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  • May

    7 (Not So Secret) Ways of Reducing Drag in Your Freestyle Races

    by Abigail Fish, Technique Coach, Ritter Sports Performance

    Too often during training practices, swimmers are coached using different drills, techniques, and training strategies without understanding the reason "why" behind what they are doing. If you think back to your age-group swimming days, how many times did you hear: “swim faster,” “kick harder,” and “rotate more”? I bet more times than you can even count (or in my case—remember). Within that, how many times did you actually understand how or why you should do any of those three things—let alone, execute them well?

    As someone who is fixated on technique, the “why” for me wasn’t optional--I was the kid who asked my coach, “What is the point of this drill?” while others were more shy. So my goal here is always to write articles that are easily digestible for any swimmer. Today, I will dive in and explain how to “swim faster,” “kick harder,” and “rotate more” within your freestyle races. But first, what does drag have to do with anything?

    What is drag?

    According to the Laws of Fluid Dynamics, drag is a force acting opposite to the relative motion of any object moving with respect to a surrounding fluid.

    Let me break that down for you:

    Drag is a force that opposes the forward movement of any swimmer. Essentially, you can think of drag as a brake and your strokes as your gas (or acceleration). Since the goal in the pool is to move forward, drag forces oppose that. If your strokes are not technically sound—you may be moving in many different ways, besides forward in the pool. In that case, your drag forces will compound on top of each other, significantly slowing you down.

    With that being said, every swimmer should pay attention to how efficiently they move forward in the pool, because it might be your stroke that is fighting you to get to the other end!

    If we look specifically at Freestyle, there are 7 key technical aspects that will help you minimize your drag and “swim faster,” “kick harder,” and “rotate more”. Let’s dive in:

    1. Streamline Off your Start and Turns – This might be obvious for some of you, but it amazes me that most people don’t know that the streamline position is the position with the least amount of drag associated with it. No other strokes, turns, or anything you can do in a pool will have as little drag associated with it as a streamline.

    Now, I don’t mean streamline like a dull pencil tip— be sure to get your elbows as close together as possible, tuck your chin down to your chest, and actively push your head through your arms. A dull pencil tip is not the position with the least amount of drag—a sharp pencil tip is!

    2. Point your Toes – This drag element is often overlooked. Not only should you be a sharp pencil tip streamline, but you should add in the plantar flexion of you feet when streamlining too. It is amazing how much drag you can create if you relax your feet while kicking and streamlining.

    3. Keep your Head Down – When you are swimming freestyle, you want the majority of your cap (or hair) under the surface of the water. The higher your head sits in the water, the more drag is created. With that being said, you don’t want to push your head down too much—your body may come out of its horizontal alignment—you only want the crown of your head to be sticking out of the water.

    4. Pull with a High Elbow – I hesitate to write articles on “how to pull” in freestyle. This is due to the fact that there are so many opposing viewpoints to the “correct pull.” Contrary to popular belief, I believe there is no right way to pull. There have been plenty of swimmers who have been successful pulling with a straight arm, using a hybrid technique, or a high-elbow pull. But if we are looking specifically at reducing drag—the pulling technique with the least amount of drag associated with it is the high elbow pull.

    This means when your hand enters the water, you bend at your elbow and actively try to keep your elbow forward as long as possible, as your forearm and wrist continue to move backwards.

    5. Rotate as One Unit – Think of your body as a pencil; if you hold it by the eraser and rotate it—the pencil moves as a whole, all at one time. When you swim, you want to rotate as one unit as well. You must have strong abdominal muscles to rotate your body as one unit, as they are the connector muscles between the upper and lower body.

    To avoid having a lag between your upper and lower body when rotating, try 6-kick switch drills to learn what rotating as one unit feels like.

    You should rotate no more than 40 degrees relative to the water line when swimming freestyle. Any more causes an inefficient pull and an excess amount of drag.

    6. Maintain Great (horizontal) Body Alignment – This drag aspect is often overlooked, but is one of the easiest to assess with video analysis. The fastest way to swim is with your body right at the water’s surface in a horizontal line. It is amazing to me how many swimmers veer away from this position into one where their head is too high, and their legs are sinking.

    That position is essentially a snowplow pushing itself through the water, as opposed to a swimmer swimming on top of the water.

    Think of your body as a seesaw or teeter totter, whatever your upper body is doing—your lower will do the opposite and vice versa.

    7. Kick with Small, Tight, and Fast Kicks – In freestyle, you want to avoid having large kicks. I like to tell my swimmers to bend their knees about the same amount as they have to when they walk. This helps them avoid having too large of a kick, which ultimately causes an excess amount of drag.

    If you can master these 7 tips, it will be forever easier for you to “swim faster," “kick harder," and “rotate more” during your freestyle races!

    Remember coaches, it is our responsibility to inform our swimmers on the “why’s.” Go into those tougher conversations earlier, as it will pay great dividends in the long run!

    Want more from Abbie? Click here for 3 Exercises to Improve Your Freestyle Catch!

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