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Things I wish people had told me about swimming front crawl/freestyle a year ago....

Updated on April 13, 2017

Things I wish people had told me about swimming front crawl when I started learning about a year ago…..

So this is kind of a letter to myself.

OK, first up, I’m still learning and I’m still not very good. I am by no means a coach and anything I say should be taken with a pinch of salt. BUT, If I had known the following I think I would have enjoyed swimming more (or at least hated it slightly less) and would have improved slightly quicker (and maybe I would have spent slightly less time with my head in my hands wondering why I was so useless.)

Don’t compare yourself to people who have been swimming for years. This may be self explanatory but it's taken me a long time (and I’m not convinced I’ve really learned to stop comparing) to realise how futile it is to wonder why I’m not as good as people who have been swimming for years. Learning to swim front crawl properly is really tough (at least it has been for me and I gather many others have felt the same.) Comparing yourself to others just leads to feeling pretty rubbish, feelings of inadequacy and potentially wanting to quit. Just don’t do it (and if you work this out please tell me how.)

SLOW DOWN. Is that slow enough? No, slow down much more. Enough? Maybe. It has taken me nearly a year to realise that I was just trying too hard and therefore getting way out of breathe and then everything started falling apart…. For months I thought my breathing was wrong, but I now realise the main culprit was that I was effectively always sprinting and wasting so much energy. If there is one thing I have learned it is that I blow up really quickly if I don’t slow right down. I really wish I had understood this a long time ago.

It will be really, really hard. It probably won’t be fun either. But swimming 2-3 times per week will lead to improvements eventually (and lessons really help. A lot.)

Don’t bother trying to flutter kick. OK, this may just be me but kicking is just so exhausting. If I try and kick hard I’m done in basically 50m. That’s it. Game over. When I started out I couldn’t believe how other people could keep swimming up and down without blowing up like I did. Maybe if you have years of experience it gets easier (and the swim fitness and technique to go with it) but for beginners, the trade off from a hard kick is just too big. Don’t bother trying to flutter kick, almost certainly you’ll end up kicking too hard and also end up scissor kicking all over the place. I spent months wondering how on earth I was ever going to be able to do long continuous swims whilst flutter kicking and I wish I hadn’t now. Now I just kick for balance only (not aiming for any propulsion) and just try to keep my hips up. I use far less energy doing this and it has made a huge difference.

Learn to love your pull buoy. If you are swimming predominantly for open water races, do virtually all of your training with a pull buoy. When I was told to do this a few months ago it was a revelation to me – swimming with a pull buoy makes a huge difference and allows you to focus on the far more important aspects of the stroke (and stops that sinking feeling….)

Doing 25s and 50s is fine. Really. I was obsessed with trying to go further and it really got to me that I couldn’t do long continuous sets. My stoke also started to fall apart as I got tired…. Then I was told to just go back to 25s and 50s with 15 second breaks and that really helped to reset my view of swimming and also helped to improve my stroke.

Unless Bi-lateral breathing comes really easily to you, don’t bother. People kept telling me I had to master bi-lateral breathing and I spent months on it. Then in January I was told to go back to breathing only on my right side and not to worry about symmetry. This again really helped and took away another massive obstacle. Yes I’m sure it’s great to be able to breath bi-laterally but if it’s causing other problems then is it really important? Brett Sutton recently wrote an article stating that he doesn’t think it is at all important and that individuals need to do what is best for them. I can breath on the left but I’m far happier just breathing on the right so I’ll stick to that for now.

As I said, I’m still very much a novice and by no means a good swimmer (I’m actually pretty awful.) But, if I had taken these points on board a lot earlier I would have had a more enjoyable learning experience (with probably less swearing.) I can now just about swim 400m front crawl non stop in a pool (which is kind of helpful considering my first pool based sprint tri of 2017 is in about 2 weeks) and hopefully much further in open water in a wetsuit (I’ll put that to the test next week.)

Many will disagree with most of what I have said and you should listen to them and not me. But for me, this stuff helped and anything that makes swimming front crawl more enjoyable is a good thing.


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