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If you’re tired of swimming slowly and feeling exhausted when you get to the other end of the pool, it’s time to make a change. You’re probably making a few mistakes that are impacting your swimming speed and efficiency.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the most common mistakes we see swimmers of all levels make, and how to fix them!
1. Kicking Too Much
So many swimmers think that the bigger their kick, the better. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Sure, a large, wide freestyle kick might be more powerful, but it also creates more drag, which ends up slowing you down overall. Instead of kicking big, focus on narrowing your kick and keeping your kicks short and fast instead of big and slow.
Think about keeping your kick within your body line. If your kick extends outside of your body line, you’re going to experience more drag.
Your legs contain lots of large muscles that use blood and energy like crazy when you’re kicking hard. If you want to save energy, you need to kick less!
In general, you don’t need to focus on kicking as much as you might think. For many swimmers (especially distance swimmers), the kick helps to keep the hips up and helps drive rotation, rather than boosting speed. So if you’re a beginner, heed our advice and de-emphasize your kick!
2. Swimming Too Fast
It can be tempting to start your workout at full speed, especially if the pool is chilly! But we warn you to avoid doing this at all costs…if you do, you’re going to get tired really quickly and you might increase your risk of injury.
Before you step on the gas and start sprinting, take the time to do a proper warmup. Swim easy to loosen up your muscles and gradually increase your heart rate. Incorporate drills, kicking or pulling for extra muscle activation and to set up your technique for the rest of your workout.
Save your speed and effort for the main set – it’s the focus of your workout, after all. If you want to swim fast, you need to train fast…during the main set!
3. Creating Too Much Splash
Many beginner swimmers create big splashes with every kick and arm stroke, thinking that they’re swimming faster.
We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but a big splash creates more drag. The bigger the splash, the more drag you create.
Related: How to Decrease Drag in Swimming
Instead of slapping your arms into the water with each stroke, think about gliding your hands into the water with the middle finger first. Stretch your arm out to grab as much water as possible, and pull.
Try to make as little sound as possible as you swim. We call this “Silent Swimming!”
When it comes to sprint racing, you’ll notice that swimmers create pretty large splashes as they race. However, most of the pros have spent time finding the right balance between drag and power that ends up working out in their favor.
4. Looking Forward
So many swimmers like to look forward at the other side of the pool as they swim, and it’s messing with their speed big time.
When it comes to freestyle body position, your hips usually do the opposite of what your head is doing. This means that if you look forward, your hips will drop and create excess drag. Trust us, dragging your legs through the water is not a good time.
Instead, think about keeping your head in a neutral position. You should be able to see the black line on the bottom of the pool. This head position will encourage your hips to float up to the surface of the water, making your stroke more streamlined.
Remember: The wall isn’t going anywhere. You’ll get used to using the line on the bottom and the backstroke flags to signal where you’re at in the pool.
5. Not Having the Right Gear
To get the best swim workout, you need to have the right gear. At the bare minimum, make sure you have:
- A comfortable swimsuit that’s not too loose. A big, baggy suit will create drag.
- Goggles that fit your eyes well. Depending on your pool environment, choose between dark or light goggles.
- A swim cap, especially if you have longer hair. Wearing a cap will streamline your head and keep your hair out of your face.
Once you’ve got the minimum gear in order, it’s time to add extra equipment! We recommend starting with these:
- A pair of fins to help you build strength in your legs and work on speed. Fins can also be helpful for maintaining momentum during more challenging drills.
- A pull buoy and paddles for pull sets. The buoy goes between your legs to help you isolate your arms, and the paddles add resistance and can help you refine your pull.
- A front mounted snorkel is a great addition for drill work. When you wear a snorkel, you don’t need to turn your head to breathe, which can be helpful during drills focused on other aspects of your stroke.
We recommend checking out Nike Swim for your next swim gear restock! Nike is well-known for amazing running shoes and sports gear, and their swim gear is just as high quality with tons of options for every type of swimmer.
Nike Swim’s Hydrastrong fabric is designed for long hours in the pool, and can stand up to intense competition. Every suit is quick drying and fade resistant, so your favorite suit will last longer, even after hundreds of hours in the chlorine or salt water.
We’ve also been loving the Vapor Mirror Goggles. They’re super comfortable, they’re low profile to reduce drag and you look like a boss wearing them.
6. Holding Your Breath
This next mistake might surprise you! We don’t recommend holding your breath when you swim. Let’s explain.
When you hold your breath, carbon dioxide builds up in your body. If you don’t get rid of that carbon dioxide with an adequate exhale, you’re going to fatigue more quickly.
Your breathing could be suffering when you swim for a few reasons:
1. You’re Not Exhaling When Your Face is in the Water
We often see swimmers try to exhale and inhale when they turn their heads to the side in freestyle. This is a recipe for disaster! There’s not nearly enough time to fully exhale and fully inhale, which will leave you feeling extra fatigued.
Instead, turn your head to the side for a quick inhale, and exhale through your nose when your face is in the water. This ensures that you have enough time for a big breath when you turn your head, and can get rid of all the CO2 in your lungs when you exhale.
2. You Don’t Have a Breathing Pattern
To set yourself up for success in freestyle, you need to find a breathing pattern and stick with it. Many swimmers breathe every two or three strokes. When you breathe consistently, your body gets a steady stream of oxygen and can keep going for much longer.
7. Crossing Over
To explain this next mistake, we need you to visualize with us. Imagine there’s a laser beam that runs through the middle of your body, from the top of your head to between your feet.
Many swimmers’ hands enter the water and cross over that invisible laser…which is no good! Crossing over is extremely inefficient and can lead to shoulder injury due to overuse.
Focus on keeping your hands on either side of this imaginary mid-line as you swim freestyle. Ideally, your hand will enter the water directly in line with your shoulder, so you can initiate your catch and pull straight back. Avoid crossing over under the water as well!
8. Swimming Flat
You’re not a ship, so don’t swim like one! Good freestyle includes plenty of rotation to reduce drag and increase your distance per stroke.
Focus on building rotational momentum as you swim. With every stroke, reach your hand as far forward as you can to maximize the power of each pull.
Rather than a ship, you want to be like a speedboat as you swim. Good swimmers ride higher in the water, instead of plowing through like a big cruise ship would.
9. Pulling With a Straight Arm
In freestyle, a great rule of thumb is to always keep your elbow above your hand, both above and below the water. New swimmers often pull with a straight arm, which isn’t the most efficient.
Above the water, this is called high elbow recovery. Below the water, it’s called Early Vertical Forearm (EVF). When you pull with a high elbow, you are able to pull more water because your hand, wrist and forearm are all part of the movement. This can also help reduce stress on your shoulders.
At the elite level, many sprinters swim with straight arms, but that’s not something beginners need to focus on just yet.
10. Not Having a Plan
If you’re content just swimming laps without a goal in mind, that’s great. However, if you want to improve any aspect of your swimming, whether that’s technique, speed or endurance, you need to follow a structured plan.
Remember: A goal without a plan is just a wish. The right training plan will help you safely progress to the next level on the right timeline and avoid injuries along the way.
To get a customized Training Plan tailored to your goals and swimming speed, check out the MySwimPro app! You’ll also unlock daily, personalized swim workouts, a stroke-specific Workout Library, Technique Videos and detailed analytics.
Whether you’re brand new to swimming or you’re well into your swimming journey, there’s always something you can improve. Focus on being 1% better each day and soon you’ll reap the rewards of your dedication.
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