After my #2 Mermaid Tales update (see here), the lovely Jo (I have mentioned her blog before, see here - way to go with your running Jo! I know just how you feel re twirling and I can't wait to get back to it) sent me this great feedback:
Crawl = propelled with arms and helped by hip rotation/stretch. Feet/legs are for stability and can wear you out if used too much.
Breaststroke = propelled with legs, arms for stability and guiding the head into a looooong glide (at point of propulsion by legs).
So in terms of crawl, when you stretch an arm out in front of you - really reach and rotate your body at the same time right the way down to your hips. So if you are reaching with your right hand, your left side of your body is rotating in the water, left hip to surface, right hip to bottom of pool. Make every stroke with the arms count, imagine your hands are buckets, scoop the water behind you. When you reach, the opposite hand is pushing behind and as you rotate out and the arm comes back to side of body, this gives you perfect space to breathe. (tilt your head out as your arm is about your side and while your reaching arm is still out in front of you - this gives you so much more stability when breathing). Try and keep your leading arm out in front of you until the other arms comes back to join it - very likely you will be told to 'windmill' the arms which is an older way of thinking and generally working one arm at a time will give you so much more time to breathe. (try it!) And more time to breathe means you are likely to be able to do crawl for longer stretches
Make sure you are breathing out slowly and steadily in the water and not gulping in air too fast (this raises heart rate which can make it you want to immediately breathe again, which is no good if you are practising bilateral breathing (ie every 3rd stroke)
Despite what you might be told, when you have good technique with the arms, the legs are barely needed. Kicking them furiously does little for propulsion and tires you out and requires you to breathe faster and more frequently. Watch the elite - you will notice they have a slow and steady kick - almost non existent at times.
For breaststroke, less is more - less strokes, more glide! Glide with your face in the water, with your eyes looking at the bottom of the pool (not ahead). The glide will coincide with a big powerful kick (just as you describe on your blog) although be careful about the snap - there is such an injury described as 'breaststroke knee' from being too rough on the joint - though this is meant to be minimised by swimming different strokes regularly. Your arms can help by making the scoop useful again but not too hard - let your legs do the work."
I really appreciated this feedback Jo, so useful, thank you very much x
Last week I had my third lesson and we concentrated on swimming with floats and getting our leg techniques correct. Because we weren't doing the full stroke or technique, just drills, I wasn't able put Jo's tips into practice and I struggled slightly by the end, my Back was tired and I had had enough.
Tonight was my fourth and penultimate lesson and I had taken care to have an easy day, so my Back wasn't too shabby when I got in the pool (Gasp! I know, right!) and tonight was AMAZING! Everything just clicked!! I was reaching and breathing in front crawl, and snapping my legs round for a super long glide in breaststroke. Just great! Rather than drills tonight, we spent time doing the full proper strokes and getting feedback after each length. Listening and watching the instructor and remembering what Jo had suggested, meant that I just got what I was doing and I really felt like I had made huge leaps and bound by the end. I am thrilled!
Everyone did so well tonight, that we had a go at Butterfly..! What a joke! I just don't get it, and I had to stop after every dip because I had breathed or flung my arms forward at the wrong time. Plus I think I expected the jerky dolphin motion to hurt (it didn't) and so I tensed up in anticipation and I didn't let myself get into the full swing.
If you have had even a casual thought about improving your stroke, you should do it! Grab the opportunity and surprise yourself. I have loved my swimming lessons and hope to be able to do another set at some point in the future.