I think when non-swimmers hear the term “freestyle,” they assume the stroke is easy. It’s one of the first strokes we learn when we jump in the pool as kids, but its name is deceiving. The freestyle stroke is a challenging one to master, but with this guide, you will be on your way to a better freestyle. Look out for these common freestyle mistakes and make small changes to improve your freestyle swimming performance.
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1. Your Breathing is Off
Breathing is one of the most difficult parts of any stroke. Learning the mechanics of freestyle breathing is just as important as learning the stroke itself. The most common freestyle breathing mistake is holding the breath. If you do not exhale fully when your face is in the water, you cannot take a full breath when you turn your head out of the water. Once you fall into this pattern, your breathing becomes short and labored, and it will slow down your stroke.
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- Maintain streamline posture the entire time. Don’t rotate your body for the sake of breathing.
- Don’t lift your head to breathe.
- When you start to turn your head to the side, breathe out explosively.
- As soon as your mouth is clear, quickly suck in a breath and return your head to the water while your recovery arm is starting the catch.
2. Your Body is Dragging
Your body position is important in all swimming strokes. I just told you to stay streamline the entire time, but that doesn’t mean you should lie flat on the water and rely only on your arms. Using your arms without rotating your body can lead to painful shoulder injuries. OK, don’t lie flat, but don’t rotate your entire body either. If your body does not rotate from side to side, drag abounds, because the pull is shorter and the stroke is longer.
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- Focus on rotating your shoulders and hips only.
- Rotate your shoulders and hips no more than 45 degrees to each side.
For more tips on improving your rotation, look at these hip rotation drills.
3. The Entry is Off
A couple things can go wrong with your hand entry—you enter too early, or you overextend entry. When you enter too early, you drive your body down, which means you then have to catch up. If you overextend when you enter the water, the pull becomes straight and inefficient.
- Extend your shoulder forward and keep it extended when you rotate your body.
- When your upper arm internally rotates, your elbow will flex so that your forearm, hand and fingers face the right way.
- When reaching forward, keep your hand flat and make sure your fingers enter the water first.
Maintaining the proper arm and shoulder position will also eliminate overextending the stroke because your elbow will flex accordingly.
4. You Kick Too Much
Your legs can be either a big asset or a big problem. The two most common issues with kicking include bent knees and too much kicking. Both kicking mistakes create resistance and drag. Your kicks will fail to thrust you through the water, and you will tire yourself out if your kicks are uncontrolled.
When you kick in freestyle swimming, your kicks must be small and quick, without splashes; timed with arm strokes; and consistent.
- Stay streamline and kick from the hips, not the knees.
- Make sure your legs are straight.
5. Your Recovery is Too Wide
If your recovery is too wide, your stroke will not be as effective as it should be. Wide recovery requires more force with fewer results and it thrusts your body down.
- When you initiate the freestyle recovery at the end of the pull, lift your elbow out of the water.
- Time the recovery with the action of your propulsive arm.
- Make sure you recover forward along a straight line.
- Use an elbow-lift mid-recovery and relax your arm and forearm.
- Keep your elbow higher off the water’s surface than your hand.
- When you re-enter, do so in front of the shoulder or a little wider than the shoulder. Your hand should be flat and your fingertips should enter the water first.
This is just a small sampling of common freestyle mistakes swimmers make. To correct them, work on drills that address the problems and pay attention to your coach’s feedback. Good luck with your next freestyle event.