Due to the complexity of the freestyle stroke, it’s helpful to isolate areas of improvement and focus on these for a dedicated period of time. Recently I have been focusing on ‘snapping the hips’, by which I mean a quicker rotation of the hips at each stroke. This focus solves a number of issues with my stroke:
- This prevents me from “swimming flat”, where I under-rotate, which significantly shortens my reach in the water. Don’t know what I mean by this? Stand face-first against a wall and reach up. Now rotate to the side and notice how much higher you can reach as the shoulder “opens”.
- This allows me to breath earlier in my stroke. Slow body roll means that my lead hand is well into the catch phase by the time I breath, thereby sinking my hips. A quick rotation allows me to breath earlier in the stroke, when the head most naturally turns in line with the whole body.
- Quickening the hips naturally quickens arm turnover, leading to a higher stroke rate. Seeing increased reach and increased turnover equates to notable speed gains.
A couple areas of caution with this focus:
- If you already over-rotate (ie. more than 1 goggle lens and 2/3 of your mouth out of the water on a breath), then you want to focus on a more controlled motion, likely assisted by focusing on “cleaning up” your kick, ie. not kicking so wide or bending the knee so far.
- Snapping the hips shouldn’t infer that you are only rotating at the hips, which puts a lot of strain on the back. Rather, it suggests being quick with the hips, but the body should still rotate as a coordinated whole.
- This drive from quick hips recruits a lot of core. If this is a new focus for you, don’t be surprised if you feel the tenderness for a few days in your abdominal external obliques.
The Race Club has two great videos on body rotation, so be sure to check them out if you’re looking for more info and some related drills.