Full disclosure: we’re not qualified swim instructors – the closest I ever came to teaching swim lessons was that time I lifted an upturned toddler out of the baby pool and returned her to a pair of unsuspecting parents. Back then, working as a lifeguard, I was a stranger to front-crawling for anything more than a half-mile. Now, after several years of cold water training, my brothers and me have grown used to long periods spent pawing through murky water. Hopefully we’ve picked up a few tricks in that time that might be useful to those of you who’re less confident in open water.
Let’s find out…
Here’s our Five Tips For A Smoother Front Crawl:
Don't Stress Too Much About What Your Feet Are Doing - One thing I've learnt is that when you start front-crawling, you shouldn't worry too much about how your feet are moving. Of course, constant kicking keeps you buoyant and stops your legs from sinking. However, if you concentrate too closely on your legs you can disrupt the consistency and timing of your strokes and breathes. Try to relax - when your arms tire you can always turn to your feet more heavily and use them as a recovery motor.
Always Reach For Full Extension – In the early days I used to pull my arms down to early and reduce the reach of my strokes. It's a great moment when you learn that if you reach as far ahead of you as you can, savouring the glide, you can actually conserve energy and find a more beneficial rhythm. For pull-back, I was taught to sweep my hand down through the water beneath me, with a slight flick, following the rough shape of a question mark. I think it was Sean Conway who also mentioned that you can open your fingers slightly to relieve your muscles and reduce the strain on your shoulders.
Aim For The Swimmer’s Sweet Spot – In colder water you’ve got to stay warm, so you’ve got to keep moving. Swimming the Eden we spent a total of nine days in the river, with roughly 10 miles in the water each day. The longer you swim the more you start to notice certain patterns of fatigue that can actually be manipulated and broken. You have recurring walls that you must get through. I usually hit my first wall early, after about 10 mins. This is a quick motivation slump that doesn't last long. I've realised over time, that when I get through this wall, I can swim for several hours after that without too much difficulty. Then walls start to reappear more frequently. The key to breaking through these walls, personally, is remembering that place of mindful peace - the Swimmer's Sweet Spot. Use the minor sensory deprivation to your advantage and concentrate on your breathing to invoke water-borne meditation. Relax and try to enjoy what you're doing, as it happens.
Don’t Worry About The Time – I tend to think that the key to endurance swimming is the ability to relax in seemingly stressful conditions. Immersed in a new sensory environment, deprived of familiar stimuli, the mind tends to wander and your mood sometimes fluctuates. Wearing watches or stopping too frequently to check the big lido clock, can disrupt the calming rhythm needed to lull both body and mind into that swimmer's sweet spot. Conversely, if you hit that spot, you almost forget you're swimming and the body begins to run on automatically. So, I would say that you shouldn't put too many constraints on each stretch of front crawl. Spend time trying to relax, focus on the shape and feel of each stroke and subdue your otherwise busy mind.
Listen To Your Body - When you start to swim front crawl for long periods, you'll notice that all the secrets you need to refine your technique are written in the responses of your body. Oceans Seven veteran, Adam Walker, pioneered a new style of swimming called the Ocean Walker Technique to compensate for a severe shoulder injury. He stopped incorporating an over-head arm rotation into his front crawl and instead opted for a semi-circle elbow push, with a relaxed forearm and hand, dipping his arm into the water earlier than before. Many swimmers encounter shoulder problems because of overhead rotation and could avoid such injuries by using this elbow push, whilst also keeping their driving hand low, so that it almost scrapes across the surface of the water.
Another interesting adjustment Adam made was to the position of his head in the water. When you swim your head essentially acts like a rudder for the rest of the body. I've grown used to watching my driving arm and focusing on my fingertips at the end of each extension. However, as Adam teaches in his swim classes and wrote on his blog, you're probably better off looking downward and keeping your head in a neutral position. Over time this will relax your neck muscles and reduce the added pressure on your spine. Try this for yourself and see if it makes any difference in the long term.
What tricks and tips have you picked up from your time in the water? Let us know in the comments section below.