Ask yourself this question: When do I go fastest on each lap?
The answer is simple: On your push-off! At the instant your feet leave the wall, you carry more speed and power than at any other point in your lap.
But you knew that, right? Everybody knows it. The real question is: How do I take advantage of it to improve my times and to win races?
The answer is: Don’t slow down! The trick to great swimming is hanging on to the speed gained on your push-off for as long as possible. If you can de-celerate less than your competitors, you’ll win the race.
How many times has your coach told you to streamline, streamline, streamline? That’s because your coach, from up on deck, can see what happens when you don’t streamline on your push-offs. You come to a dead stop. You hit a brick wall. You have to work like crazy to catch up to the swimmers who do streamline. The difference is dramatic — and that’s why coaches (who can see the difference between good push-offs and bad push-offs) make such a big deal out of streamlining.
So how do you improve your streamline and improve your speed? The next time you’re swimming, concentrate on what your head does during the push-off. If you’re like most swimmers, you leave the wall in a good streamline position — with hands together, shoulders against ears, and eyes looking down or at the side of the pool. The true test comes as you rise to breakout and initiate your first stroke. At this instant, most swimmers lift their head and look forward. Goodbye streamline. Hello brick wall. They are so intent on finding the swimmer in front of them, or measuring how close they are to that first breath of air, that they don’t realize how much this simple motion has cost them. And it costs them on every lap. And in every race.
Try this. During warm-up — while you’re rested and not struggling for air — take a few strokes off the wall without moving your head from the streamline position AT ALL. Keep your neck rigid and motionless as you transition from glide to breakout to swimming. Focus on where your head is while it’s locked between your arms in the streamline position. Keep it EXACTLY there as you breakout and initiate your first stroke. See if you feel a difference in your momentum compared to your normal push-offs.
One way to measure your progress is to swim several laps using your normal, instinctual push-off. Note how far you travel by your 5th stroke. Then swim another few laps, keeping your head in line through the breakout and into the first couple of strokes. Again note how far you travel by the 5th stroke. I bet one of two things has happened: One, you traveled farther when you kept your head in line or… two, you traveled FASTER with the same amount of effort. Maybe BOTH things happened.
Still not convinced? Push off as hard as you can with your eyes looking forward, directly toward the far end of the pool. Imagine Superman flying through the air and you’ll have it just about right. Except you won’t be flying. Your face and head will slam into a wall of water. "But I don’t look like Superman when I push off," you say. Maybe not.. But if you look like Superman AT ANY TIME during your push-off, the effect will be the same. Brick wall. Loss of speed.
If you take time to experiment, you will soon have proof that looking forward causes you to slow down. You’ll become aware of how quickly you lose speed when you lift your head. You’ll feel it. You’ll then have to deal with the AIR ISSUE. Breathing on the first stroke messes up your streamline and cuts your speed. But you also NEED AIR on that first stroke — especially during long tough sets. Start thinking about HOW you take that first stroke. Do you really need to LIFT your head, or can you simply roll to air, maintaining that great body line, but just rotating it a little more to get your first breath?
Have fun perfecting a push-off that starts strong and stays strong, right into your first strokes of swimming. Step #1 is to experiment and build your awareness of what happens to your speed when you streamline — and when you don’t. Step #2 is to discover how to maintain streamline and speed for greater distances on each lap, and for longer and longer into each set. Take it one step at a time. The key to fast swimming is to MAINTAIN your natural speed off every wall.