Swimming instructors these days teach six strokes: Front Crawl, Back Crawl, Breaststroke, Butterfly, Elementary Backstroke and Sidestroke. The first four are used in competition, and the latter two are relaxing options for non-competitors. Each of the six strokes is unique in its individual propulsive characteristics, as has been pointed out over the course of my writing this column.
Despite these many differences, efficiency of aquatic locomotion (i.e., good swimming) in all of them depends on several aspects that all six have in common. Efficiency leads to relaxed strokes and makes swimming more enjoyable, too.
All six strokes include a glide. The glide position in each is different, but each represents a starting point for performing that stroke. In competition, the glide aspect is minimized, but learning each stroke is much easier if the would-be swimmer starts from its glide position.
These glide positions have much in common when performed correctly. The head needs to be partially submerged to optimize the glide, whether on the front, back or side. The head and upper body thus affect buoyancy to keep the hips and lower body close to the surface as the whole body (like a seesaw) rotates around its center of buoyancy.
Similarly, the hips and legs in all strokes need to function in keeping the body level at the surface, thus decreasing frontal resistance. This can be accomplished by flutter kicking or with the momentum from a more propulsive kick.
Efficient swimming pairs decreased resistance with increased propulsion. In all strokes, this is achieved principally by keeping the elbow above the hand and secondarily by keeping the wrist above the fingers. It is true regardless of whether the propulsive force is DRAG (backward pressure against the water to move the body past the hand) or LIFT (using the arms like airplane wings to move the body from an area of higher pressure toward lower).
Trying to master six strokes presents a distinctive challenge because each has a unique set of stroking details. And those details require timing to be integrated into an efficient whole. Thus, it is essential for the swimmer to consider what all these strokes have in common – glide position, head-hip relationship, and effective leverage to propel the body past the hand and arm.
Such an overall view will go a long way in helping the swimmer toward efficient strokes and enjoyable swimming.
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