Think Yourself to Better Swim Form

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Proper Swim form is tough. It requires exterior analysis (i.e. videotaped performance) and vigilant awareness of where your body is in the water. Unless you are already an experienced swimmer who has developed his/her swim stroke over the course of their lifetime, then it is very easy to slip back into old inefficient stroke patterns. It takes almost daily practice to get to that level of ingrained expertise. 10,000 hours to be precise according to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers. However, is there a way to think ourselves fast?


Do not take me too literally here. I am not saying that just watching youtube clips of Michael Phelps and Andy Potts are going to make you a faster swimmer naturally. You will have to get in the water quite a bit still, but when you are in the water, you can visualize and think your way to better form once you know what you are doing.


After getting my stroke analyzed last year, I had a laundry list of adjustments that I needed to work on including shallower catch, higher elbow, more hip rotation, and further reach. To deal with each of these problems, I developed a phrase that I repeat throughout each part of my stroke to keep me aware of what I am doing and to emphasize what I should be doing. Here is what I think about:

  1. “Reach, dude” As my hand goes through the recovery phase I think about my hand reaching for the far corner of the lane and pushing a button that is just out of my reach.

  2. “You are coming in too low.” (said in a dramatic way like in the black and white films where the war pilot is flying too low; you have to have fun with these) When I enter the water I make sure I do not cut down but extend just a bit further right underneath the surface of the water.

  3. “It’s all in the hips” When I entered the water with a shallow catch (hopefully), I rotate the hips to give me just that little bit of extra reach. But I do not get my extra extension from my shoulder, which can lead to injury, but from my hip rotation (i.e. the core).

  4. “Keep it high” As I initiate the pull phase, I visualize an imaginary string pulling on my elbow to keep it high and my arm bent at 45°

  5. “Aw Snap” As my hand pulls back, I think about driving it back as quickly as possible and snapping (i.e. rotating quickly) my hips, which relates to rotating my hips in step three to get the longer extension of my other hand.

  6. “Keep your head down” I found that I have a tendency to watch my hands as I enter the water. Doing so, however, misaligns my body position and pushes my legs down. I, therefore, think about tucking my chin against my chest and looking at the square right underneath instead of in front of me.


The whole process then repeats itself. It does seem like a lot of thinking, but when you are in the water it only takes a few seconds. Constant vigilance will help your stroke and form new and faster habits.