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Technical Foundations- Part VII

In parts I-VI, we explored the three basic tasks of effective technical executions (minimizing drag, increasing propulsion, and moving with rhythm), as well as strategies to effectively improve these tasks.

Once swimmers can execute skills well, they still have to learn to execute skill at speed, under fatigue, and under pressure in competition. This is a long, time-consuming process. To accelerate the process, it’s intuitive that we need a fundamental understanding of what really needs to have with technical development. This will serve to ensure that swimmers are learning effective skills that win races from the start.

By distilling technique down to the fundamental principles, we can start with what we know to be true, and then build upwards from there. As outlined through this series, the fundamental technical skills are listed below. The purpose here is to create a go-to outline that can help coaches appreciate the critical skills and tasks that must be learned and managed, as well as some of the strategies that can be used to facilitate that process.

The outline is intended to be simple so that it can serve as a reminder to coaches of what needs to be accomplished on a regular basis if swimmers are to learn to improve the execution of their skills over time. For more detail, refer to the specific sections.

Minimize Drag

Swimmer must learn to move through the water with a smaller drag profile during ALL phases of a race and stroke cycle.


Objective- Learn how to manage and leverage the lungs so that body position is as horizontal and stable as possible, while using as little energy as possible

Strategies- Practice floating in different positions with different levels of lung fullness, moving the arms and legs in and out, and placing small weights on the limbs.


Objective- Learn how to exchange air in a manner that allows for minimal disruption of body alignment and stroking rhythm.

Strategies- Practice swimming without breathing and with different breathing frequencies working to make each stroke cycle feel as similar as possible, regardless of the occurrence of a breath.


Objective- Learn to maintain alignment during transitional phases of all stroke by creating better awareness of moment-to-moment increases in drag profile.

Strategies- Exaggerate the feeling and sensitivity of water flow over the body by using overspeed tasks, artificially creating drag over specific body parts, and my removing the skin from exposure to the flow of water.

Create Propulsion

Swimmers must learn how to create high levels of propulsion through the creation of more force that is directed in manner that moves the swimmer forward.

Apply Force Effectively

High levels of force are only useful if they are directed in a manner that facilitates forward movement. The more forces are applied backwards in a consistent manner for as long a distance as possible, the more a given force will enhance propulsion.

Objective- Learn what effective force application feels like, identify opportunities for improved force application, and learn to consistently apply force effectively regardless of speed or fatigue.

Strategies- Use stroke counts, take away the hands, and apply resistance with variable conditions to create tasks with strict performance standards that inform swimmers about the effectiveness of force application.

Apply More Force

Assuming forces are applied effectively, applying more force will result in greater propulsion.

Objective- Improve the capacity to create larger forces, then learn how to apply larger forces in the pool, then learn how to apply larger forces in race-relevant situations.

Strategies- Develop strength and muscle mass out of the pool, develop strength through resisted swimming, and perform race-relevant swimming.

Swim with Rhythm and Timing

Swimming with great rhythm and timing is more efficient and effective. While it’s important to achieve specific positions to swim fast, the ability to smoothly transition between these positions by is what defines graceful and fast swimming.

Use Momentum

Objective- Learn how to maintain and channel the momentum of the torso and the limbs to create force and smoothly transition from position to position with a stroke cycle.

Strategies- Use light hand weights, novel arm recoveries, and head dynamics to influence momentum.

Limit Velocity Fluctuations

Objective- Learn to feel and reduce unnecessary losses of speed between different phases of a stroke cycle by maintaining force continuity and effective body positions.

Strategies- Use speed changes, stroke rate changes, and stroke count changes to expose velocity fluctuations that are negatively influencing performance, as well as to establish greater stroking rhythm.

Swimmers that can accomplish these objectives are going to swim FAST!

Coaches struggle to make meaningful technical change that positively impacts performance. This often happens due to a lack of focus on the skills that make a winning difference. The wrong skills are emphasized, or there is no consistency in terms of the skills that are taught. The latter can occur when symptoms are chased instead of causes, stemming from a misunderstanding of what is fundamental.

The hope with this series is to help coaches appreciate what really matters with technique, while also providing strategies that effectively allow swimmers to learn these critical skills in an open-ended manner that focuses on learning rather than instructing. Due to individual variability and the nuance associated with these skills, a prescriptive approach is likely to fail.

With improved understanding, and effective strategies in hand, coaches can defy the belief that strokes can’t change by helping their swimmers improve their skills and swim faster than ever before.

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