Q & A With Natalie Coughlin: Body Position and Stroke Technique

Head and Neck Alignment

Q: I was told by a coach that direct alignment of the head and neck puts the head too far into the water, increasing the surface area over which drag develops. Wouldn't it be better to be looking forward such that the top of the head, at least, is free of the water and thus free of drag?

A: No. Your body position in the water should be like good posture on land. This means, your head and neck are in line with the body. Not only does this have less drag than looking forward, but this is also how we were anatomically designed to function. Looking forward creates unnecessary neck and shoulder tension—which can lead to injury—and it completely ruins your body position in the water.

Improving Your Stroke Count

Q: I just started swimming, and I am struggling with my stroke count, which varies from 17 to 20. Is there one specific skill set I should focus on?

A: Two things: body position and balance in your stroke. Your body position in the water should be like good posture on land. This means your head and neck are in line with your body.

Bilateral breathing, in addition to an equal pull on the water, will help your balance in your stroke. This should help you maintain your speed in the water, and therefore your efficiency and, consequently, your stroke count will improve.

Improving Your Catch

Q: I'm an open water swimmer. I have been working to improve my catch. Any tips?

A: It sounds counterintuitive, but make sure you're not overextending your reach into your catch. Maintain a slight curve in your arms and keep your lats engaged. This way, when you enter your catch your pull is set up for you. (If you overextend, there's a lag that will hurt your efficiency.)

Fingers Open or Closed?

Q: I noticed that in your freestyle you are swimming with your fingers apart. Are you supposed to cup your hands?

A: Having your fingers slightly apart is fine as long as you're not spreading your fingers apart. Don't worry about cupping your hands—that's a waste of time and effort. Simply make sure your hand is in line with your forearm so that you are extending your hold on the water.

Strength Training for Swimmers

Q: I am coaching my daughter, who is getting ready to enlist in the Marines, with her swimming. I'd like to know what weight lifting routines you recommend for freestyle and butterfly strokes?

A: For the most part, you don't need to do different weight routines for different strokes. Do exercises that force you to incorporate many muscles groups at the same time (especially your core) and ones that emphasize balance. Also, I would recommend super-setting your exercises (doing different exercises one after the other with no rest between them) to keep your heart rate up while working on your strength.

Natalie's Music to Swim By

Q: Natalie, what music do you listen to when you swim?

A: Always depends on my mood. I like anything from pop, to rock, to hip hop, to alternative.

Visit H2O Audio's Ask Natalie page to post your question on technique, training, nutrition or whatever swimming query you have. And for more from Natalie Coughlin, watch her swimming video tips, presented by H2O Audio.

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