Reap the rewards of a stronger stroke during your swim, with these easy technique-based tips
Ever feel like you're going nowhere fast during your swim leg? An inefficient arm stroke saps speed, drains energy and can send you off-course in open water – adding unnecessary distance and fatigue (a killer combo when you still have a bike and run to come.)
Here, learn how to conserve your energy and increase your triathlon swim speed, by maximising the efficiency of your arm stroke.
#1 - Use finger paddles to improve your feel for the water
Understanding what constitutes a good 'feel' for the water is a vital part of improving your swimming technique. Thanks to their exposed palms, and the subtly increased resistance they create, Finger Paddles encourage a greater awareness of the feel of the water through each stage of the stroke. Use them to help you improve the first catch of the pull, maintain a high elbow, and work on building better stroke technique and hand placement.
#2 - Perfect your hand shape
A solid catch and pull technique is the key to connecting efficiently with the water, in order to propel yourself forward effectively. So it makes sense that hand shape can help make or break your stroke efficiency.
The ideal? Fingers positioned with a slight gap between them – a sliver of daylight between each finger should provide a solid hold of the water.
- DON'T let large gaps appear between your fingers. The water will slip through your hands, reducing your ability to drive yourself forwards effectively. In other words, you'll be going nowhere, fast.
- DON'T clasp your fingers together too tightly – you may find your hands slip more easily under your body without moving you forwards significantly.
#3 - Start your catch from the elbow
Find you start your catch from your shoulder or wrist? If so, it is time to stop wasting valuable energy on an inefficient technique.
A catch from the shoulder pushes water downwards, not backwards, for the first half of the stroke, and also puts unnecessary strain on the shoulders. Meanwhile a catch from the wrist simply doesn’t allow the forearm to contribute effectively. Instead, try to generate your catch movement from the elbow, fingertips down, vertical forearm, keeping the wrist firm and solid.
#4 - Use your forearms
At the risk of being repetitive, if your forearm isn't contributing properly to your stroke, you are missing a trick on your catch and pull.
Keep in mind that your forearm should be vertical in the water, finger tips pointed down; to drive the water backwards instead of downwards, where it's wasted. Aim to have your palm and forearm facing the wall behind you for as long as possible.
To get a feel for how to maximise the surface area of your arm stroke, try swimming with a clenched fist, or holding a tennis ball in your hands while you swim. You'll quickly find you need to utilise your forearm more effectively to make up the force you’re no longer receiving from your closed palms.
#5 - Use a pullbuoy during your technique sessions
When you really want to focus on your arm stroke, a pull buoy provides added buoyancy to elevate your legs, allowing you to get detailed with your catch, pull and feel for the water. Team with a snorkle, which takes your breathing out of the equation, for a super-focused drill session.
#6 - Improve your arm coordination with a one-arm technique drill
Used in the pool, the one-arm technique drill will help you improve your arm coordination, along with your pull and swim speed. Here's how to do it:
With your left arm positioned by your side in a streamlined position, begin swimming freestyle using just your right arm to perform your arm stroke. Continue swimming for 25m before returning to full freestyle stroke, using both arms. Swim another 25m at full stroke before switching to using only your left arm, with your right arm positioned static by your side. Swim 25m. Repeat six times.
#7 - Check you're not 'crossing over'
For maximum stroke efficiency, your arms should stay in line with your shoulder, outside of your body's centre line. Unsure whether you're crossing over? Ask a friend or coach to watch or film you swimming.
Alternatively, gauge your hand and arm movements by incorporating the catch-up drill into your training. Glide, both arms outstretched in front of you, between strokes. If you're crossing over, you'll notice your recovering arm catches your forearm on each stroke.
Stroke sorted? Now ace your kit!
In the pool, recommended kit:
In open water, recommended kit: