Learn all the swimming strokes
When executing any swimming stroke, there are a number of basic principles to bear in mind that will make the stroke most effective. It is important that the torso and legs are kept as parallel as possible to the surface of the water. If they drop, drag against the water will increase and slow the swimmer down. The hands should be extended as far in front of the head as possible, thereby increasing the length and the speed of the stroke. When swimming front crawl, the time spent on the side should be maximised, as the shoulders will break the water-line and produce bow waves. The narrower the width and the longer the length, the less impact water drag will have. To further reduce the frontal-cross section, the narrowest direction of head, hands, legs and arms should be oriented into the water.
It is also essential that swimmers learn good breathing techniques as this will allow for greater speed and endurance. Competitive swimmers take in one breath and gradually let it out over three or four strokes. As swimmers become more tired, it becomes difficult for oxygen to get to the muscles and thus it is necessary that competitive swimmers train themselves to keep going on low levels of oxygen. A good training technique is attempting to cross a swimming pool underwater or by letting one breath last over six strokes.
There are a number of swimming styles that have been developed which depend upon the position of the swimmer to the water. These styles are known as strokes and the stroke used will depend upon the purpose of the swim.
Breaststroke is the oldest known swimming stroke, as evidenced by cave drawings which have been found depicting Stone Age inhabitants using the motion. As the easiest stroke, Breaststroke is the most popular style for swimming recreationally and for fitness, and it is the slowest official stroke used in competitive swimming.
The Breaststroke is performed by leaning on the chest with the arms breaking the water slightly and the legs staying under water constantly. The body should be in line with the water surface and the shoulders and hips flat in the water. The arms are moved in a long circular motion and the legs are kicked in a movement similar to a frog’s kick, which is what slows the swimmer down. Breaststroke is difficult to perfect because, unlike front crawl or back stroke, the legs and arms are used in synchronisation. Professional swimmers will use the abdominal muscles and hips as well as the legs to add extra power to the kick.
Butterfly was originally derived as a faster alternative to breaststroke. One American researcher discovered that the swimmer is slowed down significantly in breaststroke by bringing the arms forward under water and instead developed a technique of bringing the arms forward over water. Butterfly requires more stamina and strength than the other strokes with both of the arms coming out of the water at every stroke. As with Breaststroke, both hands start in the water in front of the shoulders.
The hands are then pulled towards the feet until they reach the thighs, when they are thrown out of the water back to the original position. In order to lift the arms out of the water, the head needs to stay in the water at all times, except for when a breath is needed. The breath should be taken just as the arms reach the thighs and taken quickly so as not to disrupt the order of the stroke.
Backstroke is the only official swimming stroke to be swum on the back and the second slowest stroke in competitive swimming. The advantage of Backstroke is that it makes breathing easier but it also means that the swimmer cannot see where they are going.
Backstroke mainly uses the arms to move forward, with the legs kicking in an up-and-down motion to stabilize the body. The arms provide the power in backstroke and the movement required has three stages – the pull stage, the push stage and the recovery stage. One arm starts in a straight line above the shoulder and, once it reaches the water, it should push down towards the feet. The elbow is bent slightly and the elbow is pulled by the side to the thigh.
The elbow continues to be pushed towards the feet until the elbow is straightened. This constitutes one complete arm stroke and the arm then goes back to the original position. In Backstroke, each arm does the same thing but not at the same time. As one arm comes out of the water, the other arm should go into it, meaning one is always pushing and pulling as the other comes back round to its original position.
Front Crawl, also known as the Australian crawl, uses a similar arm stroke to backstroke but rests on the breast, giving the swimmer more flexibility in their arm. Front crawl was first seen in Europe when a number of South American swimmers used it to defeat the British breaststroke swimmers in a competition held in London in 1844. It is the fastest stroke, but can be difficult to learn, chiefly because it is hard to find a good breathing point. Front crawl is also used interchangeably with the term ‘freestyle.’ Although freestyle officially means that any stroke can be swum in competition, swimmers will always choose front crawl as it is officially the fastest stroke.
In front crawl, the body should be as close to the water surface as possible with the hips and legs behind the shoulders at all times. The leg movement requires a long and fast kicking motion, ensuring the whole of the leg is moving up and down. The knees are to be bent slightly and the feet should make a small splash. As with backstroke, the arm movement in front crawl consists of a push and pull stroke and a recovery stage.
The arms provide the power for the stroke with one arm following the other, through and over the top of the water. One hand should start in front of the head, stretching as far as possible with the hand pointing down thumb first, into the water. The elbow should be bent and the hand pushed towards the feet, keeping it going until it reaches the top of the leg. The arm should then be lifted out of the water and back to the original starting point in as controlled a fashion as possible. Front crawl is difficult because the face is in the water so, to breathe, the swimmer should turn their head to one side, leaving the side of the head resting in the water.
When swimming competitively, participants begin the race by diving into the water, in order to get as much power behind them as possible. For the most effective dive, it is important that the swimmer keep their head tucked as close to the knees as possible. The hips should be lifted high and the toes curled over the side of the pool with the knees bent slightly for push off.
Finally, the arms should be placed one on top of the other with the fingers pointed and the arms stretched down to the floor. When the swimmer pushes off the starting block it should be with as much power as possible, streamlining the body so the head reaches the water first. The swimmer should then be able to move from diving to swimming smoothly, saving as much time as possible.