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More on Tarzan, Plus a Coach’s Recollection

Effective freestyle that utilizes the mechanical advantage (law of levers etc) and the kinesiological principles (anatomy of muscular movement) and especially the first and second laws of motion dictates the hands should always be opposed to each other throughout the full arm cycle allowing for the most efficient application of muscular force, thus eliminating any stop and go movements that are created with an inefficient catch up stroke (the worst technique ever developed!)…Dara Torres has a very efficient freestyle.  Check it out. Rule of thumb – apply any of the ridiculous swim drills to walking, and you will get the idea!!

FasterSwimming Answer:

Remember to account for body position in your analysis… posture dictates execution and effectiveness, more than lever action.  Tarzan places added emphasis on full hip extension and a tight core that can transmit force.  Try swimming freestyle with your chin on your chest even if you have great oppositional arm force. Tarzan doesn’t replace efficient swimming but adds great cross training that develops core strength, shoulder and leg speed.

Another email about Tarzan, great story!

Hello Coach;

This is the first time I’ve seen your email letter and I got a kick out of the Tarzan article. I used the Tarzan drill a lot earlier in my career in the early 1970s.  I first saw it used by Don Gambril at Phillipps 66 Long Beach A.C. in 1969. Assistant Coaches were Ron Balatore and Flip Darr.

But here is one of my favorite memories of the Man, Tarzan. In 1967-68-69 (can’t remember which year) I was swimming in an East/West College meet at the Hall of Fame Pool. One evening there were some festivities at the pool and I was in the stands along with a few hundred other swimmers. In the late 60s all of those swimmers were baby boomers.  There was a featured sprint race between some of the best sprinters in the country and Johnny Weismuller. Tarzan still looked great and was in good shape.  But, none of us could quite figure out what was going to happen.  Weismuller was about 65 years old. He dove in, flew down the pool, beat everyone (and they were swimming fast), climbed out and gave the Tarzan yell.

They had laid a rope on the bottom of the pool- at night it couldn’t be seen- and Tarzan picked up the rope on the dive.  There were about 5 guys on the other side of the fence at the Hall of Fame Pool.  As soon as they got the signal that Tarzan had the rope, they took off running.

The interesting thing to me and I didn’t quite comprehend this until years later, was the tremendous almost instant togetherness type of yelling that went through the crowd of male swimmers who were kids born between 1945-1950. I think there was sort of a group epiphany.  A lot of us had grown up watching Tarzan movies, being swimmers, and thinking we were unique or alone in all these little towns across the USA. Many of us dreamed of being Tarzan, swimming like Tarzan and loving the Tarzan movies and being swimmers.



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Why Swim On Top of the Water When the Fastest Part Is Under Water?

Momentum, Momentum, Momentum

“When an external force acts upon a body, it changes its momentum; however, when no external force acts, the momentum of the body does not change, a fact which is incorporated in the principle of ‘the conservation of momentum’. Therefore, momentum has come to be known as the force of motion that a moving body acquires in continuing its motion by virtue of inertia.” If you can understand this concept then you will be a very happy swimmer.

Maintaining a proper streamline and being able to time your breakout into your swimming is key to fast swimming. If you ever do anything underwater and feel yourself slow down then you have lost momentum. Momentum will be different for each athlete based on body type, flexibility and skill level. What and how you do your underwater mechanics and how you breakout into your swimming all effects momentum.

As often as possible you must try to keep the 4 H’s in line (Hands, Head, Hips and Heels).

The biggest momentum killer for all strokes is the transition from the underwater swimming to the actual swimming on top of the water. Swimmers and coaches do not spend enough time on this aspect of swimming. This is major especially when a swimmer comes off a wall in an un-streamlined position, not kicking, then deciding to breakout of the water too deep and deciding to breath first thing.

Sound familiar?

Use each wall in practice to break your bad habits. The fastest part of swimming is underwater when done correctly. Why do you think the 15-meter rule, and original rules of breaststroke were made?


A slow down in timing with improper body position will kill momentum. Keeping the head back, controlling the breathing and maintaining the speed of the kick will help maintain momentum. Increasing stroke count through (each lap) your swims will help maintain momentum.


Momentum is lost when a swimmer loses control of body position. Speed is in the kick. Swimmers must remember to never let the time between the finish of a kick and start of the next kick get slower. The time between the finish and start of the kick can tell the story of timing. A constant pace must be maintained at this part of the swim whether it is faster for sprints or slightly slower for other swims. You must control the timing of the kick while maintaining proper mechanics of the pull.


Breathing, head position, finish of stroke while maintaining a constant kick will all affect momentum. Learning how to maintain these mechanics during the race will greatly affect the finish of the race and momentum.

Momentum is lost when a swimmer loses control of body position.


Momentum is lost when the speed of the kick slows. A non-kick, slow kick or bad timing will only make all the other mechanics worse. Timing is key to proper mechanics and momentum.

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Timing and Rhythm During Breathing and Stroke


There is a breathing pattern in backstroke. Each swimmer will be a bit different. Have each swimmer determine his or her breathing pattern. The concentration should be during the exhale of the breath with the finish of a stroke this could be every right arm finish or any variation. Tell swimmers as they are sprinting that as they try to increase to rate of exhaling that this will help maintain or increase the turnover of the stroke.  Timing of the kick must be short and faster, as the kick falls apart during the backstroke so goes the stroke. While maintaining a faster and shorter kick remember to finish the stroke near the thigh and the surface of the water. There should be no delay from the finish of one stroke to the beginning of another. This is a major problem with the backstroke with many swimmers. Make sure that the swimmers are finishing the stroke correctly. Most swimmers finish the stroke too deep or off to the side of the body.


Timing of the breath and proper breathing is the most important concept to instill in the swimmer. The first thing a swimmer must be able to do is learning how to exhale while the mouth is in the water so there is only inhaling while the mouth is out of the water. A lot of swimmers take time to exhale and inhale during the breath thus slowing the breathing process and throwing off timing and body position by turning the head to a non-streamline position creating drag and usually affecting the hips. The breathing process begins during the catch of the stroke and is completed at the front end of the pull. If a swimmer sees his or her arm during the breath then they are breathing late.

Timing of the breath is the most important beginning to freestyle. If you can teach this it will eliminate many errors in mechanics. For example: If a swimmer doesn’t kick or the kick slows during the breath then the breath is too late. If a swimmer has a hip swing it could be due to the breath and head control. Make sure the swimmer is finishing the stroke in the proper place as to maintain the rotation of the arms.


Timing is the most important aspect of this stroke to understand and grasp. Three parts of the stroke are initiated together. While the beginning of the stroke is initiated the swimmer needs to begin lifting the head to for the breath and the kick needs to begin with a slight bend in the knees. All three of these timing issues take a lot of thought and practice. The breath must be at the beginning of the stroke to again reduce drag and help the swimmer with the timing of the kick and pull. Remind swimmers that while the head is out of the water the swimmer needs only to inhale because the exhale of the breath should have been completed while the head was in the streamline position. The pull and the kick must match so the timing is such that they begin together or end together. The kick must be taught with the concept of reducing drag. If the knees are brought under the stomach or outside of the hips then drag is a huge factor. The kick must be kept behind the hips and is as much of a streamline position as possible. Body position is key all strokes as it is to breaststroke. Teach the kick with the thoughts of being streamline all the way through the swim, initiating the kick, during and especially at the finish of the kick. Most swimmers pull and kick at different times and never achieve a streamline position during any portion of the swim. It is easy to spot timing problems in this stroke, as you will see a pause after the pull because the swimmer is now waiting on the kick to start forward momentum again. Timing is such that as the swimmer is doing the recovery part of the pull he or she is kicking back thus always-maintaining forward momentum while reducing drag.


The initial start of the stroke with the timing and the kick is the same as the breaststroke. During the catch of the stroke the swimmer begins to lift his or her head for the breath and a down kick is done at the same time. There are two kicks per stroke and each kick has two parts an up kick and a down kick. The down kicks are timed with the catch and finish of the stroke. The up kick in fly is seldom taught and help the swimmer maintain the speed of the kick and momentum. Teach the swimmers how to kick and up as well as down equally. A good way to do this is kicking on the side.

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Developing Race Strategies and Breathing Tips for your Swimmers

Age-group coaches here some assumptions while developing RACE STRATEGIES and breathing tips for your swimmers.

Remember to incorporate all of this into daily practices so it becomes second nature to your swimmers then you can really focus on their racing!


1.    Each swimmer will vary on how to swim each event and this should be established between the swimmer and coach.

2.    Training level. How in shape are you at the time of your swim?

3.    What time of the season are you swimming the event? Beginning of the season, heaviest training time or tapered.

4.    Physical/mental capabilities and you know your mental pitfalls better than anyone else.

5.    Remember that this is a training tool for the coach to test and teach the swimmer. While learning it isn’t all about the final time but how that specific time was achieved.

6.    Some swimmers have the ability to swim events differently in a prelim/final meet just to qualify top 8 or 16 at night.

7.    Each swimmer has judged all walls for turns and finishes in warm-up at race pace. The swimmer needs to do a couple of starts to get used to the blocks and this includes a backstroke start.

400 Individual Medley along with breathing tips.

Except for the fly because of the start, each stroke should be negative split by 50. For example, fly :28, :30, back :33, :32, breast :35, :34 and free :29, :28. Splits will vary based on the swimmer’s strengths and weaknesses. Help the swimmer work on splits based on the goal time and work on race pace in practice.

You need to establish the number of fly kicks you are going to maintain thru-out your swim off each wall (breast obviously one). You need to establish this at practice and repeat, repeat, repeat. The more fly kick you are able to do eventually within your physical demands the faster you will swim.

Every time you switch strokes the timing of the stroke changes and your body needs to adapt to the new breathing pattern. “Breathing is your friend”. You need to catch your breath and adapt to the new stroke within the first couple breaths of each stroke.

When doing an open turn (fly, breast and some back to breast transition turns) you need to exhale before you touch the wall so all you are doing when you head is out of the water is inhaling. Most swimmers make the mistake of exhaling and inhaling on the wall. This makes the turn slower and gives you less oxygen to work with to help your distance and momentum off of the wall.

When doing the backstroke turn you need to exhale before rotating on your stomach so you only inhale on the rotation, before your turn. Most swimmers don’t even think about this and the turn takes lots of oxygen. This also plays into the freestyle that obviously is the same turn. When breathing in freestyle remember to exhale while the head is in the water so you only inhale during the breath. If you are trying to exhale and inhale at the same time when your mouth is out of the water then you will develop timing problems and slow your strokes and ruin your mechanics.

Remember that breathing is your friend and the most common mistake swimmers make is not taking enough breaths the first 25 of all races, except the 50 free. You need to start breathing to enable your body to break down lactic acid build-up that will ensue. Lactic acid (lactate) is produced by muscle use and your body breaks it down it thru the breathing process as it tries to supply the muscles with more oxygen to optimize its workload. Without oxygen, there is anaerobic glycolysis which is the break down of carbohydrates which leads to lactic acid to build up in the muscle cells. The process of lactic acid removal takes approximately one hour, but this can be accelerated by undertaking an appropriate warm down which ensures a rapid and continuous supply of oxygen to the muscles. Lactic acid eventually gets converted to mainly carbon dioxide and water while it also gets converted to glycogen, protein, and glucose.

The 50 can be completed with 2, 1 or zero breaths as it is a race that is usually completed within 30 seconds for most year-round swimmers. Remember that this must be practiced regularly prior to racing. When deciding how to plan your breaths you need to keep in mind that if you wait until you need a breath it is probably too late and that particular breath mechanically will slow you down.

Your muscles can continue to work with maximum output up to 30 seconds before they totally tighten-up and stop working due to lactic acid build-up. Swimmers usually wonder why they died in a particular race and a lot can be answered by understanding oxygen deprivation and what it does to your body. Oxygen deprivation leads to a quicker build-up of lactate which makes it harder for the body to use oxygen (lack of) to break down lactate as described above.

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All Swimmers Need…

  • To feel comfortable in the water.
  • To know stroke counts (per lap) for all strokes.
  • To understand timing of all strokes.
  • To have excellent walls and turns.
  • To practice with proper stroke mechanics.

A swimmer also needs experience racing and that takes, a long time and hundreds of races for mechanics and strategies of each race to sink in, not to mention the pain factor. When in pain, how well do you think about what you should really be doing? Most swimmers worry about breathing and finishing the race first, especially as they are learning.

Let’s use the 50 freestyle to continue our “all swimmers need”

  • A quick start with proper form remembering to use legs more than the upper body to get off the block.
  • To enter the water in a streamlined position and maintaining this position during the breakout.
  • To maintain a streamlined position off of the dive while enabling either a proper fly kick or free kick through the first two strokes of the race (breakout). Being able to know where you are in the water so not to stop the momentum from your dive and underwater kick into your breakout.
  • To maintain a sprint kick even while breathing.
  • Knowing when to breathe (timing) while at the same time preparing for the turn, after judging the wall correctly in warm-ups.
  • To complete a proper turn.
  • A proper streamlined position off the wall of the turn with a proper breakout, while getting past the flags.
  • To finish the race without losing momentum. Proper judging of the wall is where it is won or lost provided, that is, the swimmer has not succumbed to the pain. You must judge the wall in warm-ups.
  • Not to breath at the end of a swim, while maintaining a sprint kick, while holding together proper stroke mechanics, not to mention sprinting the entire race since it is only a 50…

There are tons to know, swimming takes brains, retention, and motivation. Just try to handle it one thought at a time. Try to remember this as a coach and especially a parent. When you say something to your swimmer like, “how did you miss that turn?” Try to remember all that goes into racing.

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Breaststroke Continues to Change!

I think as long as we keep thinking about the best ways to reduce drag with regards to each swimmers body type this stroke will continue to morph.  As you all know there is a lot of motion in the breaststroke that creates drag and this reduction in drag will advance your swimmers the quickest in the short term.

We also need to consider how to create and maintain momentum with the recovery of the stroke and kick. Body position is extremely important and streamlined swimming is essential to achieve as much as possible.

Here are a few comments from other coaches and athletes in the sport taken from the web to help you think about how to teach and advance this stroke.  Please feel free to comment on certain thoughts or provide new ones.

Questions and Comments from the web:

How wide should your hands go on the outsweep of the stroke? The outsweep is a function of strength and speed and a rough idea is about the same as your fly pull.

Lift propulsion is,for practical purposes,sculling. You use your hands like propellers. It’s called lift as the force is similar to what lifts an airplane wing. There is a heated debate as to which is more important in swimming. I suspect you are generating more force with your new pull than you think. Try just doing the pull and see. If you are doing the heart shaped pull remember to accelerate through the pull so that the insweep is the strongest part.

Regarding lift, Bernoulles Principle is that as a fluid flows faster it’s pressure decreases. An airplane wing is curved on top so the air has to travel further in the same time on top relative to underneath. Since it is moving faster the pressure is lower so the wing rises. Moving a hand through the water at an angle can cause the water on the back of the hand to move faster than over the palm so the hand will lift. The actual situation for a swimmer is much more complicated.

I consider the entire pulling phase of the stroke as triphasic, i.e. outsweep, insweep and recovery. I would characterize the outsweep as a setup for the more propulsive insweep phase, emphasizing a more constant velocity through the outsweep. Consider the swimmer moving through sheets of parallel planes of water: During the outsweep, the arms remain straight and confined to a plane near the surface of the water (six to 10 inches). At the widest part of the stroke (which depends on individual strength) the insweep begins to take form, characterized by increased velocity through to the recovery phase.

The insweep takes form as the inside edge of the arms (which I refer to as the blade-thumb-side) begins to take the lead. The edge extends from the fingertips to the elbow. Consider the edge to cut through the series of parallel planes with the elbows maintaining their position within the original plane. The blade therefore cuts through these planes much like a propeller, creating resistance and propulsion on the inside of the arm. Through the completion of the insweep, the swimmer finds the hands coming toward each other with the elbows trailing and ending closely together. The position of the hands at this point should be above the level of the elbows as the swimmer begins the recovery phase. Through the insweep phase the shoulders and back lift while driving forward (this is stressed so as not to create too much upward motion-thereby sacrificing forward movement). Also during this phase, the elbows remain fairly close to their original planar position.

Reduction of drag should characterize the recovery to the extent that the hands are held close together with the elbows also being close together through the forward extension. Whether or not this phase needs to occur above the surface or below the surface is not as important as emphasizing that the hands should not be lifted out of the water into the recovery phase. More important is that at the beginning of the recovery phase, the hands are at a position slightly higher than the elbows, and that recovery occurs straight forward as opposed to downward. As the arms recover, the head is maintained in a position in line with the back and settles between the arms ending the stroke cycle in a streamlined position.

Among the factors that are important to the breaststroke kick is a concentrated effort on heel speed, especially during the recovery phase. The biggest mistake breaststroke swimmers make in kicking is the manner in which they train. Very little effort is placed on the recovery phase of the kick-specifically the acceleration of the heels during recovery. The heels should be drawn up toward the hips with maximum speed and the toes are turned outward to initiate the propulsive phase. The heels should continue to be the leaders and with the heels in a position outside of the knees, propulsion begins. The heels take an elliptical path as the legs are extended-pressure maintained on the bottom of the feet. At full extension the heels come together and the completion of the kick occurs as the toes are extended to maximize the streamlined position.

In my mind, there are certain components of the stroke where timing can be evaluated and corrected. In the pull, I look to the velocity characteristics of the outsweep and insweep. I look to see that there is a relative constant velocity through the outsweep with an increase in velocity through the insweep into the recovery. During the kick and the initiation of the heel recovery, I suggest that the swimmer feel the recovery begin through the outsweep so that as the recovery phase begins, the propulsive phase of the kick occurs nearly simultaneously. In all, there should be a sense that during the propulsive phase of the arm stroke the recovery (and hence the drag phase) of the heels is occurring and vice versa.

Lastly, I look for the lift of shoulders and back to occur through the insweep phase of the stroke with the head staying in-line with the back.

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A Variety of Video Explanations

From time to time we get questions about a variety of swim related topics. The following videos were created to pair with our Monthly Workout subscription, which you can find here. If you have any questions, post it below!











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Practicing Simple and Basic Concepts

I have been teaching a lot of adult lessons lately and it has reminded me of some very simple concepts that we as coaches most likely overlook and assume that our swimmers understand. Take some time during warm ups to review even with your best swimmers.  I review all of these concepts with my team this week and will need to continue to stress these concepts repeatedly.

1. The ability to rotate the whole body.

Most  swimmers can’t rotate properly.  Start the swimmer on their stomach having them rotate to the side, then on the back, back to the side and completing the whole circle to the stomach. If swimmers can’t rotate with proper form maintaining proper body position then how can they rotate their shoulders and core properly in the freestyle stroke, all the while working on the timing of the breath?

2. Timing of the breath including when to initiate and when to fully exhale and inhale.  This is the biggest mistake by many swimmers including some of the most accomplished swimmers. This is the hardest to teach to adults and younger swimmers. Here is one example of breathing with freestyle.

FREESTYLE: Timing of the breath and proper breathing is the most important concept toinstill. The first thing a swimmer must be able to do is learn how to exhale all air while the mouth is in the water. This will enable you to concentrate on inhaling while the mouth is out of the water. A lot of swimmers take too much time to exhale and inhale during the breath, when the mouth is out of the water. This creates a slow breathing process, throws off timing and body position by turning the head to a non-streamlined position creating drag and usually affecting the hips. The breathing process begins during the catch of the stroke and is completed at the front end of the pull. If you see your arm during the breath then you are breathing late. 

Timing of the breath is the most important beginning to freestyle. If you learn this it will eliminate many errors in mechanics. For example: If a swimmer doesn’t kick or the kick slows during the breath then the breath is too late. If a swimmer has a hip swing it could be due to the breath and lack of head control. Make sure the swimmer is finishing the stroke in the proper place as to maintain the rotation of the arms. Why is this so important for freestyle? It is the only stroke you breath to the side.

3. The ability to relax and float. Teach your swimmers how to float vertically. While teaching adult lessons this is the first thing I teach.  You can’t progress a swimmer unless they are able to relax.

4. Teaching swimmers how to kick with the whole leg while keeping the ankle relaxed.  Teach how to kick starting from the core, there is a slight bend in the knees during the kick but the legs are led by the foot.

5. Ankle flexibility or pointing the toes without flexing and using the ankle are key. You can always locate a swimmer with tight ankles and see it in their kicking. Usually they do a lot of scissor kicking or straight foot swimming. Teach swimmers how to stretch the ankle and relax the foot during the kick.

6. Teaching momentum

Momentum:  Maintaining a proper streamline and being able to time your breakout into your swimming is key to fast swimming. If you ever do anything underwater and feel yourself slow down then you have lost momentum. Momentum will be different for each athlete based on body type, flexibility and skill level. What and how you do your underwater mechanics and how you breakout into your swimming all effects momentum. 

7. Teaching body position the 4 H’s, Hands, head, hips and heels. Teach your swimmers to do this perfect from the beginning!

Streamlined position: The hands should be crossed hand over hand, some people teach a crossover grab. The biceps should be pressed upon the ears with the shoulders and chest stretched out as much as possible. The head will not be tucked chin to chest but in the same position it would be in as if you were walking. The midsection and hips will be in line with the thighs and feet following directly behind. The legs must be in the same plane as the hips thus reducing drag. This is the basic streamline (spike). Hands, Head, Hips and Heels in line. Once this has been achieved you may begin your breakout by starting your first stroke. Judging the depth of the water is essential for a good breakout by maintaining momentum.

You will be surprised what your swimmers don’t know.

Good Luck