Excerpt: The Beginner Triathlete’s Guidebook Digital Magazine

Sara McLarty's seven swim technique tips that really work from The Beginner Triathlete's Guidebook.

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The editors of Triathlete have compiled the magazine’s very best tips and advice into The Beginner Triathlete’s Guidebook. This special edition digital magazine takes readers step-by-step from registration to race day with all the info you need to successfully complete a triathlon.

Below is an excerpt from the Swim Training chapters. The digital magazine is available for $7.99. Download the Triathlete app in iTunes and then purchase The Beginner Triathlete’s Guidebook in the app.

Seven Technique Tips that Really Work

by Sara McLarty

The challenge for the un-coached swimmer is that there are so many nuances of the freestyle swim stroke to copy and so many tips for technique improvement to choose from that finding the most integral aspects can seem daunting. What should you work on first? Which tips will result in the most improvement?

Here are what I consider to be the seven most important aspects of freestyle to focus on. These swim tips apply to everyone—fast and slow, beginner and advanced, pure swimmer and triathlete.

1. Don’t hold your breath. The feeling of being out of breath is caused by carbon-dioxide buildup in the lungs, not a lack of oxygen. A steady and constant exhalation out your nose and mouth while your face is down in the water will prevent this unpleasant phenomenon. Inhaling on every third stroke is a good pattern to use so you can get plenty of oxygen from both sides of your body

2. Relax, relax, relax! This advice seems so simple—until you start swimming! The best swimmers in the world look like they are gliding along the surface of the water. You cannot fight the water; it will always win. Instead, relax your whole body into the water and channel your power exclusively toward moving your body forward. Practice the simple art of floating facedown on the surface.

3. Align your spine. On dry land, stand up tall and look straight ahead. Notice how your neck is in alignment with your spine and your face is pointed forward. Take that position into the water. The waterline should cut the center of the top of your head and your face should be pointed at the bottom of the pool.

4. Remember to glide. The swim stroke differs from a cycling pedal stroke or a running stride because it is disconnected instead of continuous—or should be. In running there is no separation between each stride and the next, and in cycling the rotation of the cranks is continuous. In swimming, each stroke should be separated from the next with a brief glide. When your arm enters the water above your head, let it stay fully extended for a few moments before you start the catch phase. Don’t be a windmill.

5. Rotate, but don’t over-rotate. Body rotation is an art form. Those who get it perfectly look graceful as their bodies cut through the water like a knife. The secret is they don’t over-rotate. If the bottom of the pool is 0 degrees and the side of the pool is 90 degrees, your torso should never go past 45 degrees on either side. Remember, your head and lower legs do not rotate with your torso and hips; keep your feet kicking straight up and down.

6. Never cross the forbidden centerline. Under no circumstances should either arm ever cross the centerline of your body. At the entry point of the stroke, drop your arm in the water directly in front of your shoulder. Flare your arm out during the catch, sweep back and slightly in during the pull, and finish with your hand next to your thigh. The movement should resemble a question mark. Keep your fingertips pointed at the bottom of the pool and elbow high.

7. Kick from your hips. Relax your knees. Point your toes. Think about slapping the tops of your feet on the surface of the water; they should be making a small splash. If you feel tired and sore in your hip-flexor muscles, you’re doing it right!

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