Perfecting your front crawl swimming and breathing techniques is a vital part of shaving crucial seconds, or milliseconds, off your freestyle times.
Learning how to breathe properly, how to position yourself in the water, how to kick and how to make the most of your swimming strokes will see a marked improvement in your performances.
Supported by this video training guide from Speedo, we look at the four key areas you can focus on to help improve your freestyle swimming technique, and suggest some useful training aids to assist your development.
A streamlined body position will help you reduce resistance in the water, boosting your efficiency and speed. It is vital to keep your head in a neutral position as you swim. Use your eyes to focus directly beneath you at the bottom of the pool, which in turn will help keep your body in a straight line.
It's also important to keep your back flat. To achieve this, pull your stomach in by visualising yourself pulling your tummy button towards your spine. Ensure that your head is facing the bottom of the pool right beneath you at a 90° angle at all times, until it's time to breathe.
There are several training aids available to help you improve your positioning. Training fins can be used to help keep your hips aligned correctly, and prevent them from dropping, while a centre snorkel can give you more time to concentrate on your body positioning without having to worry about incorporating a breathing action.
It may be your arms, legs and core strength that generates the speed, but your breathing provides the fuel needed to power your body. A strong breathing technique will deliver the required amount of oxygen to your muscles, which in turn makes your swimming more comfortable and efficient.
The more efficient your breathing technique, the less impact it has on your stroke.
As your arm begins to recover over the water, turn your head to the side, breathing under your arm as it moves through to the front of the stroke. Remember to try to keep your body straight, only moving your head as you turn to breathe. Your body will naturally rotate slightly, but try to keep it as flat as possible.
To breathe in, you need to turn your head slightly so your mouth is just out of the water. Your eyeline should be level with the side of the pool, not the roof. If necessary, you can reduce the amount you turn your head. Always breathe in through your mouth, and not through your nose.
Once you've taken your breath, return your head to face the bottom of the pool as soon as possible and you can slowly start to breathe out through your nose or mouth. The key to a perfect exhale is doing it slowly and comfortably, breathing out until the next breath in.
Using fins as a training aid can be helpful here. This will help support your body and keep it positioned high in the water, enabling you to concentrate on perfecting your breathing technique.
Rigid feet and ankles will lose the free-flowing motion you're working towards, so try to keep your foot relaxed and extend your ankle, allowing it to flex slightly while pointing your toes. Remember, the stronger your legs are, the more propulsion you will achieve which in turn will increase your speed.
From a fairly straight-legged position, bend your knees slightly as your foot moves towards the surface − this is the up kick.
Then, straighten your leg as it moves towards the bottom of the pool while kicking from your hip − known as the down kick. It is this down kick that generates the most power, so it should feel like you're working harder on the down kick and slightly more relaxed on the up kick.
Accelerate on the down kick, while keeping your toes pointed, to generate more power. It is important to remember never to kick from your knee − all your kick power should come from your hip, and your ankle should flex slightly as it returns upwards.
As a training aid, try using a kickboard. This can be used to isolate the legs, which will help you to develop leg strength and power.
Improving your stroke technique will result in a faster and more efficient swim.
At the front of the stroke, gently place your hand into the water and make sure you enter with your fingertips first. Your palm should be facing the bottom of the pool, with your wrists slightly higher than your finger tips, and your elbow higher than your wrist.
Keep your elbow high as your arm enters the water and you start to pull down through the stroke. Then, press down with your forearm and try to hold as much water as possible − this is known as the catch position.
As you hold the water with one hand, your other hand recovers out of the water. When pulling, point your fingers directly towards the bottom of the pool and keep your elbow position high.
You should pull your body past your arm. Try to bring your pull - the phase where your hand is pulling down against the water − underneath your body. Keep your arm and hand beneath your body, rather than out to the side, as you pull through the stroke.
Extend the arm at the back of the stroke, pushing backwards as your hand exits the water. Continue to bend your arm through the stroke, straightening it slightly on exit.
When your arm exits the water, bend your elbow, keeping it high towards the ceiling. Leading the recovery with your shoulder will keep your arm relaxed, then extend your forearm to enter the water at the front of the stroke.
While training, have a go at using power paddles or finger paddles. These can be a useful training aid that will help you concentrate on improving the positioning of your hands as they enter the water.
Using fins during training help to increase resistance in the water, strengthen your leg muscles and improve ankle flexibility.
They will also help your positioning by keeping your hips aligned correctly and prevent them from dropping, and can also help support your body when you're focussing on developing your breathing technique. Take a look at the Speedo Training Fins or the Speedo BioFUSE Training Fins.
Centre snorkels allow you to put all your focus on body position and swimming technique, without having to worry about a breathing action.
Check out the Speedo Centre Snorkel - it really does help you get used to the neutral head position required for the perfect freestyle stroke technique.
Kickboards are great training aids for helping you improve your kick technique. The increased buoyancy isolates your lower body, which will help you to develop leg strength and power.
Using paddles can really help you develop your freestyle stroke technique. The Speedo Finger Paddle allows the surface area of the palm to be exposed, giving you more feel of the water. This helps you concentrate on hand positioning, improving both catch position and arm pull. The Speedo Power Paddle will encourage high elbows and correct hand entry, while building muscle strength and improving speed and technique.