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A step-by-step guide to video taping and analyzing your swim stroke.
There are dozens of books and DVDs—not to mention YouTube videos—that demonstrate and attempt to teach correct freestyle technique, yet most of us can’t glide through the water like an Olympian. What gives? Integrating advice about freestyle technique into your own stroke is difficult in part because perceiving your own mistakes requires experience. Thankfully, technology can partially replace wisdom in this case. Use an underwater video camera to film your stroke so you can watch your mistakes first hand and work through them.
Get the supplies. We used a Gopro HD Hero 960 ($179.99, Goprocamera.com) because it uploads easily to a computer, takes high quality video, comes with a waterproof housing and is tiny and relatively inexpensive, but any video camera in an underwater housing will suffice. We mounted the camera to a 5-pound square weight—which served as our anchor—using the handlebar seatpost mount ($19.99, Goprocamera.com). The square weight serves as a platform and keeps the camera stable on the bottom of the pool.
Position the camera. Place the camera approximately halfway between the walls and point it straight up toward the surface so you record complete strokes when passing over it from both directions. The fisheye lens provides a 170-degree field of view, which allows it to grab several strokes in a single pass in moderately deep water. We found a depth of 8 feet provides the best combination of detail and length, but any depth from 5 to 10 feet works well. Make sure to orient the camera sideways to capture maximum swim distance and you can point it down the lane to get a head-on view of your stroke.
Collect video. An 8-gigabyte memory card, which can be purchased for about $15 to $20, will record just over two hours in the high definition wide angle mode, so you can plant the camera at the bottom of the pool and record an entire workout on a single card. Sifting through an hour-long swim can be tricky, however, so we recommend recording just your main set.
Review and use the information
Once you have your own stroke on video, find an example of excellent technique from swim DVDs or YouTube and make a list of differences between your stroke and the example. Save this first video for future reference. Next time you go to the pool, focus on one of your technique problems throughout the entire workout. Persist for a week and then bring the camera back to the pool to record your new and hopefully improved stroke. Compare your original video to the new one and note how your stroke has changed. If you have fixed the problem, move onto No. 2 on your list.
In the head-on view, check out head and body position in relation to the surface of the water. The water line should slice along the top of your head, leaving half above and half below the surface. Your body should follow directly behind your head on the surface and be almost invisible to the camera.
Check out the path of your hand during the catch and pull phases. This view is perfect to check for centerline crossing. No part of your arm should ever cross to the other side. Your hand should enter the water in direct line with the shoulder and then make a sweeping, question-mark motion toward the hip.
Finally, watch your legs as you swim away from the lens. Look for the highest and lowest point of the kick; aim for a maximum of 1 to 2 feet of difference. Verify that each foot kicks through the surface of the water and makes bubbles on re-entry. This view is useful to identify good pointed toes and improper flexed feet.