British Pentathlon - Performance

Swimming Training

The Efficiency of your Swimming Training byPearse McGuigan

The efficiency of your swimming stroke is the key to success as a competing pentathlete. An efficient stroke will significantly reduce wasted energy output through less drag in the water and a cleaner execution of hand and arm entry and recovery. Thus that little extra energy may provide you with an overall faster time. When your energy resources are depleted and you are hanging on to the end of the race, you will be the winner if you can hold your technique to that last tenth of a second. Every swimmer knows how easy it is to let one?s technique drop off as you become more fatigued throughout a race ? that burning sensation in the shoulders as you try to hold together your last few strokes to the wall is the hardest part of a race.

With regards to training for competitions, the season can last for up to 11/12 months (depending what level you are competing at). In general, the season?s training will reflect the level of the club or squad you are training with. The season will be geared around the county, regional and national meets and in many instants does not take into consideration your preparations for important pentathlon competitions. Whatever your level, this article aims to cover the different types of training sets/sessions you should experience. Your individual ability and/or standard will determine the actual proportional breakdown of these sessions or cycles throughout the swimming season.


When considering swimming technique for freestyle (the stroke you race in) never mind any other stroke, analysis should follow the format described below:

  1. Balance
  2. Legs
  3. Arms
  4. Timing
  5. Breathing

The leg kick will control the body position in the water, while the arms cycle will provide the propulsive force. The timing between the two is vital to the efficiency of the stroke in order to provide a greater speed through the water with minimum wasted energy. Finally, breathing technique should be analysed to ensure that when you breathe your overall technique is not disrupted in any way that would cause a breakdown in efficiency.


As mentioned earlier the main propulsive force of the freestyle stroke is the arm cycle. The legs add at most 15% of the total speed through the water, depending on whether you use a 2-,4-,6-, or 8-beat kick.

  1. Body Position:

    In order to keep resistance to a minimum, it is necessary to keep the body as streamlined and horizontal as possible, taking full advantage of propulsive forces. Arm and leg movements used to provide propulsion, add to the resistive forces created, and good technique should be used to keep this ?active drag? to a minimum.

  2. Legs:

    The legs control the body?s balance and also aid forward propulsion. This power development can be done through improved flexibility of the hips, knees & ankles and also performing kicking sets (long & short).

  3. Arms:

    The arms are the main power house in frontcrawl and therefore correct technique is essential to maximising this. Points to remember when swimming freestyle ?

    Entry & Catch ? Index finger & thumb first, reaching forward and out (almost at full extension) to ?catch? the water to prepare for the outsweep ? dropping the shoulder ( upon the reach ) slightly will help in the ?catch? and also in the recovery of the other arm.

    Outsweep ? Press the water laterally to the body with only slight elbow flexion and begin to rotate the hand at the wrist medially.

    Insweep ? Press the water towards the hips through further flexion of the elbow and wrist as you feel the body being pulled over the hand.

    Press ? With the hands at the hip and palm pacing towards the feet, press the water back by extending the arm to approximately 90% of full extension, keeping in line with the body to reduce drag. The arm is ready for recovery, elbow first.!

    Recovery ? Elbow leaves the water first, with a high elbow, hand relaxed directly under the elbow, trailing fingers on the water, then reach forwards to the entry position.

  4. Breathing:

    Freestyle being the fastest of the four strokes, but is potentially the stroke most disrupted by the action of taking a breath. Again there is a balance to be struck, finding the optimum number of breaths to ensure sufficient oxygen is supplied to the working muscles, with minimal disturbance to the mechanics of the stroke ie. Breathing every 2,3,4 strokes etc.

  5. Timing:

    Timing of the stroke refers to the coordination of the action of the arms and the legs. In freestyle swimming in general, there is an increasing proportion of propulsion generated form the legs as swimming speed increases, from an almost negligible kick in longer distances to a 2,4,6,8 beat kick per arm cycle as sprinting speed is increased.

Freestyle Stroke Drills
Drill/ Practice Coaching Point
High elbow finger trail High elbow with trailing finger/hands up body during recovery.
Fists Swimming/ Open hands Helps to increase sensitivity of hand to water pressure, and develop a feel for the water.
Doggy Paddle Streamline push forward with hand ( on side ), turn wrist and hand at extension, flex elbow outside the body & hand to pull down the centre line of the body. The head can either be in or out of the water.
Body rolling through kicking Sufficient body roll, to encourage a narrower, longer, more streamlined body position.
Breathing Restrictions Short swims, holding breath, keeping head still, increase breaths taken, returning head to central position.
Stroke Counting Distance per stroke can be used to measure stroke efficiency.



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