When it comes to cycling, much is made of manoeuvring yourself into a streamlined position. The aim? To reduce your frontal profile. In turn, air resistance is less, meaning you roll further for every revolution. The same is true when it comes to swim propulsion. By making yourself as aerodynamic as possible, the impact of drag is reduced, ensuring you save energy and increase speed; in fact, it’s perhaps even more important than on the bike as water is 750 times denser than air. So how do you achieve a more speed-friendly position? That’s a very good question…
Learn to relax
Starting from the top, you don’t need us to tell you how important it is to swim with a sense of relaxation. This relatively straightforward aspect of swimming frequently eludes many triathletes because of an impending sense of urgency and intensity to keep up or increase swimming speed. The good news is, at this time of year, you can take a step back from all the effort and determination that goes into racing and work on developing a smoother, relaxed and more efficient swimming stroke, without feeling you’re being left behind.
A quick word to the wise: in order to effect change, it’s essential that you work with more control and feel within the water environment. The practices prescribed here will, at first, feel considerably slower and, at times, more frustrating due to the lack of momentum, which will be missing by not performing the complete swimming stroke.
Improving your component skills will require a great deal of repeated practice – so stick with it. These drills are effective and the systematic order of the progressions will help you build a key foundation to your new, improved swimming technique.
They’ll help you to develop a much greater sense of control, relaxation and awareness of your own body balance in the water. Repeat these drills every time you visit the pool and you’ll find that, within a week or two, you’ll improve on these skills dramatically.
Remember: your head position is important. If you lift your head high during any of these drills, you’ll find it extremely difficult to stay level in the water.
1. Learning to relax
Perform a mushroom float in the water. Take a deep breath and gently hug your knees underneath you. Hold your breath for up to 15secs and, as the seconds tick by, try to relax as much as possible within the held position. You’ll most likely find that you gradually float upward so that your back bobs on the surface of the water. An unfortunate few will gradually sink due to your high body density. This isn’t a major issue as far as swimming is concerned, but highlights the fact that the correct body balance and stroke technique will be essential if you’re going to swim to your potential.
2. Relax in a horizontal floating position
This floating drill is performed with a pull buoy between your thighs to give your legs some added support and buoyancy. The important points are to keep your head in a neutral position and hold your arms out to your sides, just above a crucifix position. This drill feels great and you’ll experience how relaxing a flotation chamber might be. As you can see from the pictures, this really puts you in an excellent horizontal position that’ll help greatly when we come to introduce the swim strokes.
3. The front-streamlined kick position
The front-streamlined kicking drill is an excellent way to learn how to maintain a streamlined horizontal position while moving forward. Overlap your hands and stretch them out in front of you. You’ll notice how low your head is, as it’s tucked down between your extended arms. “When do you breathe?” we hear you ask. Try not to! The idea is that you try to remain relaxed and kick in this position as far as possible before taking a breath – normally between 15-25m will suffice. Practise kicking in this position repeatedly over short distances. Fins will help with momentum and allow the legs to be effective so that you can experience a sense of speed. Learn to do this drill well before you progress to the next drill.
4. Streamlined kick with one arm extended
There are two advantages of performing this drill well. Firstly, you’re learning how to rotate your body without causing disruption to your streamlined position. Secondly, you’re practising learning how to breathe in and out in time with the rotation of your body. Both of these aspects will make life much easier when the complete swimming stroke is performed.
To practise this drill efficiently, hold a small float in your extended hand while your opposite arm remains still by your side . Using a positive and continuous leg action, preferably with fins, roll your body slowly to one side only, in order to practise the breathing cycle . Don’t forget to exhale into the water just prior to rolling to the side. The important points of this drill are to guarantee that your body remains in a horizontal position when you roll to the side to breathe in . Also, make sure that you return your head all the way back to the centre as you roll back to the mid-line. Notice that your head is still held in a low position at this stage of development.
5. Full-body rotation drill with breathing
This drill will help you develop a slow and controlled body rotation while, at the same time, learning how to integrate the breathing cycle on both sides of your body. It’s vital that you use fins during this drill, and kick with a vigorous and consistent leg action; the legs provide all of the momentum and the stability while you roll to breathe. Keep both arms by your sides  and, while keeping your body in a horizontal plane, slowly rotate around the body’s central axis to firstly breathe in on one side [2-3]. Then, slowly rotate back to the mid-line, where you’ll exhale just as you roll towards the opposite side to breathe in once again.