Front crawl, also known as freestyle, is one of the most popular swimming strokes and is a fundamental skill for both competitive swimmers and recreational swimmers. However, the technique for front crawl stroke can differ significantly when swimming in the controlled environment of a pool and in the unpredictable waters of open water or during triathlons.
There are a number of considerations that can be explored between the differences of swimming pool front crawl stroke and an open water/triathlon front crawl stroke. There are various factors highlighting the unique challenges and adaptations required for each environment.
Swimming Pool Front Crawl Stroke
1. The Controlled Environment:
Pool swimming offers a highly controlled environment with clear water, consistent water temperature, and distinctly marked swimming lanes. Swimmers can focus solely on their technique without external factors affecting their performance. This controlled environment allows for the utilization of streamlined body position techniques that are often different from those used in open water.
2. Flip Turns and Wall Push-offs:
In a swimming pool, swimmers perform tumble turns at the end of each length. This technique involves flipping over underwater, pushing off the wall, and continuing with the stroke. Tumble turns are not a part of open water swimming and are used to maintain momentum and minimize interruption in pool swimming. During a triathlon swim or open water swims, the swimmer does not have the luxury of gaining extra momentum by pushing off the wall and can only maintain momentum with the power, acceleration and endurance of their frontcrawl stroke.
When breathing in the pool, the frontcrawl stroke typically follows a pattern where swimmers inhale every few strokes. This pattern can be regulated based on a swimmer's comfort and experience (whether this breathing every 2, 3, 4 or 5 strokes…)
In pool swimming, there is no need to sight as the swimmer can easily follow the black line on the bottom of the pool. This eliminates the need for adjusting the stroke to accommodate sighting for navigation.
5. Starts and Turns:
Pool front crawl stroke incorporates dive starts and streamline underwater phases following each turn. Swimmers in pool competitions use these to gain an advantage over opponents.
Open Water/Triathlon Front Crawl Stroke
1. The Unpredictable Environment:
Open water swimming takes place in natural bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, or oceans. The environment is unpredictable, with factors like waves, currents, wind, water temperature, and water quality affecting the swim. During Strictly Swimming London lessons, we can focus on overcoming these unpredictable external factors.
2. Navigational Challenges:
Navigating in open water is a significant challenge. Swimmers must sight, or look forward, to ensure they are swimming in the right direction, as there are no pool lane markers. Sighting can disrupt the rhythm of the stroke. Again your Strictly Swimming London coach can tailor your lesson to concentrate on mastering this technique.
3. Sighting Techniques:
In open water, swimmers utilize sighting techniques to ensure they stay on course. Sighting involves lifting the head out of the water to look forward. The frequency of sighting can vary based on the course's conditions, but it typically disrupts the rhythmic breathing pattern.
In colder open water conditions, swimmers often wear wetsuits for insulation. The added buoyancy of a wetsuit affects body position in the water and may require adjustments to the stroke technique. At Nuffield Health Moorgate, we encourage our triathlete clients to bring their wetsuits to use during parts of the lesson and look at the variations that a wetsuit can impose on the frontcrawl technique.
In open water events, especially triathlons, swimmers can benefit from drafting behind others. This involves swimming closely behind another swimmer to reduce resistance. Drafting requires adaptability in stroke technique and proximity to other swimmers.
6. Energy Conservation:
Open water swimmers often aim to conserve energy since they have to navigate challenging conditions. Stroke efficiency and energy conservation become paramount, and swimmers may use a slightly different technique to achieve this goal.
Key Differences in Stroke Technique
1. Body Position:
In pool swimming, the emphasis is on a streamlined body position with limited body roll. Swimmers maintain a horizontal posture to maximize efficiency. In open water, body position may need to be adjusted for buoyancy, sighting, and to adapt to the impact of waves.
2. Leg Kick:
The kick in pool swimming is typically strong and consistent, with a two-beat or six-beat kick pattern. In open water, swimmers often employ a more moderate and adaptable kick to conserve energy and maintain stability in rough waters.
3. Rhythm and Stroke Rate:
Pool swimmers aim for a consistent, rhythmic stroke rate to optimize efficiency. In open water, the stroke rate may vary to accommodate sighting, navigation, and dealing with changing water conditions.
4. Breathing Patterns:
Breathing patterns are flexible in open water to accommodate sighting. Swimmers may use bilateral breathing or adjust the pattern to suit their navigational needs. Pool swimmers typically maintain a regular breathing pattern.
5. Stroke Length:
In open water, swimmers may shorten their stroke length to adapt to crowded conditions, avoid collisions, and maintain their course. This differs from pool swimming, where swimmers aim for longer, more efficient strokes.
6. Strokes per Breath:
Open water swimmers may adjust the number of strokes taken per breath to optimize their breathing and sighting. In contrast, pool swimmers often maintain a consistent stroke-to-breath ratio.
Training and Preparation
Preparing for open water or triathlon swimming requires specific training beyond the standard pool regimen. Swimmers must practice sighting techniques, adapt their stroke to varied conditions, and learn to deal with the psychological challenges of open water, such as the lack of visibility and the absence of pool walls. Additionally, open water swimmers need to train in open water to acclimatize to the conditions they will encounter on race day.
In summary, the front crawl stroke is a versatile and adaptable technique that can be used in both pool and open water settings. However, the environment and specific demands of each type of swimming necessitate variations in stroke technique. While pool swimming focuses on streamlined, efficient, and rhythmic strokes, open water swimming and triathlons introduce challenges like sighting, navigation, and adapting to unpredictable conditions.
The key to successfully transitioning between these two environments lies in training and experience. Swimmers looking to excel in both settings must adapt their techniques and strategies to meet the unique demands of each. Whether you're a competitive swimmer, a triathlete, or simply an enthusiast, mastering both pool and open water front crawl strokes opens up a world of aquatic possibilities and allows you to embrace the diverse joys of swimming.
At Strictly Swimming London, we can delve into any of the above topics during your lessons, whether it be sighting to streamlining or rhythm to rough waters.
Paul started competing in swimming from the age of 8 and eventually went on to represent his country all over the world. During his time at University, Paul specialised in Aquatics and the Biomechanics of Swimming and produced numerous theses on swimming performance.