Helpful tips on improving swim technique

By now we should all be coming to the end of our racing season, and for many a few weeks of recovery also. As winter approaches it is a good period to not only concerntrate on endurance building, as many training plans prescribe, but also focus on form in all 3 disciplines. Kay Ashley,  TTW coach and Junior co-ordinator, has put this post together to get you thinking about the first dicipline as you enter this period. Think about your swim form before the hard graft starts and it will make big differences in your swim times come race season next year. My only confusion when reading it myself when Kay talks about imagining talking to someone shorter than you………doesnt leave a long list does it!…Ed

swim 2

If you are going to look at these never focus on more than TWO at one time


For people new to swimming this is often the biggest reason people cannot get to grips with swimming front crawl. The key is relaxing into the swim and allowing the breath to escape whilst the head is in the water (newbies tend to hold the breath). We use the bubble, bubble, breathe mantra with children but it works with adults too. It also allows you to start introducing bilateral breathing. The position of the head is also important, maintaining good head position in the water allows you to create the “bow wave” giving you the all important pocket of air to breathe into. Any lift of the head allows water into the space which results in either drinking half the pool, spluttering or higher head lift which in turn sinks the legs and effectively puts the brakes on causing you to start all over again. Very tiring.

High Head/ Sinky legs

Its not really a chicken and egg situation, generally (and there are always exceptions)legs sink when the head is too high. Your head should be in a neutral position and a good guide is that in a shallow pool you can see about 2m ahead. Good tips from Dave Scott, IM legend, is either imagining talking to someone shorter than you or swimming a few strokes with a tennis ball under your chin.

Tight shoulders

Generally as we get older we lose flexibility and mobility in the shoulders. This means that when the arm is out in front and overhead there is a pull down on the arms, shoulders and back, lats and hip flexors. Go a little wider than straight in front of your shoulders to try and compensate for this.

NB, tight hip flexors can affect length at the front of the stroke. If you feel this may be an issue with you try improving the flexibility in that area. Generally hip flexors weaken with age and are even worse if people sit all day at work. Cycling also tightens them They are a big focus in my pilates classes and I can give out exercises for people who want to improve mobility and/or strength in that area…just give me a shout

That “sinky elbow “ feeling

The joint line of the wrist should always be lower than the elbow as the hand enters the water. Now, although that may sound like the opposite cannot be achieved , trust me, it can.. I see it often. There are drills that can help high elbows and the swim smooth website and book have some great diagrams showing degree angles. Sadly unless you go to a video swim analysis we aren’t usually armed (no pun intended) with the mathematical equipment underwater to check our angles….after all its not Strictly Come Swimming. So a good tip is to think that you have eyeballs on your elbows and they have to be looking out towards the side wall. Zip drill is a good drill to help with this


You need less rotation at the hips than at the shoulders. More torque will come from your core by stabilising your hips. Imagine something balancing on your tailbone and you cannot allow it to fall over or spill. More importantly if the people at the side can see your belly button you are over rotating.


This can be caused by several things, some of which include over or under rotation, being taught thumb entry- figure S swimming years ago, tight shoulders and back, weak shoulders and back to name a few. Sometimes this is only highlighted in pool swimming as a wet suit can sometimes correct it for those with only a slight issue. I have a couple of visualisations that I offer to people to try and help with correct hand entry position, firstly you should just be able to see your thumb nail from the corner of your eye (so that means you have to then start to consciously ‘look’), secondly I tell people to imagine ropes running down the outside of the body – a tad wider than the shoulders, then imagine using those ropes to pull themselves along.

Obviously this is isn’t a comprehensive list of things we look at when coaching swimming but they are the more commonplace areas that can be highlighted for improvement. I hope some of it can be of help and if you need any information or pointers in the right direction please let me know


Kay Ashley

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