Fitness Makeover: A checklist for proper swim form

L.A. news anchor David Ono
It was only a matter of time. Bound to happen. Inevitable.

Fitness Makeover has finally gone "Hollywood"! Julys makeover candidate is special in that hes our first celebrity guest. David Ono, major news anchor for Los Angeles award-winning Channel 7 KABC news, offered himself up to be under the microscope in hopes of improving his swimming skills.

An avid cyclist and dedicated runner, David is preparing for a one-mile ocean swim and a celebrity-fund-raiser triathlon later this summer. He has what seems to be a commonly recurring problem with our readers: He cant swim nearly as well as he can move on land, and needs help fast.

Given that his one-mile ocean swim is in mid-July, I had my work cut out for me. How could I help David become a better swimmer in such a short time? While three weeks is too short a time to see marked improvements in overall conditioning, it is plenty of time to make immediate changes to ones stroke to improve efficiency in the water.

So while David may need to dedicate himself to swimming more for the remainder of the summer (in time for his September triathlon), he can immediately prepare for his upcoming ocean swim by making a few key changes to his technique.

I met with David at the world-famous watering hole known as the Rosebowl Aquatic Center in Pasadena (celebrities are always spotted at local "watering holes," although in Davids case the term is to be taken more literally; the Rosebowl Aquatic Center is an Olympic-sized swimming facility, not a trendy restaurant).

Analyzing his freestyle stroke over the course of a few laps, I determined that David had a few common technique problems that needed to be corrected. Below is a checklist of areas for improvement that David needs to make; it is a great list for anyone, as the problems he has are common weaknesses that even the worlds best swimmers tend to make once they get tired.

Shoulder rotation
David has a smooth, rhythmic turnover, but he is not maximizing his potential underwater pull because his shoulders stay very flat in the water during his stroke. An important part of swimming freestyle efficiently is to incorporate a shoulder roll with each stroke: As your hand enters the water in front of your head, rotate/stretch your shoulder forwards, extending your reach an additional 6 inches in front of you. This serves to lengthen your stroke and maximize the water you pull, so that you propel yourself forward more efficiently.

Leading with your forearm
A common problem amongst swimmers is that in the underwater part of their stroke, they lead with their elbows instead of their forearm. In doing so, they miss out on maximum propulsion underwater. Leading with the elbow is easier and puts less strain on the shoulders, but its inefficient and incorrect. Always concentrate on starting your underwater pull with your wrist and forearm, followed by the elbow and upper arm. Picture yourself lying over a row of barrels and pulling yourself over them, one with each stroke. As you reach over each imaginary barrel, you pull yourself forwards with your forearm first, and as you make your way over the barrel you utilize your upper arm later in the stroke.

Finishing your stroke
At the very end of the stroke, before you bring your arm out of the water for the "recovery," remember to finish your stroke by extending your tricep all the way so that your arm is almost fully extended behind you as you bring it out of the water. If done correctly, your thumb should be down by your upper thigh (not your hip or love-handle area, if you have one!) as you bring your hand up to resume your stroke. Most swimmers, as they get tired, tend to shorten their stroke in the back, taking more inefficient strokes per lap and tiring themselves out before their time. It takes a lot of discipline to remember to always finish your stroke, even when your triceps are burning, but it will help in the long run.

Head position
David tends to drop his head low in the water, looking straight down and tucking his chin into his chest. This serves to put the brakes on his stroke, because he is breaking the water with the top of his head (the part with the most surface area). Instead, he needs to focus on keeping his head upturned slightly, breaking the surface with his crown (the upper part of his forehead where a baseball hats brim might rest). This way, he breaks the water with the least amount of surface area, allowing him to torpedo through the water more efficiently (think of a boat vs. a barge; the boat has a pointed bow for speed, while a barge has a flat front, and moves slowly).

Breathing
Always try to breathe on both sides, the right and left. This serves two purposes: It allows you to keep your stroke balanced and directly ties in with the shoulder rotation movement, while also providing you with an opportunity to see competitors on either side of you. Non-bilateral breathers tend to swim crooked (veering off in the direction that they are breathing) while being at a competitive disadvantage because they cannot see opponents on their non-breathing side. Bilateral breathing also serves to keep your spine and neck flexible and cramp-free.

I promised David that he would notice improvements in his efficiency within a few weeks; just in time for his ocean swim. His biggest obstacle aside from these stroke alterations seemed to be his self-confidence. Having never done an ocean swim before, he was nervous about finishing dead last, and about what surprises the ocean had in store. While I could not guarantee his place-finish, I reassured him that the best way he could gain confidence would be to do a few practice swims with a partner in open water.

Rip currents were a concern, but I reminded him that race officials were a responsible bunch who would not plan a race in dangerous spots, and any race will have plenty of guards in boats and on surfboards for assistance.

Also, I pointed out that by training in a pool he was actually going to have an easier time in the ocean; not only will he be in saltwater (making him more buoyant), but he will have a buoyant wetsuit as well. Swimming with a wetsuit in saltwater is a lot easier than swimming without one in a pool. The added buoyancy will give David a higher body position while making him "lighter" in the water, and he will swim faster while not fatiguing as easily.

Given that the events David will be competing in are for a worthy cause (and will probably be featured in the news as part of his stations promotional efforts), I feel a lot of pressure to deliver results for this newsworthy guy. As hardworking as he is in front of the camera, David also commits to at least 15 hours a week for his training. With a little more swimming and attention to technique, he will see his endurance and comfort in the water improve in no time.

Lastly, its clear that David is one of the few celebrities Ive met who isnt afraid to get his hair wet and in this town, thats saying a lot!

If you are interested in being the subject of a Fitness Makeover, please e-mail your questions to Alex, and include a phone number where you can be reached upon your selection.

Get advice for getting back on track with Alex's Fitness Makeover column

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