What makes a great swimmer
What makes a good swimmer - For a number of years now I have been teaching adults not only how to swim but to also be faster, more efficient or stronger swimmers through the water. The desire to swim more efficiently has recently been heightened by the surge of triathlons, and so many of my clients are either wanting to compete in their very first one or are serious about finishing in the top 10 and want to know everything that can be done to achieve this. One thing is for sure, there are many different ways in which this can be achieved along with different outcomes and styles that appear as an end result. So what makes someone excellent at this? Difficult one to answer as strictly speaking, we should first define excellent. Rather than doing that, here are some brief points to consider prior to embarking on your swimming journey of excellence:
We are unique. Next time you are walking along a busy high street, take a brief look at everyone that you pass and ask yourself (in your own mind of course) to quickly describe their walking style! Whether you're happy to do this or not you will most certainly recognise that we all have a different walking style. So what is my point I hear you ask, well here it comes: The point is that like with walking, we all also swim with a different style. Even if you have been taught how to perform an excellent and efficient swimming style it will still always have an individual stamp that comes from you. Hopefully this will be something that benefits your stroke!
Attention to the smallest of details. Occasionally I see swimming as being like the Formula 1 of water! Strange as this may sound, there are many similarities which I find myself thinking about. For example, if you were to alter the angle of the aerofoil at the back of the Formula 1 car it could dramatically influence (either positively or negatively) the result of that car's performance. Much the same as the angle / position of your hand as it moves through the water on a Front Crawl pull. You may perform approx 18-20 strokes / 25m length. Times this by 60 lengths for your 1500m swim and that's a lot of strokes that can either be helping or hindering you if you aren't getting the angles right every time.
Repetition, repetition, repetition. Any of my clients will tell you how much I keep on about this! Repetition is fundamental to either an old habit being broken and / or a new one being formed. What's important to consider here is that it is repetition of great form that is being performed length after length. Remember the age old saying 'practise makes perfect', I'm afraid in the case of swimming technique this couldn't be more appropriate. Lets go back to walking for a quick minute here. Imagine if for 1 week you could swim for as much time as you would normally walk..........I guarantee you would be more efficient at swimming by the end of that week. Although this is what I would typically do during heavy training throughout my competitive swimming career, I wouldn't advise you to do it, but hopefully you see my point.
Body Type. Like with all sports, there are those people out there who have a body type which really suits swimming. I often see runners who appear to be running so easily in a gazelle-like manner and without a shred of effort being used. What's more is that they do this for miles on end. Equally, there are those who find swimming to be of great ease. There is a genetic advantage that these people have which can provide much frustration to those who don't! The main thing to remember here is that everyone has the ability to swim and your focus should always stay on how you're going to make your stroke the best that it can be.
Get an excellent coach!! This is a crucial part of anybody's desire to improve swim technique. The main reason being that you cannot see what you are doing when you swim. You are relying on the feedback of what your coach sees and then the hopefully experienced advice they give you to correct it and / or encouragement for the great things you are already doing. The relationship between you and your coach has to be great. Your coach could have been the best swimmer in the world but just isn't very good at communicating their points very well. Their job (the coach) is to give you the best chance to get you from A to B by using their knowledge, experience and excellent communication skills to achieve this. If you don't 'gel' with your coach it is never going to happen I'm afraid.
Be a competitive swimmer. Here's my last point and it is a bit of an opinionated but brief rant I'm afraid: Aim to always swim like a competitive swimmer. Without mentioning any names, there are many fancy and expensive swimming methods out there that claim to change the world of swimming. Before you invest both your time and money into these let me leave you with this question: If these really did make swimming as efficient and effortless as they claim, why haven't any of the Olympic champions both past and present ever used them? I am not suggesting that everyone should swim competitively, far from it in fact, but the point here is that if you really want to get the most from your swimming, whether for fun, competition or both, learn it like the professionals do. For years it's been tried and tested as being the most effective way to move effortlessly through the water.
For more guidance on how to perfect your Front Crawl technique and more download the series of swimming books by Mark Durnford.