Chop, Slap, Stab
Violence is not the answer!
Coaches often talk about the recovery, the catch, the rotation of the body, and a lot of other things that contribute to fast freestyle. Granted, there are a lot of things that are matters of style, but on a recent trip to the pool, a few different entry types started to emerge and none of them facilitate fast swimming for most people.
The chop is characterized by a very flat body position and a very low angle of the upper arm in relationship to the surface of the water. Choppers tend to chop at the water, plunging the thumb in first on the entry. The momentum of the arm carries in front of the head, creating overreaching, which, at best, requires energy to stop the lateral movement of the hand. At worst, the hand swings wide, breaks the swimmer’s streamline, and slows forward momentum.
Slappers reach way over the water and hammer the whole arm down at once, creating a huge splash with the arm. Splashes on all entries mean that the surface of the water is absorbing some of the energy you are putting into swimming without giving anything back, and worse yet, creating turbulent water that is hard to hold.
Stabbers’ hands enter the water with the thumb or fingers very early and then pull. They have a very high stroke rate and stroke count because they're not grabbing ahold of the water. This tends to be a motion of pushing down to the bottom of the pool before initiating the stroke.
There are a few drills that work for fixing a lot of these issues:
- Freestyle head-tap: Tap the tip of your middle finger to the top of your head with each arm recovery, making sure the head position is facing down at the time of the tap and not while the head is turned to breathe.
- Shark fin/sailboat: Hesitate before the entry and make a shark fin or sail with the upper arm and forearm. This takes a lot of core control.
- Quiet swimming: Try to slip the hand in the water with no splash and without pulling any bubbles under the water.
- Catch-up: Slow down the stroke rate to help keep your balance in the water. Wait for one hand to catch up with the other. Keep your hand strike shoulder-width apart and don’t touch them together up front; touching in front can lead to overreaching across the centerline of the body.
You can also make hybrid drills out of all of these by combining two or more to work on more than one thing at a time.