Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: 3 Swim Mistakes

>> Thursday, February 19, 2015

Iron Swimming has been posting some interesting things lately. Today, I'd like to share his 3 common swim mistakes that new swimmers make and how to correct them:

1. Crossing hands

When many swimmers swim freestyle, their hands cross in front of their face as they extend their arms instead of in a straight line parallel to their body. This is a problem that I see with most new swimmers and is a problem that can be difficult to correct without someone watching you swim. When I tell swimmers that they are crossing their hands when they swim, they fervently insist that I am wrong. They have trouble believing they are doing this incorrectly, until I show them a video of their swimming. It's fairly obvious from the outside when swimmers are crossing their hands, but just as difficult for swimmers to realize they have this problem.

There are several reasons that crossing your hands when you swim is ineffective. One of the keys to having a strong pull is getting full extension of your arms during your stroke. When your arms cross, you are not able to extend your arms completely and get all of the power from your pull. Swimming with your hands crossing over can also cause significant strain on your shoulders and can also cause you to wiggle while you swim. Pulling across your body, instead of straight along your body, will cause your body to “fish tail” from side to side. This extra movement will cause you to expend more energy and tire you out more quickly than if your body moved less.

You'll have to head to Iron Swimming's post if you want the tips on how to avoid this.

I remember a super-speedy swimming buddy warning me about this YEARS ago. He told me a lot of people were taught to make an "S-shape" when grabbing water to grab "more," but that the "best" stroke is straight forward and straight back. And he's way faster than me in the water, so I tend to believe him.

The next point perfectly describes me:

2. Weak Kicking

This mistake is very common when runners and cyclists get in the pool to swim. Your legs are so used to the motion of running, that it is difficult to get them to do a proper flutter kick. New swimmers will either kick only with lower leg, with the power for the kicking coming from the knee, or they will “run” in the water.

The best analogy that I give my swimmers as to why kicking from the knee is less effective than a proper flutter kick comes from soccer. If you watch a soccer play take a free kick, they drive their leg through the ball, using their hip as a pivot point to propel it through the air. In order to chip the ball a short distance, the same player will kick the ball mostly with their lower leg, with their knee providing the torque. The same idea is true in swimming. If you want to produce greater power with your kick, most of the force needs to come from you hips and your thighs.

The way to get rid of “runners kick” is to point your toes while kicking. This may be difficult for runners so I highly recommend doing ankle mobility stretches and exercises, if you have trouble completely pointing your toes. There are two strategies to help you fix your kick. First, practice swimming or kicking with fins on. It is nearly impossible to kick improperly while wearing fins. The fins will help to keep your toes pointed and you will soon notice that kicking with your whole leg is easier and more effective that kicking with just your lower leg. Second, get in the deep end of a pool and practice vertical kicking. Vertical kicking is a drill similar to treading water, but you only use your legs to keep your head above the water; no using your hands. You will struggle to keep yourself from sinking unless you properly flutter kick. This drill not only helps improve your kicking technique, it is also a great way to increase the strength of your kick. If you find you have a weak kick, end each practice with :30 vertical kicking/:30 treading water. For more help improving your kick, check out this earlier post dedicated entirely to this topic.

Once at the pool I was told I had "flexible ankles for a runner." Now that's making more sense.

So finally, here's his last point:

3. Head Position/Breathing

One complaint I hear from a lot of new swimmers is that they struggle to stay afloat while swimming. They feel as if they are sinking, no matter how hard they kick.


This causes them to expend more energy fighting through the water instead of gliding on top of the water. One of the causes of sinking while swimming is poor head position. Keeping your head high in the water can lead to lower hip position, which causes your legs to sink. Poor head position is often a result of inefficient breathing while swimming. Breathing while swimming can be difficult for new swimmers but mastering this skill can also improve your hydrodynamics in the water.

How should your head be positioned while swimming to keep your body afloat? First, you should be looking straight down to the bottom of the pool. By looking down, your body and spine will be kept horizontal with the water, bringing your hips up into the proper position. Beginner swimmers will keep their head and eyes up, so they can see where they are going, but this angles your spine down, causing your hips to sink. Once you have the correct head positioning, you can work on improving your breathing. To properly breathe while swimming, rotate your head to the side while rotating your body. Your nose and mouth should just break the surface of the water. Picking your head up to breath will ruin your body position and cause you to sink. Some people over rotate to breathe because they get water in their nose. Over rotating to breath will negatively affect your streamline position and cause extra drag. Exhaling through your nose while rotating your head can help to keep water from getting in your nose. If you still are having issues, swimming with a nose clip until you are comfortable breathing properly, can be a lot of help.

Looking DOWN and not FORWARD was a tip in a post from a few months ago, and I've been working on that myself. Again, he has a drill to help work on this in his original post.

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