There is some debate going on in the triathlon world about whether or not it is important to have a long stroke in freestyle, and if so, how can this be developed?
Having a long stroke means extending your arm and gliding with each arm stroke. It also means getting more out of your stroke while saving energy (ideal for triathletes).
Don't get me wrong, you can achieve a lot with a shorter stroke—in fact, you can go very fast this way. However, for most people, especially the beginner crowd, this stroke is just not efficient enough to allow them to swim half a mile to a mile and still have a good amount of energy to tackle 20 to 40 miles on the bike before an additional five- to 10-mile run.
The mistake people make is comparing competitive swimmers who swim 50, 100, 200, or 400 meters as either an all-out sprint or a controlled sprint to triathletes, who swim much further and have to complete a race lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 10 hours.
Here are some five ways to achieve a longer, more fluid, more efficient freestyle:
1. Practice Kicking on Your Side
This will improve your balance in the water and aid in your ability to extend and glide. By all means use fins! I recommend getting a pair of Zoomers from Finis, which will help your swim in so many ways.
2. Count Your Strokes
Start by just keeping track of how many strokes you take per length when you swim. Then, begin to work on ways to lower this stroke count. Hint: Do not just kick harder to achieve a lower count. This defeats the purpose of the drill.
3. Play Golf
Well, not really golf like the game invented in Scotland. Free golf! Do a set of 6x50. Count your strokes, and lower your stroke count for each 50. Also, keep track of your time on these. Try to maintain your pace as you drop the number of strokes you are taking for each 50.
4. Swim With Your Fists
Alternate a few lengths of swimming with your hands clenched in fists with one or two lengths of regular, open-handed swimming. This will force you to use your hips more as you swim, and you will not be able to "muscle" through the water.
5. Use This Paddle
OK, I've been hard on paddles in the past. But the Freestyler (also by Finis) is different—it actually forces you to do proper hand entry, glide and pull. Also, they do not cause shoulder problems. Use these for a long swim and then take them off for a few lengths. You will be amazed at how fluid you will feel.
While you may not ever become a top-notch freestyle sprinter, learning how to lengthen your freestyle will pay off in a faster overall triathlon.
Kevin coaches sessions for Masters swimming and triathletes in San Diego, and conducts a variety of clinics, private lessons and video-analysis of personal swim style with critique and correction. He has helped professional Ironman triathletes reach their goal, but his passion is to give the new triathlete the confidence to be successful in the swim portion of the race. He also runs the websites www.triswimcoachonline.com and www.triswimcoach.com, where you can find his products, including The Essential Triathlon Swimming DVD and The Complete Guide to Triathlon Swimming.