Faster Freestyle: 10 Quick Steps For a Drastically Better Stroke [By Ben Greenfield]

On a recent trip to Hawaii, I had the opportunity to take a clinic on swimming faster freestyle, taught by Karlyn Pipes-Nielsen. She was recently voted one of the top ten master’s swimmers of all time by Swimming World Magazine. Besides this, she has set over 200 Masters World records, she’s in the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame, and she holds numerous course records in California and the all over the Island of Hawaii.

She also mentioned to me that her 77 year old mother who she lives with also swims, and can do a Half Ironman swim in around 30 minutes.

So this lady knows what she’s talking about!

WaikikiroughwaterswimSmall2Her information on swimming faster freestyle included some stuff I’ve personally never heard before, and after the clinic, I went down to Dig Me Beach and swam the entire Ironman Hawaii swim course more comfortably than I ever have.

So what exactly did I learn during Karlyn’s clinic?

1) Breathing: Hum or sing your air out when your head is in the water. Nice relaxed open mouth. No “breath holding”.

2) Head & Body Position: Look just slightly forward, but don’t strain your neck and definitely don’t bury your head and tuck your chin.

3) Shoulder Rotation: Imagine you’re paddling a surfboard. You don’t actually need much rotation, and most shoulders try to rotate shoulders too much so that their “hips turn”.

4) Hand Entry: Put your hands flat (no “pinky up” or “thumb up” angle) exactly at the width you would put them at if you were doing a pull-up at the gym. That’s your power position.

5) Take A Break: After your arm enters the water, reach forward and take a very slight break, that you barely even think about as a “break” or “pause”. This gives you a quick, powerful glide.

6) Pull: Don’t think about an S Pattern. Instead, just pull like you would if you were paddling a boat, or a surfer paddling a board. Hand just goes straight back through the water.

7) Catch The Water: Use a high elbow catch, which means your fingertips point towards the bottom of the pool as you pull. I’m a huge fan of the Catch Masterclass DVD for learning proper catch.

8) Power or “Umph” at the Front: Your power phase occurs early in the front of your stroke, not in the end at your hips. Press hard in the beginning, then quickly let go and get your arm into reach for the next stroke. Think: reach big, pull short.

9) Release & Recover: After the “umph” phase, let go of the water and get your arm into recovery before your hand gets back to your hip. Straight, round, or bent elbow in recovery doesn’t matter – just do what feels natural for you!

10) Kick: Think about turning your toes inward and keep your kick small and quick. Your big toes can be tapping against one another as you kick.

For those of you who want to see exactly what these concepts look like when put into practice, check out this video of Karlyn swimming:

Here’s to faster freestyle!
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