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Use your body’s core muscles to improve swim stroke efficiency

Use your body’s core muscles to improve swim stroke efficiency

Top triathlon coach Darren Smith explains why technique is as important as strength when it comes to maximising power transfer through the water

How using your core will help your swim

Do you rely on your arms to propel you through the water? Top coach Darren Smith explains why using your body’s core muscles is the key to swimming faster with better technique – and describes how to achieve this.

There are a number of reasons why I think the core is the key to swimming faster but the main one is I simply don’t believe that the ‘pulling’ muscles of the arms are the prime movers for technically good swimming. So, for me, strengthening these is totally unproductive.

Forget biceps curls, chest presses, lat pull-downs and the like. Instead strengthen the muscles of the shoulders and around the shoulder blades, so you can ‘hold’ the ‘paddle’ [your arm] in place as your body moves past it. And strengthen the core so you can hold a streamlined torso. These are both really useful.

You can achieve these adaptations by swimming with added resistance, gym work or stretch chord work, or a combination of the three. The bottom line, however, is that you’re trying to apply force to a very slippery medium (water) with a not particularly well-designed paddle (your forearm and hand), so any power gains must be matched by improvements in your technique to enable you to use this extra ability.

Here’s a guide to getting started:

Instead of a hand that pulls past your body, see your forearm and hand as a paddle that holds its position in the water as your body is pulled past (as if you were kayaking).

With your right ‘paddle’ in the water and body on a subtle angle, attempt to ‘spiral’ your left hip forward, across and towards the right paddle. In effect you’re using the front part of your body on the diagonal line between the paddle and opposite hip to generate movement.

Try to hold your right shoulder (using the lat muscles on your sides and pectorals on your front) momentarily above the ‘paddle’ as the forces are being increased and you’ll hopefully feel a ‘whoosh’ as your body glides past.

There’s no ‘pulling’. Instead you should feel more of a tension in the shoulder girdle, and a building tension across the front of your body that does most of the locomotive work.

It’s even better if you get the timing of your kick right. Start with two beats to help you move more smoothly and, practically speaking, you’ll feel like you’ve let the brakes off.

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(Images: Delly Carr/Janos Schmidt)

Profile image of Darren Smith Darren Smith Triathlon coach


In 2012 coach Darren Smith made history when six of the triathletes in his squad were selected to compete for six different countries at the London Olympics. This unprecedented accomplishment is the result of his constant pursuit of excellence in his coaching. Coach 'Daz', as he is known to his athletes, is a master of technique. He emphasises the process, not the outcome, and the minute improvements in his athletes’ skills make all the difference to their overall performance. Darren's two biggest coaching influences have been Gennadi Touretski and Brett Sutton. Touretski coached the swimmer Alexander Popov who won 4 Olympic gold medals (2 at the 1992 Barcelona Games and 2 at the 1996 Atlanta Games). Darren worked with Brett Sutton, the renowned triathlon coach in the late 1990s. Darren began his coaching career working with Ironman athletes, including Kate Allen and Sarah Gross. Since those early days he's grown into his role as coach to ITU athletes such as Lisa Norden who won silver at the 2012 London Olympics Games. Other athletes who have been coached by Darren include Jodie Stimpson and Aileen Reid.