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Swimming Made Simple


If you’re one of the many triathletes who have spent hours on YouTube trying to figure out exactly how the great swimmers swim so fast, this article is for you!


Here are the basic swim skills that take away all the guesswork and frustration of swimming efficiently.  They are broken down in order of importance from head to arms to legs.  Follow these simple tips, make the adjustments in your stroke and you will see steady improvement in your swimming.




  • Keep your head and shoulders low so your hips and legs don’t sink. The lower your head, the higher your hips.
  • Set your head low when you push off the wall in a streamlined position with your biceps squeezing your ears.
  • Swim “downhill” with your head lower than your hips.
  • Water should flow over the top of your cap.
  • Keep your chin in a neutral position and look forward 2-3 feet.
  • Imagine holding a tennis ball underneath your chin.
  • Turn your head to 90 degrees (not back or forward) when you breathe.
  • Keep your opposite ear in the water and turn your head directly to the side to breathe.
  • Keep your body taut and rotate your shoulders/hips as one unit to better allow your head to turn and roll up to breath.




  • Practice entering your hands at 11 and 1 o’clock.
  • The tip of your middle finger should enter the water first with your palm facing back.
  • Once your hand enters, start your pull back toward your hip. You can check this by touching thumb to hip.
  • When the tip of your middle finger enters the water, turn your head and rotate your shoulders and hips to breathe at the same time.
  • Imagine that there is a light on your palm and that light always faces to the back of the lane – never up, down or sideways. This will keep your elbow high.
  • Always lead your stroke with your elbow-that should always be the highest part of your stroke.
  • Do not let your hands/arms cross the midline of your body. This will ensure that you are swimming in a straight line.
  • Practice swimming straight down the center of the lane by swimming right over the black line and having your thumbs “skim” the outside edge of the black line.
  • Imagine a skewer running down the center of your body and don’t move beyond your “runway.”
  • Swim “long.”  Try not to short stroke.  Extend your arm out with each stroke without locking out (straightening) your elbow.
  • If you hear a “slapping” sound, that is your forearm hitting the water and means you have locked out your elbow and stroked with a straight arm.
  • Pull just past your hip.  Think “up, over and in.”
  • Don’t “muscle” the swim. You should feel your big muscles- lats -when you    If not, your arms will fatigue quickly.
  • Imagine your stroke like a bike pedal stroke- nice and smooth and fluid.




  • Point your toes on the kick, keeping legs together and knees straight, not bent.
  • Kick up rapidly towards the surface of the water creating a small “boil”.
  • Don’t separate your legs too widely or you will go backwards. You can check yourself by occasionally touching toes.


Review this list of swim skills at least once a week to keep you focused on good form. Making these simple yet important changes in your technique will make all the difference in your comfort and effort level in the water.  You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to go faster!




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Kerry Simmons is a USAT Level I Certified Triathlon Coach and has been teaching swim lessons for over 30 years. She is often first out of the swim at USAT Age Group Nationals, is a 2x USAT Age Group National Champion, 2x World Medalist, 10x USAT All American Triathlete and has raced in the World Championships in the 70.3, Olympic, Sprint and Aquathlon events.
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