Have you ever seen an adult triathlete swimming up and down the pool with complete ease and little effort but still going at a swift pace? Chances are they were a competitive swimmer in their younger days.
Unfortunately for people new to swimming or starting later in life having this background in swimming is an advantage. Swimming at a competitive level through your younger days leaves you with an unforgettable feel of the water and in most cases, unconscious great technique! One advantage it also leaves you with is shoulder mobility. This is partly why good swimmers look so effortless in the water, they are not fighting their own tight muscles.
The good news is, you do not need to be as flexible as competitive swimmers to be fast in the water! With a few adjustments to technique and a change in focus, we can work our way up to swimming faster and easier.
Having the right amount of rotation in freestyle is going to significantly help in getting the arms back over the water, especially for people with tight shoulders. Getting your arms over the water when your body is on its side, is a lot easier than getting them over the water if your body is flat.
With extra rotation, comes extra control. Make sure to keep your body straight and streamline while rotating. Often the extra rotation you are not used to may force you to break your streamline in an attempt to try balance yourself, for example by splitting your legs.
Stretch out your stroke in front of you as much as you can. This is going to lengthen your stroke, and will also stretch your shoulders and arms – eventually becoming more flexible. When stretching out make sure to stretch forward towards the end of the pool but in a slightly downward angle – not along the surface of the water.
When swimming in the pool it is a good idea to get into the habit of streamlining as tight as you can every time you push off the wall. This streamline position is the perfect stretch for anyone lacking shoulder and arm mobility for swimming freestyle.
Even though you want to have a long stroke, you want to avoid pushing your stroke too far out the back when you finish your underwater pull. This causes a delay in your stroke rhythm and also makes it harder to get the arms back over the water during the recovery, which is not ideal if you lack mobility. Finish your stroke underwater at around your hips and then lift your hand straight out of the water from there.
Try going wider when your hand enters the water, and then try catching the water a little wider. Swimming freestyle a little wider can ease the pressure off tight shoulders and arms. Although this is not ideal, you can certainly still swim fast this way. Make sure not to go too wide however, as this will slow you down.
Do not let your lack of mobility hold you back, have a play around with everything mentioned above and find a process that works for you. Although not mentioned in this article, it is always a good idea to include stretching into your routine.
Carl is head coach at Swim360 Coach, a former Olympian and national champion freestyler. Carl now uses his skills and passion for coaching and competing in the open water.