“Mastering” the Swim – proper breathing & rotation

The first steps in order to become an efficient swimmer are of course breathing properly and body position. Once we have become proficient at those, the next most important skill is body rotation. Rotation is an important part of freestyle as well as backstroke because by rotating our body to initiate the underwater pull, we put ourselves into a more favorable position to use our back muscles which will make our pull stronger. unknownThe question then becomes how much do we actually need to rotate? The majority of our stroke should take place on our stomach, not on our side. The best freestylers rotate their shoulders to either side about 30 degrees from the surface, meaning that they never even rotate halfway onto their side ( 90 degrees). So the goal is to rotate forward in order to lengthen the stroke and set us up for the best catch. The hips should rotate a little less than the shoulders because if the hips rotate too much, it will be difficult to maintain a steady kick. This is why a lot of swimmers will have a cross over/scissor kick when they go to breathe because the hips are rotating too much to the breathing side. As our arm enters the water as well as at the end of each recovery, we want to drive and extend our arm and shoulder forward. Our shoulders will naturally pivot and that is all the rotation that we need. It is also important to ensure that we do not internally rotate the shoulder as this can lead to shoulder impingement as well as an inefficient catch.

In Reality, body rotation doesn’t  just naturally happen. It  requires a lot of core strength and work, especially in the form of drills. When the rotation is fast and well timed, it will create a substantial force that enables the swimmer to cover more distance with each stroke. Here are some practical drills to help with body rotation, I recommend using fins in the beginning as it is easier to learn the technique.


Single Arm Drill

  • Swim with the Left arm, Breath to the left side. The right arm is by your side .
  • Swim with Left arm, Breathe to the right side. The right arm is by your side.
  •  Swim with Right arm, Breath to the right side. The left arm is by your side.
  •  Swim with Right arm, Breath to the left side. The left arm is by your side.

Shoulder Lift

  • Swim on your stomach, hands at your side using a steady kick. alternate lifting left shoulder out of the water while taking a breath and then do the same on the right. The key is keeping your hands at your side.
  • Next, do the same drill without lifting your head out other than every 3rd time to breath.

Heather Butcher is a USAT level 1 certified coachdsc_0004, USAT Youth and Junior coach and an ACE certified personal trainer.Heather has been doing personal training and Triathlon coaching for over 10 years and is the owner of TriFitSports personal training studio and multisport coaching located in Venice, FL.

Email: hbtrisports@aol.com

Phone: (941) 416-4492

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