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How the 80/20 Rule Applies to Your Freestyle Stroke

Four-time Olympian Sheila Taormina breaks down what she thinks are the most important aspects of improving a freestyle swim stroke.

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In my book Swim Speed Secrets, I’ve made a bold claim that pull mechanics and a feel for the water are the vital elements in our sport. Of the 10 things to work on from a technique standpoint, those two have more impact than anything else in terms of a swimmer reaching his/her full potential.

But what about the other 80 percent of technique elements in the freestyle stroke? What’s involved in those, and how much should we focus on them? First, let’s name them.

Following is my version of Pareto’s 80/20 in swimming:

The Vital Elements: The 20 Percent That Have 80 Percent Impact

  • Pull mechanics
  • Feel

The Nonvital Elements: The 80 Percent That Have 20 Percent Impact

  • Overwater recovery
  • Entry
  • Extension
  • Axis line balance
  • Stroke timing
  • Kicking
  • Breathing
  • Head and body position

The nonvital elements are labeled as such for one or more of the following reasons:

  • They do not have the impact on performance that the pull has.
  • They cannot be properly applied with poor pull mechanics. In other words, the pull is a prerequisite.
  • They are easier to learn than the pull and thus do not demand as much attention.

Don’t get the idea, however, that the nonvital elements can be ignored. They do impact performance and thus require attention. My aim in ranking them as nonvital is to emphasize that you should not forgo a focus on the more challenging vital elements while fixating on other parts of the stroke. These aspects should be understood and addressed in appropriate amounts in training.

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