How do I develop power in my swimming stroke?

Try performing the reverse freestyle exercise with bands, tubing or swim cords. Reverse freestyle is standing with the cords coming from behind you, as opposed to standing facing the cords as you do in the freestyle pull. Hold the cords in your hand and hinge forward at the hips. Simulate a freestyle pull motion, it is okay to rock your torso slightly to engage the obliques and abdominal muscles. This is more swim specific as well. Make sure not to over rotate, though, for the safety of the shoulders. With the resistance coming from behind you, this exercise works the forward flexion of the arm, activating the latissimus dorsi, the anterior deltoids, and the pectoralis muscles. Make sure to eccentrically contract your muscles to control the return of the band to its un-stretched position. The reverse freestyle focuses on a forceful reach and pull portion of the swim stroke. Another exercise to help develop power in a swim stroke is catch up. Stand facing the source of the cords and execute the freestyle pull one arm at a time, but pause at the top of the stroke, so that both arms are extended out in front of you at the same time, only for a second, before one arm returns to your side. I like to think of tapping one hand on top of the other to release the outstretched arm. This will help improve your front quadrant swimming and your length in the water.

The efficiency of the stroke is just as important as the power of the stroke. In addition to training for power, train for efficiency.      

Count your strokes across the pool, as you become more efficient you should be taking less strokes to cover the same distance in the same amount of time.    

A simplified summary of the mechanics of the stroke is the entry, the reach, the stroke, the finish and the recovery:      

  • Begin the stroke with the hand and arm at an angel that will 'slice' forward into the water. Peek at your hand as it enters the water and try to the minimize air bubbles your hand makes.  
  • Reach the arm forward, roll the shoulders, and keep the head neutral. Your body position should be long and smooth.  
  • The underwater stroke should make an 'S'-curve with the top curve of the 'S' larger than the bottom curve of the 'S'. Don't reach too deep or out too far away from your body as this will decrease the power of the stroke and may stress the shoulder and elbow. Keep your hands from crossing over the center of your body's mid-line as this may cause you to zig-zag. Try to feel an equal pressure on your hand throughout the entire 'S' to maximize the power of the stroke 
  • Finish the stroke with power and length. At the final part of the stroke the hand should move through the water similar to a tricep extension near the belly and finish with a strait arm near the leg.
  • Recover with the arm out of the water, elbow high, like trying to reach up and over a beachball.    

Strength exercises can be helpful in maximizing stroke power. Examples are rear deltoid raises, tricep push ups, and lat pulls downs. Perform power sets as well as endurance set. Also simulate a stroke using resistance bands.    

Strength training is important to supplement swim training, but nothing can replace time in the pool. Round out your swim workouts with a combination of distance, sprint and middle-distance sets. While sprinting works the speed and turnover of your stroke, the distance training will help with efficiency and endurance. With middle distance training you have the opportunity to combine speed and endurance. Work on breathing on both sides of the body, every third or fifth stroke. Utilize kickboards and pull-buoys to really focus on powering your kick and your stroke. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.