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by Terry Heggy

September 30, 2019

Snap a photo, improve your strokes

When I’m in a groove, my strokes are wonderfully smooth, powerful, and efficient. Every turn is streamlined, and every breath is a masterpiece in the art of alignment.

At least that’s how it feels to me. But when I watch myself on video, I see a flailing marionette whose clumsy efforts seems consciously crafted to attract drag and generate turbulence. Fortunately for my ego, there is plenty of evidence that I’m not alone in this cognitive disconnect. In fact, I think every coach in the world would agree with me when I say:

You are not doing exactly what you think you’re doing in the water.

In other words, you can’t rely solely on your own senses to achieve perfect strokes. Consistent focus on feel for the water certainly helps, as does corrective instruction from your coach. But unless you use an underwater mirror, you can’t see what your limbs are doing as you swim. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to obtain personal visual feedback for stroke diagnosis.

Gather the Evidence

Find a location with a plain background that’ll make it easy to distinguish the position of body parts when you take your selfies. Enlist a friend to take the photos or set up your camera with a self-timer. If you’re analyzing your ability to get streamlined, make sure your entire body fits in the frame. If you’re looking at a specific arm or hand element, zoom in.

The key is to find your position by feel, so the photo will give you realistic feedback. Close your eyes as you assume the position and imagine you’re in the water and are doing the motion exactly as you’d do it in a workout or race. You may even want to perform a sequence of strokes before posing, so that you get into your normal rhythm.

Informative selfie poses include the following:

  • Streamlined position—Lift your hands together over your head, squeeze your shoulders against the sides of your head, and elongate your torso with the core engaged. Click!
  • Freestyle breathing—Move your arms and head through a few stroke cycles and then freeze for the photo when your head is turned to inhale. Click!
  • Backstroke entry—Start with your hand by your hip where you release the water for the recovery. Perform the recovery motion and freeze for the photo at the point your hand would enter the water for the catch. Click!
  • Vertical forearm—Shoot this one from both the front and the side. Close your eyes and begin the pulling motion until you feel that your fingers would be pointing directly toward the pool bottom. Click!
  • Breaststroke kick recovery—Face the wall and lift your heels as in a breaststroke kick recovery. Turn your ankles out to the final point before you would begin the thrust that brings the legs back together. Click!

Evaluate the Data

When reviewing your photos, look for alignment issues such as bent or overreaching arms, a crooked spine, or the head being tilted to one side. Compare left and right sides for symmetry. Analyze drag profile (overall body width and depth) and how things change during different parts of the stroke.

Nothing you do on dry land will exactly match what you do in the water, but it still could be close enough for the photos to illuminate differences between what you feel and the harsh facts of empirical reality. You’re also likely to confirm what your coach has been telling you, so you can get to work on making those corrections. And think of all the interesting comments you’ll get when you post these selfies online!


  • Technique and Training


  • Stroke Technique