Unlike the breaststroke, breathing really matters here, says Scott Bay, head Masters coach for Team Blu Frog in Orlando, Florida. Many people tend to hold their breath for too long, which quickly causes them to become winded. The other common mistake, he says, is lifting the head too high out of the water. Facing forward causes the hips to drop so that the body is no longer horizontal. Practice using the lane lines and side pool markings to get your bearings so that you won't need to constantly look ahead.
Learn to turn.
While the flip turn is illegal in breast stroke competitions, it's a graceful and efficient way to turn around when swimming freestyle. Having trouble? You're not alone: "Some of the best swimmers on the planet who have been swimming for 30 years will still turn too late during a competition and mess up the flip turn," says Bay, who also works with U.S. Masters Swimming to certify coaches. There's no one trick that accommodates every swimmer’s speed, height and arm length, but he does suggest these pointers:
- The most common mistake is to do a somersault. Bay's advice is to bend at the waist in a pike position. "Tuck your chin to your chest, reach for your toes, and throw your feet over. Resist the tendency to curl up in a ball, as that uses more energy."
- Practice doing the flip in the middle of the pool until you have it down.
- When you’re ready, start swimming toward the wall, leaving a bit more distance between you and the wall than you think you'll need. Look for the markings on the pool floor and walls when you begin your flip. If you don't end up close enough to hit the wall with your feet, you'll need to pick a new spot on the pool floor or wall and try again, says Bay.
- When your feet touch the wall, bend your knees to approximately 90 degrees and give a good push.
- Reach your arms in front of you and twist from your core so that you’re belly-down and ready to start your stroke.