Written by James Kuhlwilm
How To Swim The Perfect Length
Being able to swim the perfect length is not something that can happen overnight. You need to develop your rhythm and timing to such an extent that you can glide effortlessly and powerfully through the water without lurching or dead spots. To do this, your brain and your body need to tune into one another and work in harmony, which means practice, practice and more practice.
The hints and tips to get to this stage which you can find below are intended to help you get into the rhythm and perfect your timing to swim your best length. The purpose is not initially to swim faster, but smoother; focus on moving seamlessly through the water rather than on strength. The speed and power will come after. The focus of the article is also on freestyle, but many of the principles can be applied to all other strokes as well.
The first place to start on your way to swimming the perfect length is to measure your own body’s dimensions. The fact is that everybody must find the stroke that best suits them, and different physical traits will affect the stroke you choose. To begin with, measure what is called your “Ape Index”, which compares the length of your arms from the tip of your left fingers to the tip of your right fingers.
There is no need for special equipment; all you need is a post or a wall. Stand with your chest flat against the post or wall and both arms out at shoulder height, then stretch down to the floor with one side so that your arms are perpendicular to the ground. Mark the height on the post or wall and then compare your height from head to toe with that measurement. If your height is equal to or less than your arm length, you will want to consider a shorter stroke. If your arm length is 2 or 3 inches more, you will want to be taking longer strokes.
Having determined whether your stroke should be made longer or shorter, it now comes down to getting the feel of things. Put simply and to repeat, everybody is made differently and so there is no one-size-fits-all for your perfect stroke pattern. The only solution is to swim, and to swim often with concentration on your body’s movements. It will help if you can ask somebody to take a video of your stroke and also to provide you with some comments and tips for where you might not be as smooth in the water as you like.
Take note of when your body lurches or when there are “dead spots” in your stroke, i.e. when your body is merely gliding through the water against resistance, rather than propelling you through the water. Unfortunately, there is no dead-cert solution to this besides hours of practice!
Here is what to look out for when you practice:
#1 Body Position
The key elements of your body position are the amount of “drag” you create in the water. To simplify, to minimise drag, if you were to look at your position from the side, your body should be straight from head to toe and parallel with the surface of the water. If your legs tend to sink, then it is likely your head is lifted too high.
Although you should keep your body as flat as possible, the roll is an essential part of the freestyle stroke. A roll of approximately 45 degrees left and right will allow you to breathe and also to engage the larger and stronger muscles of your back, allowing you to propel yourself faster through the water than if you were to primarily rely on the smaller arm muscles.
The mechanics of your stroke describes the manner in which you propel yourself forward. When you stretch one arm out in the front when you begin the stroke and then pull it beneath your body, picture “holding” the water with your hand and arm. The more water you can hold, the greater propulsion you will achieve. Paddles are a very useful tool for getting the “feel” for the correct position to maximise the amount of water you hold. Stay tuned for more articles on swimming drills with paddles and other equipment!
#3 Distance Per Stroke
The aim when calculating the distance per stroke is to cover more distance per stroke, rather than cover more distance with faster strokes. To use an adage from Crossfit, “what can be measured, can be improved”, so every 3 or 4 lengths count the number of strokes you take to complete a length. Try to ensure that you keep your stroke rate down while maintaining and eventually lowering your length time, keeping in mind that you should avoid lurching and dead spots.
As with many things, timing is essential. It will help you to keep your body streamlined in the water (to minimise drag), will help you maximise your distance per stroke (see point 3) and will give you plenty time to suck in some air during your roll. Aim to ensure that one hand enters the water while the other is pulling you forward, rather than when your arms are at opposing positions, i.e. when your right arm is extending straight in front of your head, your left arm should be pointing down to the floor of the pool/seabed and vice-versa.
To Take Away…
Next time you hit the water, focus on the 4 elements of body position, mechanics, distance per stroke and timing, avoid lurching and dead sports, and work on your roll. Once you begin to smooth out any rough spots, you will notice that your swimming will progress in leaps and bounds and you will be on your way to swimming the perfect length.