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Freestyle Technique Overview

In an effort to provide a resource for swimmers focusing on technique during their workouts, I've created a series of cards (downloadable images) that you can expand, save, and download to print off and refer to while you're training.

These technique principles are guidance and general concepts. It's recommend that each swimmer tailors the technique to meet their individual needs based on flexibility, range of motion, prior injuries, etc. If you have questions or would like a virtual or in-person stroke assessment, feel free to email us at hello@swimwildwaters.com.


Your hand and forearm should be in line, and look like a spear.  Your fingers should be touching one another, not too tightly, but not loose enough that the force of the water pulls them apart.  Your wrist should be pointing your fingertips in the direction you want to travel (ahead of you). Your hand should enter “palm down”, with your palm pointed towards the surface of the water.  Your hand should enter at a slight angle to the surface of the water.  Your elbow should be high, above the shoulder and wrist.  Most swimmers enter the water within 6 inches of the tops of their heads.   Enter the water at 10 AM and 2 PM, if the line stretching out from the top of your head is noon.

Rotation can come from your shoulders and/or your hips.  Most pool swimmers rotate via their shoulders, which can cause a strain over long periods of time.  Rotating from the hips allows your body to use your lower abs, obliques, and even your glutes to corkscrew you through the water, rather than relying on tiny shoulder muscles.  Your belly button should always be pointed at a 45 degree angle to either side of your body, not straight down.   Your head does not shift with rotation – you rotate from the shoulders down to your toes.

Once your hand enters the water, it should continue shooting forward, carried by the momentum driving the rest of your arm into the water.  This comes from having a high elbow and using gravity to drive that entire side of your body forward.  This also drives a 45 degree rotation onto one hip.  Your eyes should be pointed to the bottom – don’t let your head roll with your hips!  By gliding you’re extending your stroke by 4-12 additional inches.

A good catch comes from keeping your elbow high.  Your forearm moves downward, but your elbow stays in the same place.  Your arm should look like you’re wrapping it around a giant barrel.  This catch engages your upper back, scapula, and arm pit, rather than your shoulder and upper biceps.

Keeping your wrist and forearms in line, you can begin to pull your body over your arm.  Keep your arm 60 - 75% straight as it travels underneath your body.  It is not necessary to create an “S” shape.  You want to keep moving your hand towards your feet without dropping your elbow.  Your hand stays under your shoulder, then your hip (doesn’t need to travel farther inward towards your belly button, or outside the plane of your shoulder).
Pushing your 75% straight arm under your body, your wrist will bend slightly to continue pushing toward your feet.   Your thumb should brush your mid-thigh before exiting the water.  You should be using your chest and triceps to complete your pull by creating a forcible PUSH towards your feet.  You should be able to feel the force of the water trickling down the side of your leg.

Breathe low, turning your chin towards your shoulder.  The corner of your mouth should be at the water line.  Do not bring your face or mouth out of the water more than necessary – wind and water resistance will sap your energy if you breathe too high.  If you can’t take a breath due to chop or waves, do a swing or 2nd stroke breath as a reattempt.  Try to keep to breathing every 3rd stroke, both to ensure you can sight off your kayaker, see the course, and breathe in poor water conditions.
Kicking for open water swimming varies by swimmer, and could be used primarily to keep your body in the correct position (flat, at the surface of the water) and for propulsion.  Your head determines where your hips will be for your kick, so make sure the back of your skull is pointed towards the sky – this will help you keep your legs up in the water.  Kick with pointed toes, keeping your legs and thighs together, brushing each other on each kick.  Keep your knees straight!  Kicking comes from the hips, glutes, and hamstrings.
Sighting is not a streamlined or hydrodynamic method of swimming – keeping your sighting low profile and as quick as possible will reduce the amount of time you’re allowing your chest to act as a wall.  Remember – sighting is the same as putting on the brakes with your shoulders and face.  Sighting should not be a way to get more air or rest – just a quick peek to confirm you’re not heading towards a boat or the wrong direction.  If you can’t see a spotting point, put your face down, take another few strokes, then try again.  Do not swim with your face above water looking for a point.  Think of sighting as practicing “alligator eyes” during your glide.

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