Develop your front crawl technique with Karen Pickering

Swum well, front crawl it is the fastest and most efficient of all techniques, yet most of us struggle to master the breathing and timing that are crucial for the movement to be flowing and streamlined. Master it and you will cover considerably more lengths with less effort.

Body position: Your body should be parallel with the water’s surface and as flat as possible. If your legs or lower body are too low it will slow you down. Despite remaining flat, your body should rotate lengthways, rolling slightly from side to side. This allows you to extend your reach by engaging your back muscles.

Head: Don’t look too far down towards the bottom of the pool – this lowers the body and reduces its streamlining effect through the water. Instead, aim for the water level to meet your forehead with your eyes beneath the water but look slightly upwards towards the end of the pool. But don’t hold your head too high as this increases drag and strains the back and neck.

Breathing: Don’t lift your head too high out of the water when you breathe – you will barely notice when an elite swimmer takes a breath and it should be as smooth as possible. If you breathe on every third stroke, you will take a breath on alternate sides. This encourages good balance in the water.

Arms: As you reach forward with the arm taking the stroke (the active arm), it should be fully extended for a moment before your hand catches the water. Enter with fingertips first and then the hand and forearm. Keep the elbow slightly higher than the forearm. It can help to imagine you are grabbing the water with the palm of your hand and pulling yourself past that hand. As you pull, keep the arm close to the body for streamlining, accelerating through the stroke. By the end of the stroke, the elbow should be straight. The hand should exit when it passes the hip, when the elbow should be flexed again.

Legs and feet: Kick from the hips, not the knees. It is vital to keep feet and ankles as loose and relaxed as possible – think of the way a dolphin’s tail moves in the water. Flex your feet and you can send your body in the opposite direction or bring yourself to a virtual standstill.

How to make a tumble turn

Olympic medalist David Davies explains the fastest way to turn at the end of a length:

1. As you swim towards the wall, look for the T on the bottom of the pool floor. Try not to slow down and don’t lift your head. Just before you reach the wall, perform a forward somersault. Keep your chin on your chest and as your feet meet the wall they should be shoulder-width apart.

2. Stretch your arm out. Push your feet hard against the wall and twist on to your front. Don’t slow down or speed up. Push hard with your feet and twist on to your front. Add a leg kick as you start to reach the surface.

David Davies won bronze at the 2004 Olympics in the 1500m freestyle, and silver in Beijing in the open water 10k swim

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