Whether you're a competitive swimmer or you swim for exercise and stress relief, your swimming improves the same way -- through practice. However, only practice using the correct technique is going to help you improve. If you want to swim faster and look cleaner in the water doing the front crawl, backstroke or any other stroke, then understanding the proper technique for each stroke is key to your success.
Check your alignment while standing on land. Become aware of curves in your spine, like a slouch in your upper back or a sway in your lower back. Tuck your tailbone downward and lift your chest to align your spine. Notice the alignment of your neck vertebrae with your spine. Position your head so that your neck is in line with your spine. Remember this straight posture in the water for all your strokes.
Check your body's alignment constantly as you swim. No matter which stroke you're doing, streamlining is important for speed. Keep your entire spine straight with all the vertebrae aligned.
Keep your arms and legs framed within your body for the front crawl and backstroke to stay streamlined. Your limbs should never cross the center of your body. Keep your upper arms close to your ears when you bring them overhead, and keep your legs close together as you kick.
Tighten your core muscles to help you hold your alignment. Engaging your abs also adds more power to your arm strokes and kicks.
Breathe with the correct technique for the front crawl so it doesn't slow you down. Take a breath on every third stroke for optimal oxygen intake. Holding your breath will only slow you down. Instead of lifting your head, twist your neck sideways and rotate your shoulders just enough to inhale. Keep as much of your head and face in the water as possible so you can keep your neck long and your body streamlined.
Pay attention to your kicking. Keep your kicks at a constant rhythm, smooth and without much splashing. For the front crawl, point your toes and keep your ankles loose. For the front crawl and backstroke, keep your knees relaxed and bent just slightly as you kick from your hips, engaging your lower abs and hip flexors.
Watch your foot and leg technique for the breast stroke. Unlike the front crawl and backstroke, most of the work for a correct breast stroke comes from your kick. Your legs and feet must be in the right position for the most propulsive kick. Flex your feet and turn them outward. Bend your knees to bring your heels as close to your butt as you can for a stronger kick.
Squeeze your glutes when you swim. By engaging them, you're giving a lot more power to your kicking action no matter what stroke you're doing.
Concentrate on correct hand entry for the stroke you're doing. For the backstroke, for example, your hand should enter the water with your pinky first and your palm perpendicular to the water. Keep your upper arms very close to your ears with each arm stroke to stay straight and streamlined.
Practice, focusing on technique rather than speed. To improve, only practice a stroke if you're doing it with the correct form. Slow down your swimming so you can focus on each aspect of your technique and alignment. Your muscles will memorize the correct movements so they come naturally to you as you increase your speed.
- A swim coach can help you check on your form and technique.
Lindsay Haskell enjoys writing about fitness, health, culture and fashion. She is a contributor for "Let's Talk Magazine" and "The Wellesley News." Haskell is completing her B.A. in philosophy at Wellesley College. She's also a fiction writer whose work can be read online.