>Hated school swimming lessons? Never mastered front crawl? It’s not too late to perfect your strokes and become a better swimmer.

 
One of the most comprehensive total body workouts, a long, hard swim is the perfect opportunity to de-stress, burn calories and improve your posture without causing any strain to your joints.

The perfect front crawl

Work all your muscles at once and increase your stamina with the front crawl.

Arm action ‘Keeping your fingers straight will help you move through the water with the least resistance and keep you moving in a straight line,’ says Mark Skimming, head swimming coach at the University of Bath Department of Sports Development and Recreation. ‘When people put their hands into the water with their fingers pointing slightly off to one side, it causes them to pull across through the water, rather than down, which makes them change direction.’

Kick start Kick with your legs close together and ankles relaxed and in a continuous motion. Try to keep your legs as a straight as possible and the more kicks per cycle, the more energy you will use.

And breathe… Keep your head turn as smooth as possible when you breathe and try not to lift your head too high out of the water – the more your head raises, the more your feet and legs will sink in the water, advises British Swimming Board’s swimming.org. After a sharp inhale, turn your face quickly and smoothly back into the water. A standard technique is to breathe after every three strokes.

HOW TO AVOID FOOT CRAMP

A common and tedious problem for swimmers, cramp occurs at the sole of the foot and can be relieved with some stretching, but usually makes it very difficult to continue your workout. ‘Cramp occurs when a muscle is fatigued and overused,’ says Carl Butler, British Swimming physiotherapist. ‘The first thing to remember is to stay hydrated, not just with water but with electrolytes, and second, stretching is vital for maintaining flexibility in your muscles and should be included in your warm-up and warm-down.’ For more information on muscle stretches for cramp, see here.

Target back and biceps with breaststroke

Crack the perfect breaststroke and you’ll target back, biceps and triceps.

Put your head in the water ‘A common mistake when doing breaststroke is to hold your head above water,’ says Mark. ‘This makes your head sink and your legs drag.’

Avoid neck ache When you put your head down, your body forms a straight line that cuts through the water, reduces the resistance, and allows you to swim much faster. It also reduces the strain on your neck.

Control your breathing Learn to control your breathing, by coming up for breaths between strokes, and you will get more of an aerobic workout from your swim.

Backstroke, the full body stretch

For a long distance workout go for the backstroke.

Look up ‘Don’t be tempted to look at your toes, as this will cause your feet to rise up and unbalance you,’ says Mark.‘Keep your body straight by looking up at the ceiling or sky.’

Grab the water ‘Another common mistake is to put your hand in the water, thumb first,’ says Mark. ‘This forces you to turn your arm awkwardly in the water and lose some of the power of the stroke. Put your little finger in the water first, then follow through with the rest of your hand so it grabs the water and pushes it towards your feet.’

Keep your legs close together Kick from the hips rather than the knees – with ankles relaxed and knees bent on the downbeat – and kick as hard and as fast as feels comfortable, recommends swimming.org.

WANT TO IMPROVE?

Swimming lessons aren’t just for children and beginners. A good teacher will transform the way you move and breathe in the water in the water, enabling you to move through the water faster, get fitter and get much more out of your swim. Visit swimming.org or everyoneactive.com to find a pool and a teacher near you, or ask at your leisure centre.

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