Whether your idol is the 100m sprinter Simone Manuel or the distance specialist Katie Ledecky, you can learn something each one has in common that will help your own swimming.
Because water is 800 times more dense than air, anything we can do in the water to streamline our body and reduce resistance helps us conserve forward momentum and maintain speed.
One of the more common swimming flaws that most of either have or have overcome is something called “crossover”. Crossover occurs when the leading arm either crosses over the midline in the freestyle stroke, or less dramatically, is no longer parallel to the direction of travel.
Swimming is a dynamic sport, and your arm cycles through a recovery in the air, entry into the water, extension before the stroke, and then the mechanics of the underwater portion of the stroke.
But well before the catch needs to be a concern to most swimmers, from fitness freestylers to podium chasing triathletes, the concept of streamlining, alignment and posture must be addressed!
Let’s look at the two example mentioned int he opening paragraph.
Katie Ledecky from overhead in the final 150m of her world record swim.
Look at the alignment shown by all the swimmers on the first overhead view…every arm is extended in a line that is parallel to the edges of the pool, to the lane ropes, to the midline of their body, and pointed in the same direction that they want to travel! In the close up view from the right, Katie’s alignment is much easier to appreciate. The photo on the left is from the 800 and the one on the right is from her 400m swim. The same alignment principals stand in either case.
Now lets take a look at Simone Manual’s form in the 100m sprint…a much different race!
Again in the overhead view of all 8 swimmers look at how the leading arm points in the same direction of travel without deviating significantly outside the body line or towards the midline. Definitely nothing even close to crossing over.
The precision these swimmers execute while rotating, entering, extending and rotating the opposite way requires them to have practiced this alignment in dynamic motion at slower speeds over and over and over and over again.
The real purpose of doing a drill is not to hope that you imprint a certain skill for a few hundred meters in your workout, but rather that you gain an awareness of that aspect of your technique so you can then implement it in your swimming practice as well.
So how to practice this? Hand lead streamlining, sometimes known as Skating, single arm kick, or statue of liberty is one of the best ways to gain awareness of this alignment and feeling of the arm being parallel to the lane line or to the painted line on the bottom of the pool.
Once you gain awareness of this position while drilling, try swimming just 3-5 strokes and focus on aligning your lead arm parallel to the lane line or pool’s edge while entering and extending. As your body rotates you’ll feel your shoulder & armpit slide open and to the side a little bit in order to keep your alignment.
If your shoulder muscle remains rigid and stiff or tries to stroke too early, you’ll miss this important opportunity to swim like an Olympian!