In this article I will focus on the front-crawl which is the fastest of all strokes. As a swimming teacher in London I have come across many clients who have asked me “How do I swim faster?” In my opinion, the real gains are to be made in the stroke. The legs play a part in propulsion but their main purpose is for balance. Current studies are showing around 6% of the propulsion in front crawl comes from the legs. That leaves 94% coming from the arms. So, the arms play a significant role in answering the question how do I swim faster?
Components of the stroke
The stroke is composed of 5 parts. The entry, catch, pull, push and recovery. Some swimming teachers i have met prefer a pitched entry and some a “finger tips first entry” I strongly believe in the pitched entry as it creates less turbulence in the water. If you imagine a boat going through choppy seas, does it go slower or faster? When the entry is hard and splashy then the body which automatically comes after the arm is likely to be slowed down, albeit by a very marginal amount.
To clarify, the entry should be soft and gentle creating less turbulence in the water. The catch or early vertical forearm is another part of the stroke which should be made gently as if force is applied here it creates upwards force when the goal is to travel forwards through the water. This wastes valuable energy which could be used more efficiently in the ‘pull and push’ phases. The pull is very important if you want to travel faster.
How to pull correctly in Swimming
I have seen countless swimmers do what I would describe as ‘move their hand through the water’ when what you want to do is to lever your body over the water to get the desired effect. The benefit of pushing back against the water with a bent arm is simple. You are stronger! If you don’t believe me try climbing out of the water with straight arms. Check out this underwater footage of Sun Yang. https://youtu.be/XvM3JYC–hM
If your fingers are tense then you use the forearm to pull yourself forward instead of the lats and tri-ceps. The push of the stroke is important but not as important as the pull phase. Pushing past the hips creates minimal propulsion and and a full extension of the arm should be avoided before moving into the recovery. This leads to an almost mechanical movement which water does not respond well to as it prefers a more continuous flowing motion.
The last phase is the recovery. The main purpose is to rest. Lead with the elbow not the hand and have the wrist relaxed which brings us full circle.