Body position is crucial to efficient swimming. It has the ability to affect your endurance and speed, especially as your body begins to fatigue. Body position is a key foundational element that coaches should cover early and often with their athletes. No matter how many years you've been swimming, you can always continue to work on and improve your body position and roll.
Having a good position with deep shoulder roll in the water allows you to generate more power with each pull, but can also reduce the amount of energy needed to create that power. Rotating your body during each stroke helps you extend your stroke and grab more water during each pull.
Do the drills
There are several drills you can use when working on body position. The first doesn't even involve a pool. Working on core body strength outside the water can benefit you greatly once you dive back in. Doing planks or single-leg exercises that test your balance help develop stability within your core muscles. When you develop good balance, you'll gain greater awareness of your body in relation to the space around you. This can be crucial when working on body alignment and rotation while maintaining hydrodynamic position in the water.
The second drill is very simple. Finding your position in the water and the correct alignment of your limbs in the water is key. Start with drills that emphasize a "downhill" or "pressing the T" feel. This means applying a bit of pressure with your chest, head and hips in a downward movement. The idea here is for that feeling to stay consistent all the way through the drill. If you feel the pressure release, it means part of your body is now out of position. You can do this without arms to begin with and then slowly begin adding in your arms as you get more comfortable with your position.
The final drill is actually not a drill at all. It's a mindset that you need to adapt to your swimming. Anyone can have great form during the first couple of laps in the pool whether you are racing or just training. It's what you allow your body to do once your muscles have fatigued a little. This is where creating habits with your strokes becomes important. If you can maintain good form at all times then your body will use muscle memory for those times you are exhausted and don't think you can continue on. If you allow yourself to revert back to old bad habits then you won't be maximizing your power potential.
What is rotation
When we talk about rotating your body, we are not talking about moving your head. Often times, I see swimmers rotate their entire bodies including their heads. This is usually due to a lack of flexibility in the swimmer. I've actually seen an increase of this in young swimmers that I've been coaching lately. I believe it is due to a lack of movement. People today spend significantly more time seated and indoors than ever before. Learning how to keep your body relaxed and increase your flexibility will help you be a better swimmer.
For example, swimmers should be able to do backstroke with significant shoulder roll while maintaining a head position that allows you to balance their goggles on their foreheads. If the head rolls with your shoulders, you're going to lose efficiency through your core causing your body to sink slightly in the water and you'll end up losing your goggles to the bottom of the pool. Keeping your head steady while rolling your shoulders and hips helps keep the energy to power each pull consistent and effective while leaving your body in a more streamlined position.
Why Is Rotation Important
Rotating from your hips first and then allowing the shoulders and legs to follow allows you to generate the most power. The rotation in your shoulders will help extend your stroke and give you the ability to grab the deeper water in a pool. This is extremely important because the water at the top of the pool is in constant motion whether from you, jets, or other swimmers around you. The deeper water is more stagnant and has more potential for force to be applied to it. When you grab this deeper water, you are essentially lifting yourself up out of the water and then depositing yourself further ahead. This is the same idea as when you are paddling or rowing. You aren't really moving the water even though it's the easiest way to think about it. You are actually moving yourself. You are just applying enough force and pressure to move so many meters at a time per second.
To work on this, I have swimmers do a couple of drills. The first being a 6 beat kick pause drill. For this drill, you take a full stroke ending at the catch with your arm extended, making sure you rotate the shoulder of the extended arm to your chin and hold this position for a count of 6. Then forcefully rotate to your other side and hold. This pause allows your body time to learn about your proper alignment, extend out and make the best possible catch.
The second drill I use is a distance per stroke (DPS). With this, I want swimmers to aim for 12 strokes for Freestyle and Backstroke. There shouldn't be a pause in between strokes like the drill mentioned above, but instead a consistent pace and rhythm to their strokes. If you are effectively pressing your chest while rolling your body you can easily manage the 12 strokes across the pool.
If you have access to a snorkel and fins, you can also use the "pressing the T" drill I mentioned earlier without having to worry about any of your breathing. For this drill, do the same thing as above with aggressively rotating your shoulders, driving your power from your hips. Keep your kick steady throughout. Again remember to keep that pressure feeling on your chest. Do not move your head around. The roll should only be from your shoulders to your toes.
When thinking about swimming with a rotation, picture yourself as a knife and the water is a big brick of butter. When you slice with a knife you never cut your butter with the flat side of the knife. It would just smush your butter. If you cut it with the sharp small edge, pieces easily slice away from the brick. Your body is that knife. If you are flat in the water, then you are just smashing your way through it. Fatiguing your body and making it extremely more difficult than it needs to be. By rolling your body, including your hips, shoulders and legs, you will be faced with less resistance, greater efficiency and better endurance over a longer period of time.