Coaching swim technique should be a simple thing. There are plenty of coaches who would like to make it elaborate, complicated, and mysterious. This gets in the way of athlete development. By simplifying swimming, we set our athletes up for success.

When I’m working with a new group of athletes, I tell them to take everything they’ve heard or learned about swimming and put it into a mental box. Whether their information came from a coach, a friend, a stranger at the pool, or a YouTube video, I tell them to take that little mental box and burn it.

In my approach to swim training, freestyle swimming comes down to three fundamental elements: streamlining, rotation, and balance/stability. When freestyle is swum correctly, a swimmer moves from one sideline streamline to the other, with rotation that is generated from the hips, and stability that is maintained through the head, chest, and shoulders. These principles apply whether you’re a beginner or an elite. It’s that simple.

The principles of streamlining, rotation, and balance inform all movement of the arms and body through the entire stroke and recovery. Any movement of the arms must be streamlined and contribute to a streamlined body position. Rotation comes from the hips and must be coordinated with the stroke to generate power, increase stroke length, and enhance streamlining. Stability is generated through the chest and shoulders and allows for the maximum transfer of power to forward movement.

I use a functional drill that has my athletes finish their stroke with power and flow while also maximizing stroke length, efficiency, and stability. This simple drill has been called many things, but to capture the essence of what we’re doing, I call it “two-touch.”

I have new and developmental swimmers doing nothing but two-touch for all of their swimming. I bring it back in with my advanced swimmers when they need to reconnect with the basics.

A swimmer performs the two-touch drill by touching his thigh, on the front of the leg, making contact with skin below the speedo– that’s touch number one. The second touch is at the front of the stroke. The swimmer leaves her lead hand at the front until the recovering hand touches it – that’s touch number two. Touch thigh, touch hand, touch thigh, touch hand, one, two, one, two, touch, touch, touch.

The two-touch drill in action.

When executed with a pause during the touch at the thigh, this drill demands that the swimmer complete each stroke with power and rotation while also maintaining stability and holding his front. This drill alone can make anyone a better swimmer.

In my work with Brett Sutton, I have become familiar with his methods of simplifying freestyle mechanics. Brett utilizes three cues that move a swimmer through the underwater phases of the stroke. He calls them place, press, and push. Press and push give my athletes a simple and tangible mental cue for action.

Discussion of swim mechanics typically revolves around the concepts of entry, set, catch, pull, finish, and recovery. Unfortunately, these descriptions of the stroke are conceptual and don’t provide any action-oriented command for an athlete. In contrast, the mental cues of press and push provide concrete prompts for repeatable physical action.

The press moves through the first third of the freestyle stroke, it is comprised of what’s typically called the set and catch. The press generates lift, momentum, and stability. The push makes up the last two thirds of the stroke, which is often called the pull and finish. This is where the swimmer generates the most power and propulsion. It also propels the swimmer into the sideline streamline and positions the swimmer for the next stroke.

The terminology itself can actually make a difference to the quality of the swimmer’s stroke. Having a swimmer think about a “pull” can subtly encourage that swimmer to drop his elbow. In contrast, the cue “push” encourages a swimmer to generate propulsion with the paddle of the hand, engaging the chest, lat, and triceps, and to avoid dropping her elbow. At the front of the stroke, the cue “press” gives the swimmer a concrete action that he can focus on to engage and propel the stroke. These two mental cues for action simplify freestyle and encourage better, stronger, faster swimming.

View Coach Mateo Mercur’s full profile here.

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