Our swimming clinic with the West Coast Masters!

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Jarrad Lawford West Coast Masters Swimming Club Stroke Clinic

The Swimclan team recently had the privilege to pay a visit to the incredibly popular West Coast Masters Swimming Club at HBF Arena, Joondalup!

The club is renowned for its environment of fun, fitness and friendship where adults can swim under the guidance of experienced volunteer coaches.

Many of the members who train with the Masters also compete in open water swimming events, so Swimclan's Andrew Donaldson and Jarrad Lawford, decided to take a dip with the crew to provide useful technique and racing tips!

Five essential technique tips we provided

1. Replacing a straight arm underwater catch with a bent elbow

This is one of the most common technique errors we see among swimmers of all ages and skills. Even for mature swimmers who have trained with clubs for decades, it is still highly common to see a majority pulling with a straight arm catch underwater.

This places a huge amount of pressure on the shoulders with each catch and can be a common cause for bursitis, tendonitis and even shoulder dislocations among swimmers. It's also much weaker than a bent arm catch.

To help some members of the masters squad overcome this habit, elite swimmer Andy Donaldson showcased the correct bent elbow technique by demonstrating the 'long-dog' freestyle drill to initiate a stronger, bent elbow catch moving around the body. The arm should only straighten at the conclusion of each stroke once moving past the hips.

Bent Elbow Catch Andy Donaldson Swimming
Swimclan Director, Andy Donaldson, explaining the correct technique to a Masters swimmer

2. High elbow recovery out of water

Some swimmers demonstrate a straight arm recovery as it moves through the air and extends out in front of their body to begin the next underwater catch.

Yes, some swimmers prefer to have a straight arm recovery and this is often seen in sprinters. However, having a high, relaxed and bent elbow during your recovery enables a better hand entry into the water and allows a quicker initiation of the underwater catch.

The drill that we demonstrated to counteract a straight arm recovery was 'fingertip drag' freestyle. This is similar to regular freestyle, but with your fingertips dragging across the surface of the water as your arm moves from your hips and extends out in front of you.

Not only does this drill help encourage a high elbow, it also helps swimmers relax their bent arm during the stroke recovery, which minimises the amount of energy wasted when tensing up during this stage of the stroke.

High elbows swimming Andrew Donaldson
Michael Phelps always had a high and relaxed elbow in freestyle, which Andy Donaldson demonstrated.

3. Avoid crossing arms over your central body line

If you can imagine a line running straight down the middle of your body from your head to your toes, you never want to cross your arm over this line at any point of your freestyle stroke. Whether this be upon hand entry or the underwater catch.

If your hand crosses over this line upon hand entry into the water, this will cause you to 'snake' down the pool and swim in a wonky line. It also places a larger amount of strain on your chest and shoulders, which can lead to injuries over time.

When your arm crosses this line under your body during the underwater catch phase, you will lose out on stroke efficiency and pull water into your torso as you swim. This spoils the hydrodynamics of your body moving through the water, slashes the amount of litres you're catching with each stroke and places more pressure on your shoulder joint.

One drill that is ideal for practicing this motion is single arm freestyle (with or without a kick board). The key focus of this drill is slowing the arms down and practicing moving the arm around the body and into the bent elbow position away from the central body line.

The central body line your arms should avoid crossing in freestyle

4. Exhaling underwater before breathing

One easy to way to avoid becoming breathless in swimming is to exhale underwater before breathing.

The Swimclan team asked if any members of the Masters squad were out of breath or fatigued after swimming short sprints. At least a dozen hands went up and on closer inspection underwater, these swimmers held their breath rather than exhaling.

The reason why these swimmers noted breathlessness, elevated heart rates and fatigue is easy to identify. If you hold your breath underwater, this means you will have to exhale and inhale within a fraction of a second when breathing.

Swimmers who do this are essentially exhaling when they should only be inhaling. This can also slash their oxygen consumption with each breath by 50% and causes carbon dioxide and lactic acid to quickly build up in the blood and muscles. This results in a higher heart rate and a brisk arrival into struggle town!

An easy way to avoid this is to exhale gently underwater around one or two strokes before breathing to the side, which keeps your oxygen levels higher while swimming to keep your heart, lungs, muscles and mind at ease.

Jarrad Lawford Exhaling West Coast Masters Swimming Club
Jarrad Lawford explaining underwater exhaling to the West Coast Masters squad

5. Preventing hips and legs sinking during freestyle

If you drive a car and tow something behind it, your car is having to work harder due to more resistance. The same can be said about your hips and legs dropping behind you during freestyle.

The key to easier swimming is buoyancy. As soon as the hips and legs are parallel with your upper body when moving through the water, freestyle becomes remarkably easier. If the legs and hips drop downwards, they will start to drag your back, shoulders and head down with them.

Not only does this make it difficult to breathe, but your legs and hips are lagging behind you and adding weight through more resistance, rather than assisting your upper body.

To help several swimmers maintain efficiency through the water, Jarrad and Andy demonstrated single arm freestyle with a strong focus on lateral rotation of the opposite hip and shoulder. This allows more distance to be covered with each stroke.

Another reason why hips and legs may sink during freestyle is from swimmers bending their knees too much while kicking. On close inspection, our Swimclan coaches noticed many Masters squad members bent their knees excessively when kicking, which causes the hips to sink like a stone.

An easy way to avoid this is simply to focus all your power into a slightly bent kick moving downwards, then relax the leg and keep it as straight as possible when returning it to the water surface. Keeping your feet pointed as if you were standing on your tiptoes also provides more propulsion with each downwards kick.

Jarrad Lawford Kick West Coast Masters Swimming
Bent leg kicking downwards, straight leg moving upwards as demonstrated by Jarrad.

Not only did we have an incredible time working with the West Coast Masters squad in the water, we also enjoyed providing open water swimming tips on pool deck!

Former Rottnest Channel Swim solo winner, Paul Laver, provided some unique advice on feeding, training, tactics and how to avoid dehydration and hypothermia during longer open water swims.

Paul Laver West Coast Masters Swimming Club
2014 Rottnest Channel Swim solo winner, Paul Laver (left) joined Jarrad and Andy to provide open water swim tips

Need some open water swimming tips? We've got you covered! Check out our other blogs containing the best advice for Rottnest Channel Swim Solo's, Rottnest Channel Swim Duo's & Teams and the Busselton Jetty Swim.

Want to find out how to join the West Coast Masters Swimming Club or find session availability near you? Please click here.

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