Brought to you by the Department
of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia
A swimsuit…a pair of goggles…a swim partner or lifeguard…and
a pool are all you need for splashing around or swimming laps. A swimsuit
saves you embarrassment (or keeps you out of jail). Goggles keep water
out of your eyes. A swim partner or lifeguard offers a measure of safety
and a pool gets you wet! Children (and adults) unable to swim should be
attended closely by an adult when in the water.
Optional equipment includes swim fins, kickboards,
hand paddles, and leg floats. Swim fins provide your lower body (muscles
of the hips and knees) with a good workout and improve the flexibility
of your ankles. Swim fins also enable you to swim faster. The remaining
equipment (kickboard, hand paddles, and leg floats) should be used only
by those whose swim technique is sound (see the General
Technique Tips below).
?Did you know that humans are the
only mammals that must learn how to swim?
Freestyle or Crawl: The fastest, most
efficient, and most popular stroke.
Breaststroke: Good choice for variety
and injured shoulders.
Butterfly: The most difficult to master,
but impressive to watch when done well.
Backstroke: Keeps the face out of the
water and can be quite leisurely.
Sidestroke: The safety stroke all lifeguards
must master but also offers recreational swimmers more variety in underwater
All other mammals have an instinctive ability to
swim. Regardless of your stroke choice, it is important to understand that
technique is critically important - the wrong technique will likely cause
injury and hinder efficient progress through the water. You will improve
your swimming performance most readily by eliminating resistance. Stroking
furiously in the water does not necessarily propel you faster, it only
exhausts you faster!
General Technique Tips:
Even if you are a recreational swimmer, you will benefit from this
advice. Swim speed, or velocity, is the product of Stroke Length (SL)
and Stroke Frequency (SF). Increasing the SL (distance traveled
per stroke) requires that you first learn to reduce resistance to forward
progress. After perfecting a position of low resistance, you can then add
power to your stroke. This power originates in the hips and is translated
up through the torso to the shoulder. SF is not as important as
SL. World class swimmers are not fast and efficient because they
take frequent strokes. They are fast and efficient
because they travel further in the water with each stroke.
The following tips should help you maximize SL, improve efficiency,
and minimize risk of injury.
It helps to realize that good swim technique
takes time to develop and regular practice to maintain. See the sample
workouts below to improve
or maintain your good form. Don’t risk injury by swimming at high intensities
with poor technique!
Buoyancy varies from person to person (some are natural
sinkers), so make the best of what you have. You will find that your swim
speed improves as you take advantage of your buoyancy (no matter how small).
You will find your center of buoyancy in the region of your sternum. By
balancing yourself on your center of buoyancy (especially in the crawl,
breast, and back strokes) you will move more easily in the water. Here’s
a secret of world class swimmers: Balance yourself by consciously
pushing or pressing your upper chest into the water. This maneuver
brings your hips closer to the surface and reduces your frontal resistance.
Rowing sculls are long and narrow. This shape reduces
water resistance to forward progress. What can you do? Maintain
a long, streamlined body. Between strokes pause slightly (with one
hand extended in front of you) - this introduces a longer glide and streamlines
your body (making it long and narrow) as it is propelled.
When swimming backstroke and freestyle, rotate the body
side-to-side from the hips. It might seem like you are swimming on your
side, but this is exactly what you want. This rotation begins at the hips
and is transferred up the torso to the shoulder and arm. Just before you
begin the arm pull, you should begin to rotate in the opposite direction.
Use this rotational force (biomechanists call this torque)
to help pull you through the water. A similar series of movements is used
by major league baseball pitchers to throw 90+ MPH fastballs!
Do not force your hands through the water! As your technique
improves you should feel like you are climbing a "water ladder"
with your hands and forearms resting against solid rungs of water. This
is what collegiate coaches call a "feel for the water."
The use of equipment such as kickboards, certain hand
paddles, and leg floats should be reserved for those swimmers with firmly
established technique! Use of these pool "toys" generally alters the body’s
center of buoyancy and may harm your technique. Swim fins are acceptable
Swimming is an excellent aerobic exercise. Nearly all
the major muscle groups are recruited when you swim with the proper technique.
Also, use a variety of strokes to recruit additional muscles. MIX
Risks: If you or your children do not
know how to swim, LEARN NOW!!! Lessons for both adults and children are
usually available at your local YMCA, high school, or college. Injuries
from swimming usually occur in the shoulder. Such injuries are the result
of improper technique, overuse, and/or weakness or muscle strength imbalance
in the shoulder region.
Safety: Never swim alone! Make sure you
are familiar with the water in which you swim. Open water swimming in the
ocean or in lakes and ponds can be especially dangerous. Ocean currents
can carry you several hundred yards offshore. Lakes and ponds may have
Concerns: Without the proper training,
attempting to rescue someone can cost you your life (no matter how well
you swim or your conditioning). The American Red Cross offers water safety
courses (see Resources below).
American Red Cross
The following workout is designed primarily to improve
your technique. It is intended as the first half of 2,000-2,500 meter workout.
More advanced swimmers should consider workouts listed in J.E. Counsilman’s
book, The New Science of Swimming, 1994, Prentice-Hall, Englewood
The heart rate response to swimming
is more moderate than the response seen in dry land exercise. Consequently,
the Karvonen determination of target heart
rate should be adjusted downward 10 to 15 beats per minute for each
Warm-up: 250 to 400 meters easy crawl, breast, and back
strokes. Do not over-exert yourself!
4x50 balance drill: Scissors kick with arms extended
in front of you (without a kickboard). Your head should be in the water
and turned to the side to breathe. Consciously press your upper chest into
the water to bring your hips up. You may use swim fins if your forward
progress is slow. Pause every 25 or 50 meters to catch your breath. This
is not a race, but a drill to improve your balance in the water.
2x50 side balance drill: Scissors kick on your right
side with your right arm extended. Your head should be leaning on your
right shoulder with your mouth just above the surface. Remember to balance
properly by pressing your armpit into the water. Do 2x50 on your left side.
Again, pause every 25 or 50 meters to catch your breath.
4x50 single arm pulls: This time you will concentrate
on rolling the trunk during the pull phase of the stroke. Begin as you
did with the initial balance drill; face down, scissors kick, pressing
the chest. This time you will keep your left hand extended while you pull
your right hand through the stroke and turning your body to its left side
(you should be facing the right wall of the pool). Do not pull your arm
quickly through the water. Pull it deliberately and allow it to search
out a rung on the ladder (still water). Pause briefly on your side, your
right hand resting on your right hip. Recover the right arm close to the
body, returning it to meet the extended left hand. Perform 4x50 for the
4x50 double arm pulls: This drill brings together the
elements in the three previous drills. It is performed similarly to the
single arm pull. This time, however, you will alternate pulling right and
left arms (remembering to roll the body each time). Remember to balance
on your center of buoyancy.
Do not neglect the proper technique during the remainder
of your workout. You may finish your workout with any combination of distance
or interval workouts. Here is an example:
2x100 breast stroke
2x100 back stroke
10x50 freestyle: Rest 30-60 seconds. Count the number
of strokes with each 50 meter interval and try not to exceed 22 strokes.
Remember, good swimmers swim fast because of a long stroke length! Your
goal should be to reduce the number of strokes you take in 50 meters.
Cool-down: 150-250 meters easy stroke(s) of your choice.
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Exercise and Physical Fitness Web Page is an ongoing project by graduate
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