By: Kris Goodrich
Certified USMS Level 1-3 Coach, Certified ASCA Level 1-2, BS Kinesiology
Even if you’re limited in the ability to streamline perfectly, you can still improve
One of my favorite drills is “Drill With Purpose,” which my swimmers affectionally call “Fun With Mirrors.” During this drill, they can analyze themselves by swimming over mirrors we place on the bottom of the pool, so they can see exactly what they’re doing (or, perhaps more accurately, not doing). It’s a great way to teach streamline.
Why Do We Streamline?
The fastest you move in the water is when you dive into the water and leave the wall. A better streamline off the wall allows you to glide farther and faster, using fewer strokes. A small investment in streamline improvement pays big dividends. The energy you save off every wall is available to use in the rest of your workouts or races.
A perfect streamline starts with your fingers together, palms on top of each other, biceps behind your head, shoulders shrugged so there is no gap between your shoulders and base of your head, core tight, body straight like an arrow, toes pointed, and big toes touching.
But many Masters swimmers who are limited by injury, arthritis, lack of core strength, and flexibility loss cannot close the gap to get their arms all the way behind their head. Does that mean they should give up? Or are there other things they can do to make their streamlines the best they can be?
Drills to Perfect Your Streamline
With our mirrors on the bottom, we practice our streamlines off the walls and watch our reflections for feedback. We start with our hands tight on top of each other. Swimmers may or may not be able to get their arms all the way behind their head but can definitely get their head and chin tucked down and looking at the bottom. Letting your head come up is like creating a wall to push against as you try to glide.
A streamlined body should be straight like an arrow. Even limited feedback from the mirrors help swimmers improve quickly, even those with limited core strength. Although many of our swimmers cannot get their arms completely behind their head, every one of them can touch their big toes together and keep them pointed to eliminate drag from flexed or separated feet.
Even without mirrors, the key is to pay attention as you practice streamlining. Each time you leave the wall, observe how far you go before you’ve slowed down to your swimming speed. Have a friend watch you and give feedback. It’s okay to roll over a little as you learn how to stabilize using your core muscles instead of your hands and feet, so keep practicing. It takes time!
Another good drill is to have a partner drag you on a short line such as a jump rope or piece of surgical tubing. One person wears fins and kicks backward while pulling a swimmer wearing a snorkel. The goal is for the person being pulled to hold a perfect streamline for an entire 25. The pulling partner provides feedback: Was their swimming partner’s head down, were their swimming partner’s hands together, did their swimming partner keep their legs together, was their swimming partner’s body straight like an arrow? Repeat after the feedback to improve the form, then switch positions.
A more difficult variation requires snorkels for both swimmers. The swimmer in front holds the streamline while the other swims, pushing their partner’s feet with their head. The turbulence created by the pushing swimmer requires more core strength to maintain a good streamline.
What Else You Can Do
If limited flexibility inhibits your streamline, consider implementing a daily dryland stretching regimen for increased shoulder flexibility. This will also help to keep your whole shoulder and back complex healthy. If you have limited core strength and have a hard time maintaining a good bodyline, yoga is a great addition to your workout routine. Both out-of-water programs not only improve your streamlines but your strokes as well.
If you don’t have a mirror in the pool, you can still look in the mirror at home. Stand in front of the mirror to practice your streamline and find opportunities for improvement. Head to the pool and try it out there with a few glides off the wall. Set a goal to go farther each time you push off. Think about what you saw in the mirror and focus on turning your corrections into permanent habits. The energy you save with a better streamline will pay off each time you leave the wall.