Swimming, like life itself, needs balance to be efficient and effective. In life, we balance relevant factors to control our way to desirable ends. Efficient swimming can be one such goal.
The most obvious case for swimming balance relates to the body’s long axis, sometimes referred to as the vertical axis or line of gravity, around which the body’s core and extremities rotate. Swimming front crawl or back crawl involves alternating glides on one’s left and right sides, taking full advantage of the longest possible body lengths along the long axis.
Swim strokes must be balanced to be efficient in a straight line. Obviously this applies to the movements of the extremities in breaststroke and butterfly. In fact, the stroke rules call for such movements to be “simultaneous and symmetrical.”
Equal balance along the long axis keeps other strokes straight. If front and back crawl strokes are not balanced, they will move the body toward one side.
I’m sure I have mentioned exhaling to the non-breathing side. This not only helps rotate the body so that both exposed shoulders facilitate recovery, but such rotation also prevents the arm on the non-breathing side from crossing over in front of the head to create a less effective stroke.
Short axis balance around the body’s horizontal midsection is even more important if you can think of the body as a seesaw. If the swimmer’s head is kept too high and the legs kick too deep, the body is like a two-by-four with its flat bottom creating huge resistance to forward momentum.
Let me explain this anatomically, or kinesiologically. The body’s center of buoyancy (lower chest area) needs to be in the water, not on the water. Thus it and the center of gravity (belly button area) can be at the same depth, minimizing forward resistance.
This is not natural. It needs to be practiced by simple kicking with arms and hands at side. The chest presses down until the swimmer’s hips float up, which feels almost like swimming downhill.
Efficient aquatic locomotion needs relaxation of both body and mind. It also requires propulsion from leverage against the water by arms and hands that move the body past the hand.
But the easiest way toward efficiency is to decrease resistance by balancing the body along both the long and short axes. Go for it!
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. email@example.com