From struggling novices to lap swimmers to seasoned competitors, not everyone wants to “swim better.” Those who do can be helped toward greater efficiency, just one suggestion at a time.
If someone were to ask me for a single suggestion for swim improvement, I’d probably respond with my most frequent tip. This tip goes to inefficient strugglers. It also applies to more-experienced swimmers who lack balance in their crawl stroke.
Everyone has a favored breathing side to which they turn to inhale. My suggestion is to exhale or blow their bubbles to the opposite side.
A swimmer who inhales on the right should exhale to the left and vice versa. Exhalation needs less head turn than inhalation, using just the roll to the non-breathing side.
As this column has repeated many times, the crawl stroke (“freestyle”) is swum not on the front, but side-to-side through the front. In order to inhale, a swimmer rolls to the non-breathing side; to exhale, the roll is to the opposite side for stroke balance.
This opposite-side roll accomplishes other desirable stroke aspects beyond exhalation. The roll lifts the shoulder slightly above the water surface to make the arm recovery easier on that side.
Having the head turned to exhale prevents the recovering arm from crossing over in front to a weak stroking position with a shallow, sideward catch.
The glide on both arms is thus extended as both stroke and recovery occur only forward and backward. This eliminates sideward motion that creates resistance and reduces a swimmer’s forward momentum.
The best instructors focus on teaching beginning swimmers to blow bubbles as early as possible. Then it’s easier to put the face in the water.
My breathing tip is simply a logical and more sophisticated extension of that same early lesson.
The only further advice I have regarding exhaling to the non-breathing side is to exaggerate it at first. One of the two rules in my book is to “Make It Different,” and most swimmers’ first attempts are somewhat tentative.
Be sure to turn the body-head far enough to see bubbles (a forceful breath) going toward that side.
Swimming at any level is more fun if your strokes are efficient – long, smooth, easy, balanced. Using this crawl stroke tip, I’m sure, will be helpful toward that goal.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org