Usually, the swim is my weakest event in a triathlon. Not that I haven't worked to get faster. I have been swim training since 1991, was coached in the pool over a decade, have been swimming masters workouts since 2000 and even wrote the workouts for our group for several years.
POOR FORM EQUALS SLOWER TIMES
I find swimming to be more like golf and speed skating (other sports I have pursued) than running and biking, in that form matters most in swimming, golf and speed skating when it comes to performance. If you swim with poor form, you swim slower. It's that simple! (Not that form does not count in biking and running: It does. More on that in a moment.)
The importance of form in swimming has been brought home to me again over the last month as I have resumed twice-a-week masters swim workouts. I had an 18-month hiatus from swimming masters workouts because of health reasons and then a move halfway across the country. Lap times I could easily hit in 2015 are a challenge in 2017. Yes, some of my slowness is due to lack of swim conditioning, but I came to the pool in good shape and after a month I am in better shape.
Anyway, this morning as I was only able to make my intervals on 200, 100 and 50 sets when I swam hard, I began to pick apart the problem. Yes, I still am hardly in top swim condition. But the other half of the answer had to be in my form.
If you swim, you likely know at least the basics of good freestyle swimming form. Here are 15 "essentials" of good swim form for triathletes:
- Think "long and lean."
- Keep your forehead just below the surface of the water.
- Swim "downhill," don't drag your feet; press down on your chest to get your hips and legs up.
- Keep your elbows high on the stroke: think of the motion as similar to pulling your hand out of your front pants pocket.
- Rotate your torso to the stroke side, but not over 45 degrees: Rotate your hips and shoulders, not your head and feet, around your spine.
- Reach forward with just a slightly bent arm, but don't cross over your body's midline.
- End your forward reach under water, not in the air.
- Stay at full arm extension for a moment at the end of your reach and glide; try to limit your stroke count.
- Cup your hand on entry, fingers together, palm down, thumb entering first.
- Make an "S" pull across your abdomen (not exaggerated, however)
- Fully extend your arm behind you, thumb grazing thigh.
- Rotate your head 90 degrees (just one eye out of the water), looking just slightly ahead; don't lift your head out of the water to breath!
- Exhale under water.
- Kick from your hips, not your knees, point your toes and slap the surface of the water with the tops of your feet: Relax when you kick!
- Focus on swimming from your core rather than thinking of swimming being all "arms and legs."
As I focused on various aspects of my form, keeping my elbows up, reaching and rotating helped my times, but they still were pretty sad. Then came the "aha!" moment: I had relapsed into my long-time bad habit of kicking from my knees, even in spite my board and fins kicking warm-up drill where I concentrated on not doing just that!
On my final 100 and 50s I made sure to kick from my hips and think about swimming downhill to get my feet up rather than dragging them. The result: On my last hard 50 I cut 7 seconds off of my previous "fast" time. Indeed, swim form is really important!
FORM MATTERS IN BIKING AND RUNNING, TOO
This post is about swim form, but I don't want to leave the impression that form on the bike and in running does not matter. Here are just a few of many ways form makes a difference in biking and swimming.
Biking is an aerodynamic sport, so presenting minimum front to the wind without impeding power matters. Also, a poor pedal stroke sacrifices power: The pull up is often ignored by newbie riders. Likewise riding a straight line (rather than wandering or wobbling) is important for speed.
In distance running, over-striding is a common error that slows the runner and can lead to injury. Knee lift adds speed. Landing midfoot rather than on the heel absorbs shock and enables a good push-off. A slight forward lean engages gravity to the runner's benefit.
In the future I will elaborate on good biking and running form. For now, the message is, form counts, in and out of the water. As we train, we need to work on improving our form for better racing results.