Become a True Pool Powerhouse

Special Guest article from our very own Swimming Instructor Liz Fowler who owns and runs Swim Mechanix.

Thanks to Liz for providing us with these little swimming tips!


These are the problems…..

You can swim a couple of laps but am struggling to breathe.

Your legs sink.

Your arms hurt

You create more drag than propulsion


Let’s address them.


Most adults have developed their own breathing rhythm, or haven’t which is worse!  Swimming is not like any other sport as you cannot breathe when you like or need to….unless you have a plan. This advice will help you develop that plan.

The average lung capacity with some exertion is for the reasonable count of 1, 2, 3. As in Yoga or Pilates, we encourage a normal intake of breathe followed by an audible breath for the full count of 3. AUDIBLE – this allows for more relaxed breath control as a short quiet exhale will often finish up with water up the nose.

Sinking Legs

Chicks and dudes are built differently. When a guy tells me his legs/feet sink it’s basically because you have a heavier lower half than us child bearing ladies.  Men and boys have a denser pelvis and usually less fat (floating aids!) than women below their mid-line.  Men also tend to swim more upright in the water as they have developed an over exaggerated upper body arm stroke to compensate for their leg drag.

When a woman tells me her legs/feet sink it’s usually because she’s flexing her feet and is creating more drag than propulsion.

Sore Arms

Never a good thing, more often than not this is either because of overuse in men or improper arm stroking in general.  Flailing your arms about like a “windmill” not only makes me want to slap strangers, but can also do some serious damage to your shoulders. It’s not about rotation, it’s about the correct technique to ensure you don’t get an injury while being able to swim efficiently with speed.

Ideally you should be swimming within a corridor no wider or higher than your elbows when your palms are pressed together. Think about your hand extending forward, catching the water to be moved and with force, pulling and then pushing it towards your feet before recovering forward. Hand should stay an elbow bend away from the body while in working and resting phases.

Drag vs Propulsion

Relaxed ankles and no toe pointing! As soon as the feet flex, the drag, or pull from the feet stop making eddy resistance – the thing that pushes you forward. Developing a natural fast, floppy kick assists in the primary movement for Freestyle and Backstroke.

Lean forward on your collar bone to create a more streamlined body position. Head down, feet up, elongated limbs.

Actual Real Swimming

A good warm up should include propulsive drills and breathing exercises.  Many adults do not swim well because of their breathing technique, or lack thereof!  Concentrating on your breathing timing during your warm-up will relax your body for drills and stroke development swimming.

  • Kicking tune is a great starter for improving kicking strength and technique.  With arms outstretched and palms flat against the wall, the aim is to kick efficiently enough so as to not move backwards from the wall. Aim to keep your feet and ankles relaxed – fast, floppy feet.  The top 30cm is the fastest part of the water and once you get your feet there it’s easier to keep them there with the relaxed but speedy kick.
  •  Laying "on your side" (Lateral Kick) with your eyes looking about 75 degrees off the water, kick from one end of the pool to the other, focusing on kicking output compared to the breathing.  This is a relaxing but very good warm up drill that will improve and strengthen your kicking technique, allow you to time your breathing – 1, 2, 3, and develop the great body position for all strokes and the rotations needed to swim efficiently.
  •  Underarm crawl is exactly that, freestyle without the out of water "recovery" phase.  It allows the swimmer to concentrate on upper body strength, using the lat, back & shoulder muscles to their full potential.  Use with either a pool buoy (knuckle or peanut) between the knees or allow your legs to drag to get more out of the drill.  Breathing should be timed for every 3rd stroke towards your "recovery" arm side. This drill is designed to elongate your arm stroke to deliver streamlined and efficient work & recover parts of Freestyle.

Depending on what you’re after, the next phase would likely be endurance or distance.  It is not necessary to use a formal stroke for this phase, in fact I would recommend not swimming a stroke at all until your efficiency drills have been completed in warm up. Consider your warm up laps part of your distance as they all include skills progressing towards actual swimming of various strokes.

Sets may include;

  1. 25m kickboard kick
    25m backstroke
    25m kickboard flutterkick
    25m Freestyle
    Repeat for 5 rounds
  2. 25m lateral kick left hand side
    25m Freestyle breathing every 2 strokes breathing to the right hand side
    25m lateral kick right hand side
    25 m Freestyle breathing every 2 strokes breathing to the left hand side
    50m max effort back kick
    Repeat 4 rounds
  3. 25m Backstroke
    50m kickboard flutterkick
    25m Backstroke
    50m Freestlye
    2 minutes rest
    Repeat 6 times.

And so on, anything you want to work on, insert in your warmup and then develop it in your endurance set. DON’T skip progressions! They are important and can help to develop natural states of your body position, propulsion and strokes.

Something else bothering you that I haven’t covered? Want to catch up for a chat and a skill session?  Feel free to contact me or find Swim Mechanix on Facebook.

Liz Fowler

Swim Mechanix

Learn to Swim… Better!