If you want to get fitter, sleep sounder, and have higher energy levels then you need to get your feet wet. And your legs. Actually, your entire body. After just four weeks of swimming subjects increased fitness levels by 15%, sleep quality by 40% and overall energy levels by 51%, according to Mindlab International. What’s more, the benefits weren’t just physical: participants reported a 33% decrease in negative emotions and a 35% increase in feelings of positivity, suggesting that a regular swim is one of the best things you can do to improve your physical and mental health.
Here’s how you can become a better swimmer to reap the physical and mental benefits faster, beginning with expert tips from Olympian Steve Parry on how to perfect your freestyle technique.
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Freestyle Swimming Tips
Stretch forward with each arm and re-enter the water fingers first, keeping them fully outstretched, straight and tight together. Use the full length of your arms and keep each stroke as smooth as possible.
Keep your head as still as you can, moving it only to the sides to take a breath. The waterline should stay just above your eyebrows.
Breathe Each Side
Breathe out underwater and take in air on both sides, every three or five strokes, to maintain an even stroke and keep a stable head position which helps you stay swimming in a straight line. Too many people try to breathe in and out when their head is to the side, which isn’t efficient.
Try to keep your body position straight from head to hips and horizontal when freestyle swimming. That will keep your torso as streamlined as possible and decrease drag through the water.
Take small and regular kicks in the water to complement arm movement and improve your body’s stability. The legs are your engine room so keep them moving fast to avoid them dragging behind you.
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More Swimming Tips
Observe lane etiquette
If you’re training in a pool, knowing the rules will help keep you and your fellow swimmers safe. “Check if the lane is running clockwise or anti-clockwise, be aware of those around you and always stop to let faster swimmers pass at the end of the lane,” says Sam Williams, a Total Immersion swimming coach at Swim Studio London (opens in new tab).
Most endurance sports such as cycling and running are all about exertion, but if you’re doing it properly, swimming should be the opposite. “If you’re too tense in the water, you’ll end up thrashing around, wasting energy and tiring yourself out,” says Williams. “Instead, focus on staying balanced in the water and maintaining a relaxed stroke.”
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Focus your training
Mindlessly drifting up and down the pool for hours isn’t the most productive use of your time. “Aim to do two short, 20- to 30-minute technique sessions during the week where you focus on improving a specific aspect of your stroke, such as your breathing or kicking,” says Williams. “Then do one longer session at the weekend, adding extra lengths or time every week to monitor your progress.”
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Take to a lake
More UK lakes are now being opened up for swimmers and not only are lakes ideal to swim in, but they also serve as a perfect development stage between the pool and the ocean. “Lakes are great for longer-distance training sessions where you can work on better breathing techniques and stroke improvement work, and they also double as fantastic practice for open-water races,” says Swim For Tri (opens in new tab) coach Dan Bullock.
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Warm down and stretch off
“It’s worth allocating an extra five to ten minutes at the end of your session to warm down properly with a few gentle, easy laps,” says personal trainer Aaron Deere. “This will help flush the lactic acid from your muscles to initiate recovery.” Once you’re out of the water, take the time to work on tight muscle groups with dynamic, movement-based stretches. “Lunging forward with one foot while raising both your arms directly above your head will target your chest, hip flexors and shoulders, all of which tend to get tight during swimming,” says Deere.
“Once you’ve finished your swim, replenish your glycogen stores with plenty of quality slow-release carbohydrates like wholegrain rice,” says endurance and nutrition coach Steve Whittle. “You should also have a decent serving of protein such as salmon to help your muscles recover.”
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