Setting up the basics of your swimming
There are four areas that are the key to setting up your swimming as you get started
Hip Position/ Posture
Breathing technique sounds pretty simple but almost all swimmers that I come across will at times need to address this - for often better swimmers it is as they start learning new techniques.
In nearly every other environment that we are in, whether you are sitting at a desk, going for a run or bike we can breath as we please, but as soon as we get in the water the one thing that changes is often our breathing technique. Obviously we can't breath when we want to if our head is underwater but the common areas that need to be addressed for swimmers are discussed below
Do you hold your breath?
How do you exhale your air?
Body position or posture in the water
Do you hold your breath between breathing strokes?
There is diminishing return of doing this for a novice swimmers. The first few strokes down the length can be okay but then the further down the length they go the need for more air becomes apparent. Once getting to this point when air is all they care about then usually a swimmer will look to stand up/give up, start throwing their head around out of the water to breathe or start to over rotate the head. All of these factors contribute to one thing - the body position gets lower in the water making it even harder to breathe as the body is essentially sinking (learn more about this in the Head Position section below).
How do you exhale your air?
Learning to exhale your air in a relaxed fashion while the head is underwater is very important. Remember you don't have to blow all your air out (you don't do that when you're running or doing other sports). The key is to find a nice rhythm of exhalation and then rolling to the side and simply inhaling. This is much more efficient than large exhalations just before breathing or exhaling and inhaling while the head is turned.
Boost Tip - From a standing position bend from the waist and put your chest and head on the surface of the water. Then slowly exhale your air (blow bubbles) and then roll your head to the side to breathe.
Improving head position at breathing
The prior two points can influence this and as we teach you to breath the area that goes hand and hand with this is head position and body rotation. By simply having your head in a more neutral position (see below) and then developing better body rotation all of a sudden a swimmer's stroke becomes more balance and the need to over rotate the head to breath starts to diminish.
If the head is facing forward prior to a breath then the movement to breathe is a lot greater in order to clear the mouth out of the water.
Open water swimming
There are a few additional breathing considerations in open water swimming. Learning to breathe bilaterally is a big plus as there are a number of situations that you can find yourself in that might force you to breathe to other side - waves/chop that is predominantly coming from one side, another swimmer that is in your breathing space with a big kick or creating waves that come into your mouth when breathing.
Learning to breath and sight is another skill so that you can maintain a good body position. To learn more about this watch - Sighting Technique
Ability to adapt the head position - in certain conditions (generally rough) a greater head rotation can ensure that you get the breathe that you need - but you need to learn how to turn the head quickly and get it back down into the water so you don't create a poor body position (additional drag) by leaving your head up for too long.
The head is such a key influence to body position in the water. In the areas discussed above around breathing technique a change in head position will influence the hips and legs in the water. The higher the head lifts up the lower the hips and kick will generally get. Strong swimmers with excellent kick technique will control the lower body if they lift their head high but for most other swimmers the lifting of the head will start the collapse of each of the areas below - hip position and posture and kick technique.
The head is such a key influence to the body position in the water.
The aim of the head position is to be generally down. With the water at the hair line and the goggles facing toward the bottom of the pool (this doesn't mean you have to look down - look out the top of your eyes and use your peripheral vision to keep yourself in check of your position in the pool or open water.
Hip Position/ Posture in the water
Finding the right position in the water can be relatively hard, but with a simple technique of floating in a starfish position first you will learn how to relax your hips to keep them up and learn optimal head position so that your lower body doesn't sink.
Start with just doing the starfish float and then stand up
Progress to then bringing the legs together and kicking using the kick technique mentioned below.
Then finally do the two steps above and then bring in the arms aiming to hold an optimal body position. If you lose position then stop, reset and start again with float/kick/swim.
By setting yourself up with good posture and position in the water it will quickly help you to stop fighting the water to get optimal body position.
The kick needs to come from the hip not from the knee, your ankles are relaxed and try and have your toes brushing by each time. The kick movement focus needs to be on the forward flick not pulling back which is when a swimmer kicks from the knee. Learn more about kick technique here. Imagine you are kicking a sock off the end of your foot!