Improving Your Swimming Strokes: Front Crawl Edition
10th April 2017.In swimming, a properly executed front crawl ? also known as the freestyle stroke ? is smooth, elegant, and one of the fastest strokes in the pool. Unlike the breaststroke, which requires comparatively slow movements, the front crawl is a slick sequence of arm and leg movements that propels the user across the pool. As easy as it is to learn, though, it takes some serious practice to build up speed ? and to fight off the exhaustion that sets in from such a rapid pace. How can you swim the front crawl more effectively to improve your speed in the water? As simple as it looks, there are many elements to a successful freestyle stroke. To improve your ability, you'll want to focus on each element individually before harmonising those efforts together. We'll look at what you need to practice to start seeing gains and improvements in this article. From how to kick your legs to exercises that can help strengthen the muscles used in the stroke, you'll have plenty to add to your next workout's agenda. Let's begin by focusing on one of the often-neglected aspects of swimming strokes: where you position your head in the water. Believe it or not, but it has a significant impact on the rest of the stroke.
Master the position of your head in the water
The overall shape of your body is incredibly important during the front crawl. If you aren't in the proper alignment, you'll quickly recognise that your body experiences far too much drag to develop speed. You may not even know that you're allowing your body to slip into positions that aren't efficient for the stroke. To help improve your positioning and understand how to hold that position throughout the stroke, focus on the position of your head. As a rule of thumb, your head should always be in line with the rest of your body ? and perfectly still, too, except during breathing. The more relaxed and still you keep your head, the less strain you'll place on your body. Try to keep the level of the water between the top of your head and your eyebrows; goggles help tremendously in this situation. While it can take some practice before you discover the "feel" for this position, once you do, it becomes perfectly natural. Fatigue or tiring out too fast during a freestyle race might be because of poor body positioning. A head held too high or too low doesn't just slow you down. It puts a lot of strain on your muscles, too.
Develop a strong and practised arm motion
As the major component to the stroke and the only way to build up real speed, knowing the right arm movements is key. First, your arms should continuously be in motion during the front crawl, alternating back and forth. Just as one arm dips into the water and begins its journey backwards, your other arm should be coming down to slice into the water just a moment later. It sounds easy, but developing the right rhythm takes a lot of practice time in the pool. Where should your arms be when your hands enter the water? Imagine two lines, one going straight out from your forehead and the other from your shoulder. Your arm should be between this area for the most efficient stroke. Keep your elbows just above the plane of your hand and flatten your palms so you slice through the surface tension of the water with ease. Slowly move it down through the water and then quickly pull it back out and then above your body. While it is underwater, your other arm should be about to go under as well. By refining this rhythm, you'll soon become faster. However, the arms are just one component of your motion. What about your legs?
Choose the kick style right for your situation
There are two main types of kick where the front crawl is concerned: the flutter kick and the crossover kick. Each of these is appropriate for a different style of swimming. Let's look at the crossover kick first, which works better in long distance situations. In this type of kick, your legs "cross over" one another at the ankle on every or every other kick. Though it is not as fast, this allows you to save far more energy to use for a burst of speed later. While not ideal for general fitness use, it's a valuable technique every swimmer should know. You should time your kicks with your arms; if your left arm is entering the water, your left leg should do the kick. The flutter kick is what many front crawlers know well. To maximise the amount of propulsion you generate by kicking, make a strong effort to keep your feet underwater. The less foamy water you leave in your wake, the better your kick. Rapidly alternate between your legs, creating a "flutter" with a short period. This way, your feet act like little propellers, displacing water and pushing you forward. The key is to keep your legs straight and in line with the rest of your body.
Understand the best way to breathe through the stroke
Breathing is another challenge facing those in the front crawl. Though your body should already rotate enough during the stroke to make it easy to breathe, it doesn't always feel natural. In the past, we covered in extensive detail many specific strategies for freestyle breathing. However, let's take a quick look at two of the strategies most likely to help improve your ability: bilateral breathing and the bow wave. In bilateral breathing, you do not rely on just one side of your body when you turn for breath. Instead, you alternate sides of your body, turning your head in either direction to breathe, making it much easier to get as much air as you need while also improving the symmetry of your stroke. By breathing on the side opposite of the arm entering the water, you gain more time to fill your lungs. As you move through the water, you create a "bow wave" ahead of you, which also creates a small pocket of air in front of your body. By keeping up with the bow wave, you can ensure you aren't sucking water into your mouth along with air. While finding the wave can be tricky, it's much easier after hours in the pool.
Fine-tuning your body for the front crawl
Practice may help you move closer to perfection, but you'll still need to fight against fatigue and loss of energy. To boost your endurance, you can do more than simply swim laps over and over. Try front crawl drills designed to help improve your ability, like kicking drills designed to make it easier to sense when you're kicking the wrong method. Dry land exercise can help, too. Consider running, leg presses, and squats as ways to boost the endurance in your leg muscles necessary for long kicks. Any number of weight-based exercises targeting your arms and shoulders can be helpful, too. Try barbell curls to buff up your upper body strength to create the power necessary for good arm motion and core strength. As a bonus, participating in more dry land exercise can help strengthen your cardiovascular system, too. If you struggle with running out of breath frequently, this can be as much of an aid to you as learning to breathe bilaterally.
With practice, you can master this stroke
The front crawl's deceptively simple nature hides a complex interplay of body movements that only becomes apparent once you start practising in earnest. Over time and through a consistent effort to improve, though, you can develop a deep level of confidence in your freestyle. Whether you just want to improve for fun or you have your eye on first place in an upcoming race, develop a plan of attack. What will your ideal front crawl practice sessions include? Will they mostly focus on improving your kicking ability, or do you need to learn how to improve your breath control? However, you choose to approach it, don't forget to take the time to enjoy your moments of success. There's nothing like the feeling of beating your own personal best lap time as you slice through the water. Follow @SportNessUK