SwimEasy Newsletter Jan – Swimming & Strength

Happy New Year !

Swimming and Strength.

Why are so many world records set by teenagers? Surely strength is important. Well it is, and those teenagers usually keep breaking their own records as they mature, but swimming is a sport where technique and fitness are more important than physical strength. Firstly we are suspended by water and weight due to gravity is not an issue, unlike cycling, running and the obvious sports like weightlifting.

I keep on emphasising that efficiency means using only those muscles which are required and keeping the others loose. But which ones are they?

Speed comes from applying more backward pressure on the water during the “pull” phase of the stroke which is combined with body rotation for more power [see Principles number 4 and 7 of my 7 Basic Principles]. The muscles which do most of the work are the lats, pecs and triceps. That’s why you see champions stretching with their hand behind the neck, elbow pointing up and pulling that elbow with their other hand in a sideways and backwards arch.

The lats, pecs and triceps should feel tired and stiff after a hard and/or long swim. That’s good. If you feel stiff in your deltoids neck and upper back, you’re doing one or more of;

  • Not rotating enough, needing to get your recovering arm out of the water using back and neck muscles rather than by body rotation. Body rotation uses very little energy. Just float on your back with a gentle kick and roll over onto your front. Yes, that’s all the energy it takes!
  • You’re rotating by jacking your elbow up rather than leading with body rotation. Our shoulders are built for the efficient use of arms within the circle of your peripheral vision when looking straight ahead, i.e. eating, hugging, holding babies etc. Stand with your arms spread sideways, then push your elbows and hands backward and feel the stress in all those hundreds of back and neck muscles!
  • At the end of your pull you are bringing your arm forward [“recovery”] using your deltoids, and if you guys haven’t shaved you have a rash on your upper shoulder! Keep your shoulders away from your jaw in their natural, relaxed position. Lie on your side on the floor, bottom arm extended forward and top arm resting on your hip. You’re in the inhaling phase of your swim stroke [or point your nose to the floor while still lying on your side and you’re exhaling]. Now just throw your upper arm forward keeping your hand lower than your elbow. That’s all the energy you need for the recovery phase. Note that you’re sideways during this phase which goes with my slogan “Stay sideways longer.”





Use the “fingerdrag” exercise to achieve a relaxed recovery. Remember to lead with body roll, not your elbow, and drag your fingers past your head so you stay sideways longer.

Consult with a trainer for strength exercises for your lats, pecs and triceps. A good one is with dual handle pulley weights, pulling down and back as if you were doing swim strokes from the “entry”, through the “pull” and a “push” at the end.

Hey, with more power you’ll do fewer strokes per lap at greater speed….. with the same or less effort.




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