Rarely does a column go by that I don’t mention one of my two fundamentals for greater swimming efficiency. A swimmer who wants to “Swim Better” (the title of my book) needs to understand that to do so requires decreasing resistance or increasing propulsion (or both).

The second understanding is that stroking is not a matter of moving the hand (or, more properly, the hand-arm lever) past the body, but instead that stroking is levering the body past the anchored hand.

Knowing what to do to improve a swimmer’s skills is not enough. My book also has two rules to be followed in order to eliminate bad habits and replace them with more efficient skills.

The first is to make it different. Make it a new habit, not just a modification of the old. For instance, I can tell a swimmer who points his fingers up (more resistance and less propulsive surface) just to point his fingers down when they enter the water. He will do that, but only for a few strokes, after which he is back to his old, long-developed habit.

That’s the reason for my second rule:  Quality over quantity. Swim only more efficient strokes, and stop when you can’t. This is the greatest barrier toward swimmers becoming more efficient – the desire to complete some number of laps or to swim continuously for a given time period. You can’t get better just swimming laps!

For better, more efficient strokes, a swimmer must assume a different attitude, replacing laps by swimming at first just one or two “new” strokes at a time.

Additionally, there are drills to practice a new stroke or its aspects, though not necessarily the supposed 10,000 repetitions needed to ingrain a new habit. Otherwise, the swimmer keeps on reinforcing old, less efficient habits.

The swimmer’s changed attitude should include not regretting the temporary loss of laps. Instead, there is the long-term benefit of a more efficient stroke. Such a stroke enables the swimmer to complete more laps in the same time with less energy expended. Over the course of a swimming lifetime, that temporary loss becomes insignificant.

An old swimming friend once gave me this sequence to follow:  Unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence. Maybe that will work for you, too.

Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor, coach and author of “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors,” directed primarily to non-competitors. bobcolyer@yahoo.com