back of your body, and your sinking legs will improve significantly.

2. Dropped Elbow

You can have perfect body position, but without an effective pull, you’re not going anywhere.

Ideally, the hand should be deeper than the elbow throughout the stroke.

If it is, that means you can use the forearm AND the hand to pull.

One of the biggest mistakes that swimmers make when pulling is pulling the elbow back first rather than pulling the elbow and the hand back together.

That means the elbow is moving back faster than the hand.

When that happens, the elbow and the hand are going to be at approximately the same depth.

In other words, the elbow has ‘dropped’ and is now level with the hand.

That’s bad news because then you can’t use your forearm to pull with!

The goal is to pull back with the hand and the elbow in the same position throughout.

One of the big challenges with fixing a dropped elbow that it’s really hard to know what it feels like, especially since it’s a movement you’d pretty much never perform on land.

Fortunately, there’s a solution that lets you FEEL this key skill, even if you don’t understand it.

That’s WAY more important than understanding the details.

Just place your forearms and hands on the deck and then press into the deck, lifting the body slightly.

When you press down, you HAVE to press with the whole arm at the same time.

The wall makes you!

It makes an abstract concept immediately tangible.

This is a powerful tool for creating change.

All you have to do is recreate the same sensations when you’re swimming, and you’ll be well on your way to improving a dropped elbow.

3. Hook Breath

If we didn’t have to breathe while swimming, it would solve a LOT of problems.

Swimming is the only sport where you have to strictly regulate your breathing AND perform a highly technical movement just to get air.

Is it any wonder that it’s tough to do really well?

A great breath is defined by absence- less is more.

It should be small, it should be fast, and it should be tight.

Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of what most triathletes do.

The breath is big, slow, and loose.

I call it a hook breath, because it looks like a fishing hook is caught in their mouth, and their head is getting yanked out of the water.

The head comes up and gets pulled to the side during the breath.

The goal is to breathe without lifting the head up, or pulling it to the side.

Why does it matter?

Where the head goes, the body goes.

Picking the head up is going to push the hips down.

Moving the head to the side is going to send the hips and shoulders to the side.

That’s going to create a lot of drag and slow you down big time.

The challenge is that if you’re making this mistake, it doesn’t FEEL like you’re doing anything wrong.

So, if you just try to think about it and stay low with the breath, not a whole lot is going to change.

You need a strategy that helps you FEEL better breathing.

Just throw a paddle on your head and try to breathe with the paddle on your head.

If you lift your head up, the paddle comes off.

If you pull your head to the side, the paddle comes off.

This is instant feedback.

For many, it is REALLY frustrating.

However, that just means you have an opportunity.

When you can get to the point where you figure it out, you’ve got your breath sorted out.

You KNOW it’s good.

It may take longer than you’d like, but when you get it, it’s FIXED.

Just thinking about it is isn’t going to get the job done.

Take the time to fix it for sure and you’ll be swimming straighter, faster, and with less effort.

4. Powerless Pull

If you want to swim fast, you need to accelerate your hands through the pull.

However, many triathletes simply move their hands through the water at the same speed throughout the pull.

The hand never gets moving, and that’s a big mistake.

It’s almost impossible to create effective propulsion without picking up the speed of the hand during the pull.

If there’s one thing that’s consistently demonstrated in the skills of elite swimmers and in the scientific research, it’s that accelerating your hand throughout the pull will help you go faster.

Unfortunately, it something you see all the time.

Fortunately, the problem isn’t particularly difficult one to solve.

Now, you can take a cognitive approach to the problem.

You could think about throwing water towards your feet, or accelerating your hand likes it’s a rocket ship.

However, I’d rather you FEEL what’s it’s like to accelerate the arms during the pull.

This exercise is where it’s at.

It lets you focus all of your energy on the pull, without any distractions.

It lets you work on creating a lot of power.

Now when you’re using this exercise, don’t just perform the motion.

Aim to improve your performance.

Try to take fewer strokes per lap.

Try to go faster.

The only way to achieve these outcomes is to accelerate the hands and create some power.

It might take you a few tries, but you’ll start to figure out how to achieve these performances by accelerating the hands.

Because you might not be sure whether you’re executing the skill correctly, having concrete numbers will give you a clear indication as to whether you’re on track, or whether you need to switch it up.

That’s the key to putting some power into your pull.

5. Swimming Flat

Ever seen someone swimming wiggling through the water?

It’s almost ALWAYS because they’re swimming flat.

They’re not rotating their body.

When that happens, the only option is recover the arms low over the water.

That makes the shoulder wiggle back and forth which makes the hips wiggle back and forth.

All of a sudden, there’ more side-to-side swimming than straight forward swimming.

That’s going to really slow you down by creating drag.

Worse still, it’s going to be hard to pull effectively because your arms are going to be all over the place.

You have to learn to rotate.

Unfortunately, a lot of rotation drills fall short in helping you fix this problem.

While they do get you on your side, they do so in a way that’s VERY different from swimming.

You’re never going to get that far on your side or stay there.

The rhythm and timing are too different.

The solution is underwater recovery freestyle.

It forces you to rotate the shoulders and it forces you to do so at the right time.

It helps you learn how to keep the body straight, without bending side to side.

Best of all, these changes tend to happen naturally, without much conscious effort.

Just reach and drive forward and everything happens naturally.

If you find yourself swimming flat, use this exercise to get some rotation back into your stroke naturally, and the transition to regular freestyle will be much smoother.

There you have it.

Those are the 5 biggest mistakes that triathletes make in their swimming.

If there’s one that resonates with you, get working on it right away.

Use the strategies that help you FEEL the possibility for change, and you’ll be much more likely to get the results you want, faster than you thought possible.

Keep it simple…


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