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4 Keys to a Better Swim Stroke

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Many would-be triathletes are discouraged by the prospect of tackling an open-water swim, even a modest quarter-mile swim in a sprint triathlon. After all, most everyone can ride a bike and most adults have done some distance running at some point. For those two legs of the event, it’s just a matter of building enough endurance.

Swimming, though an endurance sport, actually is more comparable to golf. In both instances, you’re mastering a series of integrated yet separate motions that collectively make up a single stroke. The key in both sports is to spend most of your time on drills to master a proper, repeatable stroke. Until that happens, you’re merely practicing poor form. Here are some tips for newbie swimmers to channel their inner Michael Phelps:

1. Join a masters swim program.

Private lessons are expensive. Instead, find a masters swim program; they’re everywhere and affordable. The masters coach roams the deck—or gets in the pool—and goes from lane to lane working with athletes of all abilities, focusing more on newcomers to help them learn basic techniques. As you improve, you need less instruction, but the coach is there to correct any bad habits that develop—and they will.

2. Use video.

Few sports are as conducive to learning via video as swimming. Underwater cameras allow you to watch great swimmers and see how they position their heads, rotate their hips, position their arms, and perform every element of the swim stroke. The “Total Immersion” instructional DVDs have been used by thousands of novice swimmers. NBC has archived dozens of clips from last year’s Olympics. If you ever have a chance to have your own stroke videotaped and analyzed, jump at the opportunity. You’ll notice obvious flaws you didn’t know existed.

3. Don't forget your core.

There’s perhaps no other sport that relies so much on the core muscles of the shoulder, torso, and hips. Newbie triathletes, faced with a sudden increase in training time, tend to cut back on strength and core training. This is not the time to do so. If you’re having a tough time fitting it all in, check out Core Performance Endurance, a program designed specifically for endurance athletes.

4. Lose the ego.

Joe Biondi, a masters swim coach in Clearwater, Fla., says it takes three to four times longer to become a good swimmer than it does to master any other sport. “Most athletes, regardless of ability, expect to be a world beater in just a few weeks,” Biondi says. “This is (usually) not the case. Every athlete has an ego, goals and expectations. I have had very good athletes come to a practice and leave because a 65-year-old lady in the next lane was kicking their butt and the old ego could not handle it. Leave your ego with your back pack when you get to the pool. If you wish to be a good swimmer, you need to be patient.”

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Swimming, Triathlon, Outdoor Recreation