Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
Do you swim front crawl with a crossover?
Earlier this week I was swimming at my local pool in Perth, Western Australia. There was a guy in the next lane who is one of the best 60 year old triathletes in the country.
We got talking and he told me; "swimming is my slowest discipline and no matter how hard I train I never seem to improve."
That's a shame, I thought. With such a strong bike and run, it's a pity to lose out because of a slow swim. A couple of minutes later he swam up and down the lane and I soon realised why he wasn't traveling faster.
He had a "crossover" - which is the most common front crawl swim technique flaw I see as a triathlon coach.
Before I explain more, let me show you an image to demonstrate what I mean.
In the left-side image you can see a crossover occurs when the right-arm enters the water and crosses the center line of the body.
In the right-side image the swimmer does not have a crossover and his right-arm is in perfect line with his body.
What's Bad About A Front Crawl Crossover?
Where do I start? Basically it disrupts your balance, propulsion and streamlining in the water.
A crossover changes your direction of travel, because one (or both) arms are heading off towards the side of the pool instead of straight ahead.
Once you're in that bad position at the beginning of your stroke, every other aspect is then compromised from that point forwards.
When you swim with a crossover there's a good chance you will also compensate by snaking your hips or doing a scissor kick. This is a subconscious attempt to regain your balance in the water, but in reality it's like applying a set of brakes to your stroke. As you can see in the image below (sorry it's so small).
And when your legs are scissoring or snaking it makes it harder to rotate your body to breath without losing propulsion.
It's not just your pool swimming that suffers either. Crossovers are a big problem in open water too, where there are no lane ropes or tiles to follow. Swimming straight is vital and it is not uncommon for open-water athletes with crossovers to swim diagonally, as much as ten percent further than necessary. In an Ironman triathlon this could cost you five minutes or more.
A crossover can also increase the risk of a shoulder injury, particularly if done in combination with a thumb-first hand entry.
How To Fix A Front Crawl Crossover
Before you start changing your stroke you need to ascertain if you actually have a crossover in the first place.
Ask a coach to watch you swim or ask someone to video you so you can check it yourself later on. Do you look like the left-hand image above? Once you know for sure, there are three main ways to fix it.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 1:
Middle Finger Visualisation
Simply focus on your middle finger of each hand as it enters the water and extends forward. Imagine you’re pointing it down the barrel of a gun, straight towards the wall that you’re swimming towards. Focus on the middle fingers and nothing else.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 2:
Try Swim Paddles
Swim paddles can enhance the feeling of a crossover and help you to make corrections. The Finis Freestyler paddle is actually designed to eliminate crossovers. It’s shaped like an arrow-head and it gives you immediate feedback on how straight your hands are when they enter the water.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 3:
Kick On Side Drill/Swim Posture
In order to swim straight you need to establish a good swim posture. The kick on your side drill helps you to learn what it feels like to swim straight. If you get it wrong and your lead-arm crosses the center line you’ll notice yourself heading towards one side of the pool.
Simply put on a pair of fins, push off from the end of the pool and bring yourself into a 90 degrees side-lying position. Kick at a steady pace and point your lower arm out in front of you. Rest your top arm by your side. Face downwards and exhale under water while you’re kicking - this feels like you’re looking past your armpit. To take a breath, simply turn your head, inhale and return it to the water.
Focus on bringing your shoulder blades down and together, as this encourages you to point your lead-arm straight. Focus on doing this when you return to normal front-crawl too.
Eliminating a crossover is not a cure-all solution to transform you into a top swimmer overnight. But it is a significant step towards improving your stroke. Other, smaller, technique flaws will be easier to correct once you've done this. And it also means you'll start to get the full benefit of all your hard work in training.
If you think you have a crossover, I would invest in a set of Finis Freestyler Hand Paddles if nothing else. Focus on how they feel when you swim. Then take them off and try to retain that same feeling with just your hands. Good luck.
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Thanks, Phil Mosley.
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and triathlon magazine writer.