Swimming is an activity unlike any other. It presents unique challenges such as being immersed in an unfamiliar environment, working with buoyancy, moving forward in a horizontal position and not being able to breathe at will. These elements make moving through the water efficiently a very technical endeavour. Elite swimmers like Michael Phelps have mastered these skills and you can too.

After coaching masters swimmers and triathletes for close to 30 years, here are some common errors I see many people make with the freestyle stroke.

1. Body Position

Your body position determines whether you float or sink. The most common error is holding the head too high in the water. Your body is like a teeter-totter, if your head is up your legs will sink. Rather than facing forward, face the bottom of the pool. Continue to look ahead with your eyes while having the water at the crown of your head.

2. Over Kicking

In most activities our legs are what move us forward. In the water our arms do most of the work and too often our legs use all our energy. Focus on creating balance with your legs in the water. Kick lightly, creating a strong horizontal line with your body.

This does not mean your legs should be ignored; it’s about balance. Continue to develop the efficiency of your kick so you can use it effectively in your stroke.

3. Breathing

When breathing, focus on your exhale while maintaining effective alignment. Before you turn your head to take a breath, ensure you have exhaled completely either through your nose, or your nose and mouth combined. When you turn your head to breathe, think of these two cues to achieve an efficient breathing position; ‘one goggle in the water, one goggle out, keeping your ear on your shoulder.’

Keep things simple and strive to correct one skill at a time. Swimming efficiently isn’t easy for anyone. Take on the challenge in a lighthearted way and enjoy the process!

World Record 50 M freestyle:

  • Sarah Sjostrom, (2017) 23.67 seconds
  • Cesar Cielo, (2009) 20.91 seconds