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How To Stop the Spreading of the Legs in Freestyle

Recently I posted an article and some tips on

Following this article there has beena good response from a number of coaches, however one of them has stood out, and I will share it with you below.

Hi Gary,

Concentrating on kicking to keep the legs together while breathing may stop the leg spread as described in your article but I wonder whether there is a simpler solution.

As a swim teacher my aim is to develop safer swimmers by making swimming as relaxed and simple as possible, making swimming efficient. Expending less energy will enable the swimmer to swim further. And if swimming is more efficient, greater propulsive effort can be made when required.

For every action there is a reaction. Is the spreading of the legs during breathing a cause or an effect? What does the spreading cause or what causes the spread?

The spread only occurs during breathing. Possibly the breathing action causes the spread. Concentrating on kicking will only mask the effect of the poor breathing technique; Poor breathing will still have a negative effect on the body position in the water, will still unbalance the stroke and interfere with with the propulsive force produced by the stroking arm during the breath. The extra effort kicking will have an unnecessary energy cost.

There are a number of reasons why some swimmers turn their head too far while breathing.

• Often they simply take too large a breath, meaning that the mouth needs to be out of the water  for a longer time (Most swim teachers talk to their learners about taking a big breath)

• Some swimmers will breath in too slowly, again meaning that the mouth needs to be out of the water for a longer time

• Many swimmers will not completely exhale under water and will exhale somewhat to the side again meaning that the mouth needs to be out of the water for a longer time.

• Some swimmers will breathe well but still turn their heads too far because of habit again meaning that the mouth needs to be out of the water for a longer time.

• And there so many swimmers who lift their head as they turn to the side again meaning that the mouth needs to be out of the water for a longer time.

• Some swimmers will breathe at an inappropriate time forcing the head to turn further than necessary again taking longer.

The common denominator is the length of time  taken to turn the head to the side and back under.

These problems can be easily corrected. Once a correct breathing action motion has been learnt (ear in water developing to one eye in the water during the head turn) the emphasis must be increasing the speed of the breath intake so the mouth is out of the water for the minimal time possible. This will minimally disrupt the body balance  (streamline). There will be no need to counterbalance by spreading the legs. There will be less energy expended turning the head and no need to expend extra energy kicking.  There will be minimal disruption to the stroke while breathing. Even the speed through the water of a slow swimmer or someone swimming slowly will increase as the streamline is maintained.

The breathing can be improved by simple practice. Lie face down in the water supported by the instructor and practice breathing. Work on technique and then speed. As soon as the mouth comes out of the water it should be submerging again. Breath intake is momentary. As the learner relaxes with a quick breath less support can be given and the swimmer will be able to lie prone in the water and practice their breathing with little leg movement.

When my swimmers practice floating as a water safety exercise they prefer face down to floating on their back.

The next drill is kick and breathe (No kick boards as the boards will make the body position non specific to freestyle). One arm extended, one arm at side, breath away from the extended arm. No arm movements allowed.

This drill helps swimmers learn the feel of the correct breathing timing and cannot be performed with the arms still if the breath is slow or high or if great streamline is not maintained. They need to look at the bottom beneath them. Swim blind, like Bill Boomer told us years ago.

Then concentrate on short swims with great technique not allowing fatigue to build  which would encourage the swimmer to return to habitual swimming. Only extending the length of the swims if technique is maintained. Stopping the swim if technique deteriorates.

If you are standing on the pool-deck of a 50 metre pool with a great swimmer swimming towards you the breathing movement will be difficult to observe.

Breathing unbalances the stroke, poor breathing unbalances the stroke even more. If the stroke is unbalanced there must be a reaction. Spreading the legs is a simple method to maintain balance in the water.

During swimming the mouth needs to be out of the water for the least amount of time possible to maintain maximum streamline (keep the body balanced).

Often I believe that freestyle kicking can be over emphasised. I agree with Maglischo, “Swimming Even Faster” (pg 380) that too much energy can be expended kicking (Concentrating on kicking to mask poor breathing). Rushall in his Carlile Coaches’ Forum also discusses this. Freestyle kicking is for sprint swimming. Why do we emphasis kicking for beginning swimmers? Safety, being able to swim further is more important than being able to swim faster for the majority of swimmers. Long strokes with the legs moving to balance the stroke.

Regards, Phil Gavin, Sydenham St Swimming

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2 Responses to How To Stop the Spreading of the Legs in Freestyle

  1. Georgie Parkes October 12, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    Gaz, great article / response on Freestyle technique specifically breathing and kicking.
    Taking a ‘sneaky’ breath is how I often describe the freestyle side breath to my kids and simultaneously trying NOT to change anything else in their stroke. Ie. rolling head and body too far, excessive body movement and of course the old spreading the legs, thus ‘putting the brakes on’.

    Excessive or over kicking is a biggie as well with young kids ( and adults who learn to swim later in life). Despite the kick ability to be powerful and incredibly propulsive over a short distance (sprint), it actually retards stroke rhythm, flow, length and efficiency in general non racing, non sprint swimming.
    I believe when teaching kids, the pattern, technique and rhythm of their kicking is much more important than 6 beat, continuous over kicking looking to make them swim faster. it makes them swim slower and less efficiently!!

    Thanks heaps for your constant ‘food for thought Gaz’.

    Kind regards

    Georgie Parkes

    • Gary October 15, 2014 at 6:20 am #

      Thanks Georgie for the great feedback and suggestions.

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