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Breaking up with my freestyle.

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

I have a deep affinity for the water and have been swimming since I was a little kid. Swim team was my love, my jam. While I deeply appreciate the comfort I have with swimming and the water, the flip side is, is that you can become complacent and too comfortable with your stroke.

It has been a long time since someone really analyzed my stroke for me and so a few weeks ago, I mentioned to one of the coaches at the pool I regularly swim at that I felt like my stroke was in need of fine tuning. As a veteran swimmer, this is humbling statement to utter aloud, especially to someone who could potentially pick my stroke apart. And pick it apart, he did.

There was a part of me was reluctant to hear the feedback, as I've been pretty content with my swim progress over the last year. In 2017, when I competed in my first triathlon in over a decade, I came out of the water 4th out of 150 swimmers in my wave. So, why mess with things?

Breaking it down...

The kick and hip rotation. As I had anticipated, he pointed out that I really have no kick to speak of and my upper body was doing the bulk of the work. As triathletes, we often hear that we don't have solid kicks and I've noticed a lot of banter on triathlon forums and Facebook tri pages that triathletes should save their legs for the bike and run. In theory, that sounds logical — but in reality, it's not. Kicking helps us to maintain an efficient body position, and if done effectively, should reduce your drag. I've been doing a variety of kicking drills with and without fins. These drills have been super helpful. I've become very aware of my body position, what my hips are doing (or not doing), whether or not my core is engaged, and perhaps most importantly, what part of my body is driving my rotation. Prior to working with this coach, my freestyle rotation has been driven by my upper body, leaving my lower body flat and creating drag — and putting added strain on my shoulders. Now, I will continue to undo that lifelong habit by engaging my core and using my hips to drive me forward and lengthen me out, instead of swimming flat.

Catch and pull. I'm a child of the 70s and was taught how to swim using the S-shape technique, causing your thumb to enter the water first. Instead of pulling the water back behind me I was coached to press the water down, which is less efficient. The S-shape stroke can also cause your legs to kick out wide. I've been focusing on relaxing my hand and a high elbow recovery. A high elbow helps maximize the pull and an efficient forward motion. What's fascinating to me is that I truly thought I was swimming with a high elbow recovery and to my surprise, there was definitely room for improvement with that part of my stroke. For the pull, I am practicing pulling through the water completely and flicking the water out behind me. It would appear that I wasn't pulling through to my hips and ending my pull too soon.

Head placement. My head has a tendency to migrate up, which can possibly be attributed to sighting in OWS and looking for the wall at the opposite end of the pool to anticipate when to flip turn. How do you change this habit? We've incorporated a focus on head placement while performing drills. I've found one in particular that has been helpful. Swimming with fins and my arms at my side, I focus on keeping my head in a neutral position and staring down at that black line as I kick. If I feel my head head starting to migrate up, I adjust and bring it back to that neutral position. Why is it important to look down when swimming? If your head is elevated you are creating frontal drag and your body will be out of alignment.

Changing my stroke (and mindset) at 51 is quite challenging. I leave the swim sessions with my coach feeling mentally exhausted, as I'm working to adjust a stroke that I've been together with for many, many years. It's a work in progress — and I'm super excited to see where my stroke is in a few months.

Check out the new move of the week video: Side Plank Leg Raise with Band

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