Saturday, July 7, 2007

Swimming Tips

Take a Refresher Course
You may think you know how to swim the crawl because you learned many years ago, but are you doing it right? Do your hands trace an "S" pattern through the water? Do you kick from the hips, not the knees? Can you breathe on alternate sides? What about the other strokes? The point is, swimming is a skill that involves hand entry, catch, pull, exit and recovery, plus kicking and breathing! A few lessons can really make a big difference in how you benefit.

Stretch and Plan
Don't just dive in the pool and start swimming. First, take a few minutes to fully stretch your arms and shoulders, chest, lower back and legs. And have a plan for your workout. Just swimming lap and after lap, mile after mile, is not a smart way to build strength or endurance.

Interval Training Makes You Faster, Stronger
Try interval training to perk up your workouts and boost your fitness. You can choose from many plans and schemes, but basically, break down that mile you usually swim into a series of wind sprints, followed by brief rests. To get started, swim five lengths as fast as you can, then rest 15 seconds, then swim another five lengths ... Keep resting and repeating until you've done 10 sets. Make a game of it. Alternate easy lengths with fast lengths. Be aware of working your muscles against the resistance of the water. Be playful. Have fun.

Try a Deep-Water Workout
Swimming is only one way to get fit in the pool. More and more, people are doing deep-water workouts to build strength, boost endurance and rehabilitate after injury. The secret to success is a buoyancy vest that keeps you suspended in deep water as you run, walk, kick, twist, imitate cross-country skiing, etc. Exercising in water gives you 12 times the resistance of exercising on land, so be careful not to overdo it. But try it! It's a great workout.

Break Out the Toys
Swim fins, hand mitts, paddles, and kickboards are all ways to make your swim workouts more fun and challenging. You can even swim to music these days, with a specially designed radio that fits into a waterproof bag. The idea is to be creative, keep improving and enjoy your workout.

by Marilynn Preston, Tribune Media Services syndicated columnist.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Front Crawl

Front crawl, also known as The Australian Crawl, is usually regarded as the fastest swimming style developed. It is one of two long axis strokes, the other being the backstroke. Unlike the backstroke, butterfly, and breaststroke, the front crawl is not regulated by FINA, but it is nearly universally swum in freestyle competitions.

The initial position in freestyle is on the breast, with both arms stretched to the front and the legs extended to the back.

The Arm Movement

The arm movement in freestyle is alternating, i.e., while one arm is pulling/pushing, the other arm is recovering. The arm strokes also provide most of the forward movement in freestyle. The move can be separated into three parts, the pull, the push, and the recovery.
From the initial position, the arm sinks slightly lower and the palm of the hand turns 45 degree with the thumb side of the palm towards the bottom. This is called catching the water and is in preparation for the pull. It also gives the muscles a brief rest during swimming. The pull movement follows a semicircle with the elbow higher than the hand and the hand pointing towards the body center and downward. The semicircle ends in front of the chest at the beginning of the ribcage.

The push pushes the palm backward through the water underneath the body at the beginning and at the side of the body at the end of the push. The movement increases speed throughout the pull push phase until the hand is moving at its greatest speed shortly before the end of the push.

Sometime after the beginning of the recovery of the one arm, the other arm begins its pull. The recovery moves the elbow in a semicircle in a vertical plane in the swimming direction. The lower arm and the hand are completely relaxed and hang down from the elbow close to the water surface and close to the swimmer's body. This gives the muscles a brief opportunity to rest. The beginning of the recovery looks similar to pulling the hand out of the back pocket of a pair of pants, with the small finger upwards. Further into the recovery phase, the hand movement has been compared to pulling up a center zip on a wetsuit. The recovering hand moves forward, with the fingers trailing downward, just above the surface of the water. In the middle of the recovery one shoulder is rotated into the air while the other is jumping backwards to avoid drag due to the large frontal area which at this specific time is not covered by the arm. To rotate the shoulder, some twist their torso while others also rotate everything down to their feet.

Beginners often make the mistake of not relaxing the arm during the recovery and of moving the hand too high and too far away from the body, in some cases even higher than the elbow. In these cases, drag and incidental muscle effort is increased at the expense of speed. Beginners often forget to use their shoulders to let the hand enter as far forward as possible. Some say the hand should enter the water thumb first, reducing drag through possible turbulence, others say the middle finger is first with the hand precisely bent down, giving thrust right from the start. At the beginning of the pull, the hand acts like a wing and is moved slower than the velocity of the swimmer (this may look like a brief rest) while at the end it acts like a scull and is moved faster than the velocity of the swimmer.

A recreational variation of front crawl involves only one arm moving at any one time, while the other arm rests and is stretched out at the front. This style is called a "catch up" stroke and requires less strength for swimming. This is because the immersed length of the body is longer and more streamlined. This style is slower than the regular front crawl and is rarely used competitively: however, it is often used for training purposes even by professional swimmers, as it increases the body's awareness of being streamlined in the water. Total Immersion is a similar technique.

The leg movement

The leg movement in freestyle is called the flutter kick. The legs move alternately, with one leg kicking downward while the other leg moves upward. While the legs provide only a small part of the overall speed, they are important to stabilize the body position. This lack of balance is apparent when using a pull buoy to neutralize the leg action.
The leg in the initial position bends very slightly at the knees, and then kicks the lower leg and the foot downwards similar to kicking a football. The legs may be bent inward slightly. After the kick the straight leg moves back up. A frequent mistake of beginners is to bend the legs too much or to kick too much out of the water.

Ideally, there are 6 kicks per cycle, although it is also possible to use 4 kicks or even 2 kicks. Franziska van Almsick, for example, swims very successfully with four kicks per cycle. When one arm is pushed down the opposite leg needs to do a downwards kick also, to fix the body orientation, because this happens shortly after the body rotation. Alternatively, front crawl can also be swum with a butterfly kick, although this reduces the stability of the swimming position. A breaststroke kick with front crawl arms (the Trudgen) is awkward, because the breathing pattern for front crawl needs a rotation, yet a breaststroke kick resists this rotation.


Normally, the face is in the water during front crawl with eyes looking at the lower part of the wall in front of the pool, with the waterline between the brow line and the hairline. Yet, currently, many are debating whether the head should be kept down too. Breaths are taken through the mouth by turning the head to the side of a recovering arm at the beginning of the recovery, and breathing in the triangle between the upper arm, lower arm, and the waterline. The swimmer's forward movement will cause a bow wave with a trough in the water surface near the ears. After turning the head, a breath can be taken in this trough without the need to move the mouth above the average water surface. A thin film of water running down the head can be blown away just before the intake. The head is rotated back at the end of the recovery and points down and forward again when the recovered hand enters the water. The swimmer breathes out through mouth and nose until the next breath. Breathing out through the nose prevents water from entering the nose.

Standard swimming calls for one breath every third arm recovery, i.e., every 1.5 cycles, alternating the sides for breathing. Some swimmers instead take a breath every cycle, i.e., every second arm recovery, breathing always to the same side. Since breathing slightly reduces the speed, most competition swimmers breathe every 1.5 cycles. Swimmers sprinting the last few meters of a longer distance may breathe even less, and sprint swimmers rarely breathe at all- e.g. in a short-course 50m race, most competitors prefer to breathe only 3 times for the whole race, once on the first 25 and twice on the final 25 after the flip turn.

In water polo, sometimes the head is kept out of the water completely for better visibility and easier breathing, at the price of a much steeper body position and higher drag.

Body movement

The body rolls about its long axis with every arm stroke such that the shoulder of the recovering arm is higher than the shoulder of the pushing/pulling arm. This makes the recovery much easier, reduces drag as one shoulder is out of the water, and reduces the need to turn the head to breathe.

Side-to-side movement is kept to a minimum: one of the main functions of the leg kick is to maintain the line of the body.


The start is the regular start for swimming. After entering the water a brief gliding phase follows, followed by an underwater flutter kick or butterfly kick. After a maximum of 15m the swimmer has to surface.

Turn and finish

The front crawl swimmer uses a tumble turn to reverse directions in minimal time. The swimmer swims close to the wall as quickly as possible. In the swimming position with one arm forward and one arm to the back, the swimmer does not recover one arm, but rather uses the pull/push of the other arm to initialize a somersault with the knees straight to the body. At the end of the somersault the feet are at the wall, and the swimmer is on his or her back with the hands over the head. The swimmer then pushes off the wall while turning sideways to lie on the breast. After a brief gliding phase, the swimmer starts with either a flutter kick or a butterfly kick before surfacing no more than 15m from the wall.

A variant of the tumble turn is to make a somersault earlier with straight legs, throwing the legs toward the wall and gliding to the wall. This has a small risk of injury because the legs could hit another swimmer or the wall.

For the finish the swimmer has to touch the wall with any body part, usually the hand. Most swimmers sprint the finish as often as possible, which usually includes reducing their breathing rate.

Monday, June 4, 2007


Breaststroke is a swimming style swam on the breast. It is the most popular recreational style due to its stability and the ability to keep the head out of the water at all times. In most swimming classes, beginners learn either the breaststroke or the front crawl first. In competitive swimming however it is regarded as one of the most difficult strokes requiring comparable endurance to other strokes.

The breaststroke starts with the swimmer lying in the water face down, arms extended straight forward and legs extended straight to the back.

Arm movement

There are three steps to the arm movement: outsweep, insweep, and recovery. The movement starts with the outsweep. From the initial position, the hands sink a little bit down and the palms face outward, and the hands move apart. During the outsweep the arms stay almost straight and parallel to the surface. The outsweep is followed by the insweep, where the hands point down and push the water backwards. The elbows stay in the horizontal plane through the shoulders. The hands push back until approximately the vertical plane through the shoulders. At the end of the insweep the hands come together with facing palms in front of the chest and the elbows are at the side at the body. In the recovery phase the hands are moved forward again into the initial position under water. The entire arm stroke starts slowly, increases speed to the peak arm movement speed in the insweep phase, and slows down again during recovery. The goal is to produce maximum thrust during the insweep phase, and minimum drag during the recovery phase.

As a variant, it is possible to recover the arms over water. This reduces drag, but requires more power. Some competitive swimmers use this variant, in competition.

Another variant is the underwater pull-down, similar to the push phase of a butterfly stroke.

This stroke continues the insweep phase and pushes the hands all the way to the back to the sides of the hip. This greatly increases the push from one stroke, but also makes recovery more difficult. This style is well suited for underwater swimming. However, FINA allows this stroke only for the first stroke after the start and each turn. In late 2005, FINA has also introduced a new rule which allows you to perform a single downward kick after the push off the wall.
Tips: arms start slowly and speed up during the phases, similar to a motorcycle accelerating after standing on a red light. The arms are never paused until they reach the front and the swimmer is in the glide. You can learn more in this detailed arm stroke description.

Leg Movement

The leg movement, colloquially known as the "frog kick", consists of two phases: bringing the feet into position for the thrust phase and the insweep phase. From the initial position with the legs stretched out backward, the feet are moved together towards the posterior, while the knees stay together. The knees should not sink too low, as this increases the drag. Then the feet point outward in preparation for the thrust phase. In the thrust phase, the legs are moved elliptically back to the initial position. During this movement, the knees are kept together. The legs move slower while bringing the legs into position for the thrust phase, and move very fast during the thrust phase. Again, the goal is produce maximum thrust during the insweep phase, and minimum drag during the recovery phase.

As a variant, some swimmers move the knees apart during the preparation phase and keep them apart until almost the end of the thrust phase. Moving both knee and foot outwards like a real frog avoids the extreme rotation in the lower leg.

Another variant of the breaststroke kick is the scissor kick, however, this kick violates the rules of the FINA as it is no longer symmetrical. Swimming teachers put a great effort into steering the students away from the scissor kick. In the scissor kick, one leg moves as described above, but the other leg does not form an elliptical movement but merely an up-down movement similar to the flutter kick of front crawl. Some swimming teachers believe that learning the front crawl first gives a higher risk of an incorrect scissor kick when learning breaststroke afterwards.
Breaststroke can also be swum with the dolphin kick in butterfly, yet this also violates the FINA rules. One kick is allowed, however, at the start and at the turn providing that it is part of the body's natural movement.

The harmonic movements of the dolphin kick and flutter kick are in contrast to the breaststroke whip kick, which really deserves the name kick. Scissor kick and frog kick are intermediate. Humans have strong muscles in the legs and would need swimfins (like a frog) to bring all their power into the water and stand with the sole of the feet on the water. Rather the leg grabs almost as much water as the foot and a small amount of water is accelerated to high kinetic energy, but not much impulse is transferred. Compared to the arm movement, where a hydrofoil shaped hand glides through the water, and a large “lifting” force can be felt, the kick feels like it goes into nothing. Unlike in the other kicks, the joints are moved into extrema. Before the kick the knee is maximally bent and the upper leg is rotating along its axis to its extreme outer position and the lower leg is twisted to extreme, at the end of the kick the ankles are maximally turned to the inside so that the soles clap together to achieve a nozzle effect like in a jelly fish. Therefore training involves getting flexible in addition to fitness and precision. The sudden sideway stress on knee at the kick can lead to uncomfortable noise and feeling for the beginner and to wear for the senior.

On recovery the lower leg stays in the wake of the upper leg. Around 2000 the distance between the knees in the recovery phase was reduced to harmonize it with the optional body undulation.


The best way to breath during breaststroke is to let your head follow your spine. When your elbows have reached the line of your eye and have begun to rise your head starts to lift. If you use your high elbows as a hinge for the inward sweep of your hands and forearms, you'll create the leverage you need to use your abdominal muscles to bring your hips forward. When your hips move forward, your chest, shoulders and upper back will automatically lift up. Breathing is usually done during the beginning of the insweep phase of the arms, and the swimmer breathes in ideally through the mouth. The swimmer breathes out through mouth and nose during the recovery and gliding phase. Breaststroke can be swum faster if submerged completely, but FINA requires the head to break the surface once per cycle except for the first cycle after the start and each turn. Thus, competitive swimmers usually make one underwater pull-out, pushing the hands all the way to the back after the start and each turn. Some people keep their head above water at all times when they swim breaststroke. This is not only difficult and unpleasant, but also dangerous for the spine. Swimming with the face held out of the water puts undue strain on the muscles of the neck and back which can lead to damage of the spine’s interior facet joints.

Body Movement

The movement starts in the initial position with the body completely straight, the body movement is coordinated such that the legs are ready for the thrust phase while the arms are halfway through the insweep, and the head is out of the water for breathing. In this position the body has also the largest angle to the horizontal. The arms are recovered during the thrust phase of the legs. After the stroke the body is kept in the initial position for some time to utilize the gliding phase. Depending on the distance and fitness the duration of this gliding phase varies. Usually the gliding phase is shorter during sprints than during long distance swimming. The gliding phase is also longer during the underwater stroke after the start and each turn.


Breaststroke uses the regular start for swimming. Some swimmers use a variant called the frog start, where the legs are pulled forward sharply before being extended again quickly during the airborne phase of the start. After the start a gliding phase follows under water, followed by one downward butterfly kick, followed by one underwater pull-down and another gliding phase before the regular swimming, this is known as the pull-out. The downward butterfly kick was legalized by FINA and the NCAA in 2005, and remains optional. The head must break the surface during the second stroke. The downward fly kick is now allowed in MCSL.

Turn and finish

For competitive swimming it is important that the wall at the end of the lane is always touched by both hands (known as a "Two-Hand Touch") at the same time due to FINA regulations.
The turn is initiated by touching the wall during the gliding or during the recovery phase of the arms, depending on how the wall can be touched faster. After touching the wall, the legs are pulled underneath of the body. The body turns sideways while one hand is moved forward (i.e. towards the head) along the side of the body. When the body is almost completely turned, the other hand will be swung straight up through the air such that both hands meet at the front at the same time. At that time the body should also be almost in the horizontal and partially or totally submerged. After the body is completely submerged, the body is pushed off the wall with both legs. Doing this under water will reduce the drag. After a gliding phase, an underwater pull-out is done, followed by another gliding phase and then regular swimming. The head must break the surface during the second stroke.
As a variant, some swimmers experiment with a flip over turn similar to front crawl.
The finish is similar to the touching of the wall during a turn.

Styles of breaststroke

The three many styles of breaststroke seen today are the conventional (flat), undulating, and wave-style. The undulating style is usually swum by extremely flexible girls, (e.g. Amanda Beard), and few Masters have the flexibility to accomplish it. The wave-style breaststroke, swum and made famous by Mike Barrowman when he created a world record using it, is now commonly swum by Olympians, though Australian swimmers, most prominently Leisel Jones, generally seem to shun it. Olympian Ed Moses (swimmer) still swims a more flat- style, despite the rapidly increasing popularity of the wave-style.

The wave-style breaststroke starts in a streamlined position, with shoulders shrugged to decrease drag in the water. While the conventional style is strongest at the outsweep, the wave-style puts much emphasis on the insweep, thus making the head rise later than in the conventional style. The wave-style pull is a circular motion with the hands accelerating to maximum speed and recovering in front of the chin, elbows staying at the surface and in front of the shoulders at all times. The high elbows creates the leverage for the powerful torso and abdominal muscles to assist in the stroke. During the insweep, the swimmer accelerates his/her hands and hollows his/her back and lifts him/herself out of the water to breathe. To visualize, some say that the hands anchor themselves in the water while the hips thrust forward.

The hollowed back and accelerating hands would lift the head out of the water. The head stays in a natural position, looking down and forward, and the swimmer inhales at this point. The feet retract to the butt without moving the thigh, thus reducing resistance. The swimmer is at his/her highest point at this point.

Then the swimmer shrugs his shoulders and literally throws his arms and shoulders forward, lunging cat-like back into the water (though the emphasis is to go forward, not down). As the swimmer sinks, he/she arches his/her back, and kicks. The timing is very important in order for the kick to transfer all of its force via the arched back, but the optimum time is when the arms are 3/4 fully extended. Then the swimmer kicks and presses on his/her chest, undulating a little underwater, and squeezing the gluteus maximus to prevent the legs and feet from rising out of the water. The swimmer has now returned to the streamlined position, and the cycle starts again.

Incidentally, the wave motion should not be overly emphasized and the swimmer should only rise until the water reaches his biceps, instead of pushing his entire torso out of the water, wasting a great deal of energy.

Friday, May 4, 2007


Backstroke also sometimes called back crawl is one of the three swimming styles regulated by FINA, and the only regulated style swum on the back. This has the advantage of easy breathing, but the disadvantage of not seeing where the swimmer is heading to. It is also the only competition swimming style that starts in the water. The swimming style is similar to an upside down front crawl. Both backstroke and front crawl are long-axis strokes.

In the initial position, the swimmer lies flat on his back, arms stretched forward, and legs extended backwards.

Arm Movement

In backstroke, the arms contribute most of the forward movement. The arm stroke consists of two main parts: the power phase (consisting of three separate parts) and the recovery. The arms alternate so that always one arm is underwater while the other arm is recovering. One complete arm turn is considered one cycle. From the initial position, one arm sinks slightly under water and turns the palm outward start the Catch phase (first part of the power phase). The hand enters downward about ten inches, catching the water.

During the power phase the hand follows a semi-circular path from the Catch to the side of the hip. The palm is always facing away from the swimming direction, and the elbow always points downward towards the bottom of the pool. This is done so that both the arms and the elbow can push the maximum amount of water back in order to push the body forward. At the height of the shoulders the upper and lower arms should have its maximum angle of about 90 degrees. This is called the Mid-Pull of the power phase.

The Mid-Pull phase consists of pushing the palm of the hand as far down as possible with the fingers pointing upward. Again, the goal is to push the body forward against the water. At the very end of the Mid-Pull, the palm flaps down for a last push forward down to a depth of 45 cm, creating the Finish of the Power phase. Besides pushing the body forward this also helps with the rolling back to the other side as part of the body movement. During the power phase, the fingers of the hand can be slightly apart, as this will increase the resistance of the hand in the water due to turbulence.

To prepare for the recovery phase, the hand is rotated so that the palms point towards the legs and the thumb side points upwards. At the beginning of the recovery phase of the one arm, the other arm begins its power phase. The recovering arm is moved in a semicircle straight over the shoulders to the front. During this recovery, the palm rotates so that the small finger enters the water first and the palms point outward. After a short gliding phase, the cycle repeats with the preparation for the next power phase.

A variant is to move both arms synchronized and not alternating, similar to an upside down butterfly stroke. This is easier to coordinate, and the peak speed during the combined power phase is faster, yet the speed is much slower during the combined recovery. The average speed will usually be less than the average speed of the alternating stroke.

Another variant is the old style way of swimming backstroke, where the arm movement formed a complete circle in a windmill type pattern. However, this style is nowadays no longer used for competitive swimming, as a lot of energy is spent on pushing the body up and down instead of forward. Furthermore, the added strain on the shoulder is considered less than ideal and can lead to injuries.

It is also possible to move only one arm at a time, where one arm moves through the power and recovery phases while the other arm rests. This is slow, but it is used frequently to teach students the movement, as they have to concentrate on only one arm.

Leg Movement

The leg movement in backstroke is similar to the flutter kick in front crawl. They make a small contribution to the forward speed, yet are very significant for stabilizing the body.
The leg stroke is also alternating, with one leg sinking down straight to about 30 degree out of the horizontal. From this position the leg makes a fast kick upward, slightly bending the knee at the beginning and then stretching it again in the horizontal. However, there are also frequent variants with four or only two kicks per cycle. Usually, sprinters tend to use 6 kicks per cycle, whereas long distance swimmer may use less.

It is also possible to use a breaststroke kick or a butterfly (dolphin) kick, although this is rare except the butterfly kick after the start and the turns. Breaststroke kicks are most comfortable if the arms are used synchronized, as the breaststroke kick has difficulty to compensate for a rolling movement due to alternating arm cycles. The butterfly kick can be done slightly to one side depending on the rolling of the body.


Breathing in backstroke is very easy, as the mouth and nose are almost always over water. Competitive swimmers breathe in through the mouth during the recovery of one arm, and breathe out through the mouth and nose during the pull and push phase. This is done to clear the nose of water.

Body Movement

Due to the asynchronous movement of the arms, there is a roll of the body around its own axis. This is normal and helps swimming effectively. The overall position of the body is straight in the horizontal to reduce drag. Beginners frequently let their posterior sink too low and increase drag, because to avoid this the upper legs have to be moved to the extreme down position at each kick even with a little help by the back and the foot tips have to be fixed in the extreme lower position. And the head is held out of the water to act as a counter-weight.


The backstroke start is the only start from the water. The swimmer faces the wall and grabs part of the start block or the wall with his hands. Ideally, there are grips on the block for this purpose. The legs are placed in shoulder width onto the wall with both heels slightly off the wall. The moment before the start the swimmer pulls his head closer to the start block, while keeping the knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Some swimmers prefer to keep one foot slightly lower then the other during the start, however, keeping both feet at an equal level is perfectly acceptable.
For the takeoff, the swimmer pushes his hands away from the block, and swings his arms around sideways to the front. At the same time he throws his head to the back. Only a minimal delay afterwards, the swimmer pushes himself away from the wall with his feet. Ideally, the swimmers back is arched during the airborne phase so that only the feet and the hands touch the water while the rest of the body is above the water line. This reduces the drag and allows the swimmer to start faster.

After the start, the swimmer is completely underwater. Due to the increased resistance at the surface, the speed under water may for an experienced swimmer be faster than at the surface. Therefore, most experienced swimmers stay in backstroke competitions under water up to the limit set by FINA to be 15 meter after the start and every turn. Most swimmers swim a butterfly kick under water, as this provides more forward movement than the flutter kick. The underwater phase includes the risk of water entering the nose, which gives an unpleasant feeling. Most swimmers breathe out slightly through the nose to stop water from entering. It is also possible to use a nose clip. Some swimmers can close their nostril with their upper lips.
The swimmer must break the surface before 15 m. The swimmer starts swimming with one arm, followed by the other arm with half a cycle delay. The swimmer continues in regular swimming style, staying on the back for the entire time except the turns. One part of the swimmer must break the surface at any time.

Turn and finish

Approaching the wall has the problem that the swimmer cannot see where he is going. Most competitive swimmers know how many strokes they need for a lane, or at least how many stroke after the signal flags or the change in color of the separating lines. Turning the head is also possible, but slows the swimmer down.

When approaching the wall, the swimmer is allowed to turn to the breast and make one push/pull phase with one arm. Next the swimmer makes half a tumble turn forward, resting the feet against the wall. The arms are in the forward position at this time, and the swimmer pushes himself off the wall. Similar to the start, the swimmer can remain up to 15 m under water, with most swimmers using a butterfly kick for speed.

For the finish, the swimmer must touch the wall while lying on his back, less than 90 degrees out of the horizontal.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly, (fly for short) is a swimming stroke swum on the breast, with both arms moving simultaneously. The butterfly kick was developed separately, and is also known as the "dolphin kick". While other styles like the breaststroke, front crawl, or backstroke can be swum easily even by beginners, the butterfly requires very good technique to be feasible. Many students consider it the most difficult style. It is the newest swimming style swum in competition, first swum around 1934.

The butterfly technique with the dolphin kick consists of synchronous arm movement with a synchronous leg kick. Good technique is crucial to swim this style effectively. The wave-like body movement is also very significant, as this is the key to easy synchronous over-water recovery and breathing.

In the initial position, the swimmer lies on the breast, the arms are stretched to the front, and the legs are extended to the back.

Arm Movement

The butterfly stroke has three major parts, the pull, the push, and the recovery. These can also be further subdivided. From the initial position, the arm movement starts very similarly to the breast stroke. At the beginning the hands sink a little bit down with the palms facing outwards and slightly down at shoulder width, then the hands move out to create a Y. This is called catching the water. The pull movement follows a semicircle with the elbow higher than the hand and the hand pointing towards the body center and downward. The semicircle ends in front of the chin, with the hands close together so the swimmer can form a triangle with the fingers.
The push pushes the palm backward through the water underneath the body at the beginning and at the side of the body at the end of the push. The swimmer only pushes the arms 1/3 of the way to the hips, making it easier to enter into the recover and making the recovery shorter and making the breathing window shorter. The movement increases speed throughout the pull/push phase until the hand is the fastest at the end of the push. This step is called the release and is crucial for the recovery. The speed at the end of the push is used to help with the recovery.

The recovery swings the arms sideways across the water surface to the front, with the elbows slightly higher than the hands and shoulders. The arms have to be swung forward fast in order to bring them to the front over the water. It is important not to enter the water too early, because this would generate extra resistance as the arms moved forward in the water against the swimming direction. A high elbow recovery, as in front crawl, would save more energy, yet the movement restrictions in the shoulders do not allow this easily, and due to the synchronized movement it is not possible to roll around the shoulders as in front crawl.

The arms enter the water with the thumbs first at shoulder width. A wider entry loses movement in the next pull phase, and a smaller entry, where the hands touch, wastes energy. After a brief rest the cycle repeats with the pull phase.

Leg Movement

The leg movement is similar to the leg movement in the front crawl, except the legs are synchronized with each other. The shoulders are brought above the surface by a strong up and medium down kick, and back below the surface by a strong down and medium up kick. A smooth undulation fuse the motion together.

The feet are pressed together to avoid loss of water-pressure. The feet are naturally pointing downwards, giving downwards thrust, moving up the feet and pressing down the head.
There is no actual stipulation in competitive butterfly rules that a swimmer make a fixed number of pulses in butterfly–the swimmer may kick as little or as much as he or she may wish. While competitive rules allow such a choice, the typical method of swimming butterfly is with two kicks.

As butterfly originated as a variant on breaststroke, it would be performed with a breaststroke or whip kick by some swimmers. While breaststroke was separated from butterfly in 1953, the breaststroke kick in butterfly was not officially outlawed until 2001.However a number of Masters swimmers were upset with the change since they came from a time when butterfly was usually swum with a breaststroke kick.FINA was then convinced to allow a breaststroke kick in Masters swimming. Given the option, most swimmers choose to use a dolphin kicking action, but there still is a small minority of swimmers who prefer the breaststroke kick, for recreational swimming and even for competition.


There is only a short window for breathing in the butterfly. If this window is missed, swimming becomes very difficult. Optimally, a butterfly swimmer synchronizes the taking of breaths with the undulation of the body to simplify the breathing process; doing this well requires some attention to butterfly stroke technique. The breathing process begins during the underwater "press" portion of the stroke. As the hands and forearms move underneath the chest, the body will naturally rise toward the surface of the water. With a minimum of effort, the swimmer can lift the head to break the surface fully. The swimmer breathes in through the mouth.

Experienced swimmers continue looking toward the bottom of the pool while they inhale to keep the body balanced and in a straight line. The head goes back in the water after the arms come out of the water as they are swinging forward over the surface of the water. If the head stays out too long, the recovery is hindered. The swimmer breathes out through mouth and nose till the next breath. Some swimmers, most notably Denis Pankratov, breathe to the side as in the front crawl, but their timing is otherwise the same. Such a style of breathing is quite uncommon though and generally discouraged by coaches.

Normally, a breath is taken every other stroke. This can be sustained over long distances. Oftentimes, breathing every stroke slows the swimmer down. (At a certain level, the stroke with a breath and the stroke without a breath become synonymous in their speed; therefore, very experienced competitors - such as Michael Phelps - may breath every stroke.) Other intervals of breathing practiced by elite swimmers include the "two up, one down" approach in which the swimmer breathes for two successive strokes and then keeps the head in the water on the next stroke, which is easier on the lungs. Swimmers with good lung capacity might also breathe every 3rd stroke during sprints or the finish. Some swimmers can even hold their breaths for an entire race (assuming that it is a short one).

Body Movement

Swimming the arms or the legs separately is difficult, and correct body movement is great for the arms and legs to use their full potential. The body moves in a wave-like fashion, controlled by the arm movement. As the hands go in, the hips go up, and the posterior breaks the water surface. During the push phase the head goes up and the hips are at their lowest position. In this style, the second pulse in the cycle is stronger than the first pulse, as the second pulse is more in flow with the body movement.


Butterfly uses the regular start for swimming. After the start a sliding phase follows under water, followed by dolphin kicks swum under water. Swimming under water reduces the drag from breaking the surface and is very economical. Rules allow for 15 m of underwater swimming, before the head must break the surface, and regular swimming begins.

Turn and Finish

During turns and during the finish, both hands must simultaneously touch the wall while the swimmer remains swimming face down. The swimmer touches the wall with both hands while bending the elbows slightly. The bent elbows allow the swimmer to push himself or herself away from the wall and turn sideways. One hand leaves the wall to be moved to the front underwater. At the same time the legs are pulled closer and moved underneath of the body towards the wall. The second hand leaves the wall to be moved to the front over water. It is commonly referred to as an "over/under turn" or an "open turn." The legs touch the wall and the hands are at the front. The swimmer sinks under water and lays on the breast, or nearly so. Then the swimmer pushes off the wall, keeping a streamline position with the hands to the front. Similar to the start, the swimmer is allowed to swim 15m underwater before the head must break the surface. Most swimmers dolphin kick after an initial gliding phase.
The finish requires the swimmer to touch the wall with both hands at the same time, in the same horizontal plane.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Risks of Swimming

Swimming is generally a healthy activity and enjoys a low risk of injury compared with many other sports. Nevertheless there are some health risks with swimming, including the following:

Drowning, inhalation arising from

Adverse water conditions swamping or overwhelming the swimmer or causing water inhalation.
Actions of others pushing under water accidentally in play or intentionally.

Exhaustion or unconsciousness.

Incapacitation through shallow water blackout, heart attacks, carotid sinus syncope or stroke.

Adverse effects of immersion

Secondary drowning, where inhaled salt water creates a foam in the lungs that restricts breathing.

Salt water aspiration syndrome, SWAS.

Thermal shock after jumping into water can cause the heart to stop.

Exostosis which is an abnormal growth in the ear canal due to the frequent, long-term splashing of water into the ear canal. (Known as Surfers' ear or Swimmers' ear)

Exposure to chemicals

Disinfectant Chlorine will increase the pH of the water, if uncorrected the raised pH may cause eye or skin irritations.

Chlorine inhalation; breathing small quantities of chlorine gas from the water surface whilst swimming for long periods of time may have an adverse effect on the lungs, particularly for asthmatics. This problem may be resolved by using a pool with better ventilation, with an outdoor pool having the best results.

Chlorine also has a negative cosmetic effect after repeated long exposure, turning blonde hair green and stripping brown hair of all color, turning it very light blonde. Chlorine damages the structure of hair, turning it "frizzy."

Chlorine will often remain on skin in an anhydrous form, even after several washings. The Chlorine becomes odourous once it is back in an aqueous solution (when salivated on, during a shower, etc.)


Water is an excellent environment for many bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses affecting humans depending on water quality.

Skin infections from both swimming and shower rooms can cause athlete's foot (boat bug). The easiest way to avoid this is to dry the space between the toes.

Microscopic parasites such as Cryptosporidium can be resistant to chlorine and can cause diarrheal illness when swimmers swallow pool water.

Ear infections, otitis media, (otitis externa).

Unfortunately, when chlorine levels are improperly balanced, severe health problems may result, such as chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Swimmer's own actions

Overuse injury; competitive butterfly stroke swimmers for example may develop some back pain, including vertebral fractures in rare cases, and shoulder pain after long years of training, breaststroke swimmers may develop knee pain, and hip pain, and freestyle and backstroke swimmers may develop shoulder pain, commonly referred to as swimmer's shoulder (a form of tendinitis).

Hyperventilation in a bid to extend underwater breath-hold times lowers blood carbon dioxide resulting in suppression of the urge to breathe and consequent loss of consciousness towards the end of the dive, see shallow water blackout for the mechanism.

Adverse water and weather conditions

Currents, including tides and rivers can cause exhaustion, move swimmers away from safety, or pull swimmers under water.

Wind enhances waves and can blow a swimmer off course.

Hypothermia, due to cold water, can cause rapid exhaustion and unconsciousness.

Sunburn severity can be increased by reflections in the water and the lack of clothing worn during swimming. Long-term exposure to the sun contributes to risk of skin cancer.

Objects in the water.

Propeller damage is a major cause of accidents, either by being run over by a boat or entanglement on climbing into a boat.

Collision with another swimmer, the pool walls, rocks or boats.

Diving into a submerged object, or the bottom, often in turbid water.

Snagging on underwater objects, particularly submerged branches or wrecks.

Stepping on sharp objects such as broken glass.

Dangerous aquatic life

Stings, jellyfish and some corals.

Piercings, sea urchins, zebra mussels, stingrays

Bites, sharks and other fish, snakes, lobster or crabs.

Electrocution, electric rays, electric eels.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Swimming Lessons

Children are often given formal swimming lessons, which serve to develop swimming technique and confidence. Children generally do not swim independently until 4 years of age.

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, the curriculum for the fifth grade states that all children should learn how to swim as well as how to handle emergencies near water. Most commonly, children are expected to be able to swim 200 metres (220 yards) – of which at least 50 metres (55 yards) on their back – after first falling into deep water and getting their head under water. Even though about 95 percent of Swedish school children know how to swim, drowning remains the third most common cause of death among children.

In both the Netherlands and Belgium swimming lessons under school time (schoolzwemmen, school swimming) are supported by the government. Most schools provide swimming lessons. There is a long tradition of swimming lessons in the Netherlands, the Dutch translation for the breaststroke swimming style is even schoolslag (school style).

In many places, swimming lessons are provided by local swimming pools, both those run by the local authority and by private leisure companies. Many schools also include swimming lessons into their Physical Education curricula, provided either in the schools' own pool, or in the nearest public pool.

In the UK, the "Top-ups scheme" calls for school children who cannot swim by the age of 11 to receive intensive daily lessons. These children who have not reached Great Britain's National Curriculum standard of swimming 25 metres by the time they leave primary school will be given a half-hour lesson every day for two weeks during term-time.

In Canada and Mexico there has been a call for swimming to be included in the public school curriculum.