Courtesy of Julia Galan
It has been said time and time again: swimming is a technique-based sport.
The sheer density of the water we have to swim through – 800 times denser than air, to be precise – means that learning to swim efficiently should be an aspiring athlete’s first priority.
However, many swimmers suffer from a lack of understanding regarding proper stroke mechanics, preferring yardage to technique work. Added to the fact that they cannot see themselves in the water and may not have received instruction as to which elements of their stroke technique need work, these athletes’ progress will stagnate or even decline, leading to a vicious cycle of frustration and further efforts to mitigate the situation with more emphasis on yardage and intensity. Getting your stroke analyzed will help you avoid these common frustrations and accelerate your progress in the sport of swimming.
1 – Injury prevention
Feeling a shoulder twinge? Incorrect stroke technique is one of the main culprits of shoulder injuries for many swimmers. Rather than swimming through the pain all the way to the doctor’s office, it is far more beneficial to focus on discovering what is causing your injury in the first place. Getting your technique analyzed will help you learn what areas of your stroke need improvement. Even if you are not currently experiencing any issues, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, as the saying goes. Get your stroke screened for potential problem areas to avoid future injuries.
2 – Knowledge is power
As the old adage explains, the more you know, the more control you will have over events, whether in swimming or in life. Focusing on technique inevitably takes time, and the sheer effort required to concentrate on executing a swimming drill properly can put many swimmers off, particularly triathletes who need to divide their training between three different sports. Joining a team places further emphasis on yardage over technique, since coaches often do not have the time to focus on their swimmers’ individual technique and instead provide aerobically intense workouts with occasional technique work that may not be geared towards the specific needs of each individual swimmer.
Rest assured that, whether you are a triathlete or a competitive swimmer, the time it takes to gain an understanding of your stroke technique is time well-spent. Investing in a video-based stroke analysis or signing up for a stroke clinic is the first step in this process. Not only will you be able to see your stroke, but a good stroke analysis will also help highlight the elements of your stroke that need improvement. Ignorance may be bliss, but armed with the knowledge that your analysis provided, you can continue the process of improving both your technique and your times.
3 – You may not be as good as you think
A slightly cheeky title, perhaps, but it rings true for many competitive swimmers of all levels. Having a swimming background does not automatically equate to perfection, and improvements can be achieved at any stage in your swimming progress. Being a self-described moderate to serious swimmer may simply mean that you’ve had that much more time to develop bad habits. And just being aware of those habits is not enough. If you don’t have a good understanding of what you are doing wrong and what you can do to improve, knowing that – for example – you are crossing over during your entry is not going to help you correct this flaw. A good video–based analysis will allow you to see yourself swimming, break down your stroke pattern, and then explain what specific drills you need to implement into your workouts to correct your habits and develop new muscle memory.
Even if you feel that your swimming is “good enough” and that you have a handle on stroke technique, you might very well benefit from a second opinion. A fresh approach to even just a few aspects of your stroke technique could provide the boost you need to move up a lane in practice, or finally break away from your pattern of plateaued performances.
4 – More fulfilling workouts
You’ve seen your stroke. Your stroke analyst has broken down the mechanics for you and carefully explained what is working and what is missing. Ideally, your stroke analysis will include a follow-up report with recommendations for drills that you can implement into your workouts. Now you can take all of this knowledge with you into the pool. Having your stroke analyzed will provide the impetus for incorporating the drills that you need into your workout – even if that means sacrificing some of your interval work, or not getting in as much yardage. Knowing what you need to do and why you need to do it will help you make the most out of each and every workout. Slowing down your swimming to enforce proper technique may initially take more time, but your efforts will be repaid when you see the progress you have made in your next race.
Swimming is a highly technical sport, and that also makes it a complicated sport. Overcoming the water’s tremendous resistance takes more than blindly churning out yardage, whether you are a beginner or an experienced swimmer. A stroke analysis is the first step towards familiarizing yourself with swimming stroke mechanics and with your own specific needs. With this knowledge, you can improve the quality of your workouts and consequently improve your performance.
Julia Galan is a lifelong competitive swimmer and a USA Swimming and U.S. Masters Swimming coach. Julia’s passion for the sport, for coaching and for writing led to the creation of Swimspire, a coaching and swimming inspiration source geared towards athletes of all levels and goals.