The key phases of Freestyle swimming – for triathletes.
In this article I am going to cover the different components of freestyle and what each phase means to us as triathletes.
The entry phase speaks for itself. This is the point at which our hand enters the water, breaking the liquid barrier. During this phase it is important that the entry of our hand into the water is outside the line of our head. The reason for this is that it prevents us essentially zig-zagging through the water, whilst also allowing the body to roll with the shoulder through the next phases. Hand positioning I believe to be less important, however fingers should break the water first to prevent the palm slapping on the top of the water.
In the open water sometimes we have to adopt a tech unique where we always have an arm out in front of us in the water, especially in rough conditions. This technique would be very similar to the catch-up drill we sometimes do in swimming.
The catch phase is the point at which we get our grip of the water. Sounds a bit stupid I know. It’s liquid, what are we grabbing onto?
Well to answer this, just think about what we are actually trying to achieve, essentially with freestyle we are trying to move our body past our anchored arm, rather than move the water underneath our body.
During the catch think about trying to grab an object whilst reaching over the top of a barre. This action puts out body in the proper position to anchor the arm against the most amount of water.
This is the most important facet of the stroke. A strong pull separates a weak swimmer from a good swimmer. The most simple and effective way to better improve this phase is positioning of the palm in the water.
At all times through the pull phase your palm must be facing toward the pool wall behind you. Not downwards like I see all the time with triathletes. Always face the palm backwards.
If your palm faces toward the bottom of the pool all you are doing is pushing down in the water, forcing your upperbody upwards, whilst sinking your bum. This generation of force downwards also means that you are not using this energy effectively as it is not getting you anywhere.
When your palm faces backwards everything happens almost automatically. Your body stays lower in the water, you are more streamlined, your drag is less, propulsion is more, and there is almost nil bouncing through the water.
Now the other important thing to remember is elbow positioning. Always keep your elbows high through the pull. Again I see a lot of athletes pushing down on the water with their forearms… this only serves to push the upper body upwards in the water – losing energy.
Remember that the forearms are part of the huge paddle. A high elbow in the water means that you will grip the liquid more effectively in the horizontal position and keeping the high elbow throughout the pull phase means WAY more propulsion in a forward direction as opposed to the upward direction.
The push phase is another critical element to freestyle swimming. This phase starts after the pull phase and when the hand position reaches the abdomen. Often this is the phase that weaker swimmers do not even use.
The push literally means to push. Our hand is no longer in front of us, it is now behind the main part of our torso, and now you are going to push the water backwards until your hand leaves the water. A strong push phase can give you an extra 20cm of distance on each stroke, and it doesn’t use a lot of energy or strength to complete.
Now this is the point that as a coach and athlete I am very lenient on. The recovery phase is just after your hand leaves the water, and until it goes back into the water.
It is the arc where there is little or no resistance.
During this phase I couldn’t care less what your arm does as long as it is not impeding or loading musculoskeletal structure in the shoulder joints or active muscle groups.
To sum it all up, as triathletes we should be striving for an economical and fast effort in the water. Although this leg is sometimes overlooked as it is the shortest of the three, it is important to note that a great swim will always put the athlete in a superior position in all races, as he/she can than have a strong lead on the bike.
3 sessions each week is all it takes for a person to SIGNIFICANTLY improve swimming performance.