View Full Version : New to Swimming - need adivce

May 23rd, 2002, 08:18 PM
I've been swimming all my life, but never proper strokes. Recently I've begun learning the correct strokes but I'm having trouble with my crawl stroke. I watch other swimmers go back and forth flip turning as they come to end. I can't do more than 50 yards before I'm completely out of breath. I know I'm in better shape than that because I can swim breaststroke back and forth just fine, so I assume I'm not breathing correctly. Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can breathe better and how to have enough air after the flip turn to continue?

Also, I feel like I don't go anywhere when I kick unless I have fins (I have the blue zoomers). Any suggestions for improving the crawl kick? I kick across the pool, but I go v e r y slow.

Feeling a little discouraged... :(

Thanks for any advice you guys have got!


jim thornton
May 24th, 2002, 12:44 PM

I'm surprised you haven't been barraged with advice! Perhaps it is because this topic has come up in different forms in the past, and maybe people feel they've already addressed it. You might want to check some of the other threads to see.

My own best advice is to hook up with someone who knows stroke mechanics and is willing to look at your swimming and provide some pointers. Ideally, this would be a masters coach because he/she is also presumably well-versed in the psychology of us mature athletes! But I've also found that most of the younger swimmers on our own team--i.e., those who have graduated from college within the past 5-10 years--have great knowledge of how to swim well. Are you currently swimming with a masters team? If so, buddy up with somebody who can help you. If not, consider checking out the various teams listed on the USMS site.

Swimming is an extremely skill-intensive sport, and there's no once-size-fits-all approach, nor are all our bodies the same. It's difficult to coach yourself because you can't see what you're doing, and what feels right might, in point of fact, be wrong. Even though swimming is an individual sport, getting good at it requires some teamwork. Find someone in your area who can coach you, and I suspect your discouragement will quickly melt away as you make steady improvements. The good news: the less skillful your swimming is now, the more room you have for prodigious improvement. Good luck.

In terms of breathing, specifically in freestyle, are you sure you are exhaling completely before inhaling completely? It's possible that you are taking quick, short breaths that never really rechange and recharge the gases to your lungs.

How good are you at holding your breath? This could help tell if you have a normal need for/ability to uptake oxygen--or if for some reason your body needs more air than other people. One of the best things about aerobic training is not that your lungs necessarily get any better at taking in air, but rather that the muscles that need it get better at extracting air from your blood system.


1) make sure you are actually breathing in and out correctly--i.e., getting sufficient breaths; if not, concentrate on exhaling more completely and inhaling more deeply

2) check to make sure you can hold your breath a reasonable amount of time (for instance, is swimming 20 yards underwater breaststroke easy, difficult, or absolutely impossible?) (Note: don't do anything dangerous here--as I always tell my teammates, if you see a swarm of black dots in your visual field, it's high time to surface for air!) I suspect you are normal here, but if you have a markedly reduced ability to hold your breath, you might want to have a doctor check your pulmonary function.

3) train to get your swimming muscles better at extracting oxygen from your blood stream

4) learn to blow out only enough air on the flip turn to keep water from going up your nose.

Hope this helps--and maybe spurs the more knowledgable posters out there to add their advice.

Rob Copeland
May 24th, 2002, 02:14 PM
Jim presents some very good suggestions. Probable the best is find a good coached masters program. Just as a doctor won’t prescribe medicine without knowing the person, it is difficult to coach without knowing the swimmer. Most of our suggestions are along the line of take two aspirins and call me in the morning.

I lived in New Jersey for a number of years and had the privilege of being able to swim with and for some very good programs/coaches. Please check www.gsmswim.org (the New Jersey Masters web site) for information and programs near you. Or call/email Julie Stewart (908) 598-0589 jstewart10@csi.com. She is a great person and is always willing to help.

May 24th, 2002, 04:34 PM
Lisa: It actually can take some time practicing freestyle before you feel not all out of breath, especially when you aren't warmed up. Two suggestions: take it as slowly as you need to--swim a lap laughably slowly and see if it becomes comfortable, and stay with that pace for awhile. It's no big deal if the swimmer in the next lane is zooming along. A faster pace will come with time. Also keep your expectations reasonable, such as adding a lap of continuous swimming each day to your workout.

May 26th, 2002, 02:27 PM

Cant really add any more suggestions to your breathing problems, but with regards to your kick. Well, if you are new to swimming you will need to increase your flexibilty and (like a logrithmic curve), once your flexibilty increases, swimming becomes easier to you can do more and more which makes you fitter and so and so on.

But more specifically, the chances are that at the moment you have stiff ankles which need loosening up. You say you have zoomers already but, like you I was in this position a few years back and couldn't kick at all. I just takes perceverance and lengths and lengths of just kick.

But hopefully you will see the benefits. Just try not to compare yourself to the guy next door too much - certainly set yourself targets but remember it takes a lot of quality training to be good at any sport (despite those of us at this site who think they can set world records when they start out from the age of 21 (ha ha))

May 26th, 2002, 04:48 PM
Thanks to everybody for your advice!! It's already helping. Jim, thanks for the breathing advice. In fact, I wasn't exhaling completely. I realized this and have started experimenting with different rhythms of breathing in and out so that I am exhaling completely. As soon as I started doing that, I was getting enough air. The same with the flip. I was flipping too slowly (still getting used to the flip) and blowing all the air out of my lungs too soon. I can see that it's going to take practice, but at least I feel like I'm on to it now.

I've started kicking across the pool with the zoomers and afterwards kicking without them. I seem to be improving there too.

Thanks to everyone for all their advice. I feel much less discouraged now!


May 26th, 2002, 05:44 PM
Boeing's answer to Lisa regarding her kick brings to mind an age-old question of mine; why do I have such a lousy kick DESPITE great ankle flexibility. Remember, as a chiropractor I pride myself on having above average range of motion in all of my joints for someone my age (actually, better than most young people as well), but my ankle flexibility, which is as good as most folks doesn't translate into an effective kick.

I sympathize with you, Lisa, in that I too feel as if I'm going nowhere on kick sets.

Give me that pull buoy, though (yes Emmitt, I'm one of those addicts) and I can go all day.

So, back to the question at hand, why do I not kick well when the answer is not the standard "your ankles must be too stiff"?

May 26th, 2002, 06:07 PM
Sometimes an ineffective kick is the result of kicking from the knees instead of the hips. It FEELS like you're using your whole leg, but as is often the case, what you think you're doing isn't what you're actually doing. You might try kicking a couple lengths with fins several sizes too big. If you kick from your knees, they'll usually fall off, but won't if you kick from the hips.

May 26th, 2002, 07:20 PM
If you find that a pull buoy (the styro-virus kind) allows you to move with significantly greater ease, then you are likely using your kick PRIMARILY for keeping your hips up when you swim. This is an ENTIRELY different kicking motion than propulsive flutter kicking, and usually evidenced by kicking more from the knees than from the hips, and kicking outside the tube the rest of your body is swimming through.

It may be that you have made a strongly ingrained habit of hip-lift kicking, to the exclusion of propulsive flutter kicking.

Applying the general concepts of great longitudinal balance (head down, press your buoy - that's your built-in pull buoy - and avoiding pressing down on the water in front of you) can allow you to swim freestyle effortlessly without the styro-virus AND without needing to kick AT ALL to keep your hips glued to the surface. This then gives you options for how you might otherwise use your kick - options that, from a practical standpoint, aren't available to you at the moment.

To accept a position that requires kicking effort, even a little, to be squandered on raising the hips (or on keeping them from sinking further) will pay big dividends in the calorie consumption department - but that's about it. Hey, at least it ain't ALL bad news!

May 26th, 2002, 10:47 PM
This is what these forums are good for; so that talking about these things gets help to where it's needed. Susan and Emmett, you may have nailed my problem and maybe Lisa's as well.

Knowing that I have this lousy kick, I've tried to pay attention to my body to notice what I do and why.
1) I've noticed that when I do force myself to kick on our swim sets, the effect is mostly to "keep my body aligned" in the water, and not so much resulting in propulsion. It seems as if I can only manage a two beat kick for a two stroke cycle.
2) On kick sets, I have noticed that I seem to be a little more efficient if I kick on my back. Maybe this lessens the amount of knee-bend I normally get when on my stomach.
3) Yes, Emmett, my blue and white styro pull buoy is my favorite toy in my swim bag, and when I use it I lose no time compared to our straight swim sets. (Repeat 100's around 1:15 to 1:20, with or without the buoy).

So, armed with this new information that my kick may still be salvagable, I assume that there is an article somewhere on Emmet's website that will explain to me the proper way to institute an effective kick (?).

If so, I might actually become more than the one-dimensional butterflyer that I have resigned myself to be.

May 26th, 2002, 11:32 PM
Originally posted by emmett
If you find that a pull buoy (the styro-virus kind) allows you to move with significantly greater ease, then you are likely using your kick PRIMARILY for keeping your hips up when you swim.

I have noticed this. And as soon as I began to notice it and adjust my position so that my hips stayed up without kicking, my kick (and my stroke) improved. When kicking on a kickboard though, I have a hard time. Interestingly, I don't seem to have a problem with the butterfly kick (or breastroke), only the crawl.

One more question: I see others kicking on the kick board and they do a lot of splashing above the water, but when they swim, they kick normally. Is there a reason for the difference?


May 27th, 2002, 11:04 AM

Using a kickboard puts you in a very "uphill" position - much like swimming unbalanced. So you'll be using at least some of that kick to keep your hips up. Worse, you'll be reinforcing the HABIT of hip-lift kicking rather than propulsive kicking.

In our program we only use kickboards to prop the doors open. ALL of our kicking is done with no board. This teaches and reinforces propulsive kicking rather than hip-lift kicking.


The FIRST thing to do in fixing your kick is FIX THE BALANCE. Only then will kicking options be practical.

Then, lose the kickboard. Do vertical kicking and lots of side-glide kicking (but only if it is well-balanced - hip AT the surface, not below it, not even a bit). Both help to teach your neuromuscular system what it means to kick in a straight line rather than uphill.

With no styro virus AND no kickboard in your toy bag, your life will be simpler now. :)

Also consider that kicking for motorboat-style propulsion costs WAY more energy than getting that propulsion from transmitting core body rotation to propulsion through your arms. The MOST effective use of your legs will always be to initiate body roll. That's the way to transmit leg efforts into the greatest amount of propulsion. Flutter kicking for motorboat-style propulsion will always yield less GO per calorie expended.So whether or not, and how much, to kick should be weighed against how much energy you can afford to use for the particular task at hand. The Bottom Up Swimming series of articles on my http://.h2oustonswims.org site goes into greater detail on this.

May 28th, 2002, 01:00 PM
I use the kickboard as a place to put my practice and focal points. Write in ballpoint pen what you want on a piece of paper, wet it and put it on the kickboard. It will stick. Then I use a pullbuoy to prop it up on the side of the pool.

Philip Arcuni
May 28th, 2002, 03:53 PM
I know kickboards are unpopular with 'technique coaches,' but I can think of two reasons to use them:

1) I can work my legs much harder when I don't have to worry about breathing. Non-kickboard breathing puts my mouth in a very risky position for choking, particularly when the water is rough. Is vertical kicking really a substitute, especially when times to complete a distance can by used to measure effectiveness of the kick, or progress in leg stamina?

2) Kickboards aid in socialization on easy kicking sets.

Finally, is this 'no-kickboard ever' advice also for swimmers who already have reasonably good form? Is there some fatal stroke flaw that will be introduced by occasional use?

May 28th, 2002, 06:28 PM
You can measure leg stamina and effectiveness of kicking by vertical kicking. Just make it more difficult--take your arms out of the water and see how long you can kick and keep your head above. Get that diving brick that is being used as a doorstop and hold on to it and kick away. Use it on all kicks for the stroke. I think you can socialize while vertical kicking. The true test of leg stamina is to do vertical kicking with your arms in an overhead streamline AND carry on a conversation with someone.

We who don't use kickboards kick in a side lying position and have no problem breathing.