Did you know that Freestyle is really the name of a swimming race? In a Freestyle race you are able to, provided you let the referee or swim meet director know which stroke you are going to perform in the race, swim any stroke.
FINA RULE:- SW 5.1 Freestyle means that in an event so designated the swimmer may swim any style, except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.
Normally when you watch a Freestyle race either live or on TV the stroke you are seeing the swimmers executing is Crawl Stroke sometimes called Front Crawl. According to swimming historians it was an Australian who refined this method of moving through the water. The following is an extract from an article published in the Washington post.
The inefficiency of the trudgen kick led Australian Richard Cavill to try new methods. He used a stroke he observed natives of the Solomon Islands using, which combined an up-and-down kick with an alternating overarm stroke. He used the new stroke in 1902 at the International Championships and set a new world record (100 yards in 58.4 seconds). This stroke became known as the Australian crawl.
If you follow this link you can read the whole article http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/olympics/longterm/swimming/swimstrk.htm
What makes crawl stroke so much faster than the other strokes? First of all you need to consider the swimming equation in other words what makes elite swimmers swim so much faster than the average person. The formula for efficient swimming is “Distance per stroke” and “Strength per body weight.” In other words if you can hold the water without any slippage of your hand (so you can cover a full arm span and more each stroke) and your arms are long and you are very strong for your body weight then in theory you should be able to, with the right fitness training, swim very fast and efficiently.
Some children/adults have a natural feel for the water and this is very helpful when developing your Distance per Stroke. What most people don’t realise is when you swim your hand should, immediately it enters the water, remain stationary in relation to the side and bottom of the pool, and your body moves along. The same principle applies when you are rowing a boat or paddling a Kayak or surf ski. The oar/paddle remains stationary in the water and the craft moves along.
It takes a lot of time and a certain amount of natural ability to learn how to hold on to a liquid with your hand and forearm to the point where your hand remains stationary in the water in relation to the walls and floor of the pool.
The next time you watch a “Crawl Stroke aka Freestyle Race” on TV, watch where a swimmers hand enters the water in front of their shoulders and then pick a point on the anti surge lane ropes where the entry happened and then keep watching that same point on the lane rope and see where the swimmers hand comes out of the water. You will be surprised as in most cases the hand will come out of the water slightly in front of where it went into the water.
A friend of mine Dr. Bob Treffene, who was the sports scientist for many Australian Swim Teams once told me that a 90Kg man travelling at 2m/sec exerts about 12Kg pressure on the water. Not a lot of force when you think about working out in a Gym and how relatively light 12Kg’s is. Now combine the ability to hold the water with a long, strong relatively slender body and you have the makings of a champion swimmer. If you take a close look at the physique of swimmers in general you will notice that they are, in this day and age, long and lean. So they are relatively light in body weight but can exert lots of pressure on the water without any slippage of their hand and forearm as they exert that pressure under the water.
So where does the kick fit into this equation. Your leg speed (kick) does two things. It supplies extra power to the stroke and most importantly it sets the timing for the stroke. In all strokes except Breastroke it is the upper body that supplies up to 90% of the power and in cases like some of our past Champion Swimmers for example Tracy Wickham and Stephen Holland their upper body supplied almost all of the power as both those swimmer used a two beat kick which in reality supplies little to no power. The faster you kick the slower your arms move. A six beat kick results in the type of stroke you see in the great swimmers e.g. Dawn Frazer, Ian Thorpe, and Michael Phelps to name a few.
One other reason Crawl Stroke is so fast relates to where and how the pressure is applied by your upper body under the water. Think about when you climb up a rope. You are trying to pull the rope down the centre line of your body with you elbows bent in order to be able to supply maximum pressure on the rope. The same applies when you are swimming Crawl Stroke in that you are trying to keep your elbows bent so you can apply the pressure on the water along the centre line of your body. Think about Backstroke now and you can, in your mind, see when you put pressure on the water with your hands how far they are away from the centre line of your body. Butterfly is the second fastest of all the strokes and the mechanics of having to move both your hands and feet together is the factor that stops Butterfly swimmers from achieving the speeds swimmers can achieve doing Crawl Stroke.
How does this relate to your child? My philosophy is by the time a child has received all the certificates in our program they should be able to swim six beat Crawl Stroke and be able to breath ever two strokes to either side of their body equally as well. By achieving this level of competency in Crawl Stroke your child is then well positioned so that if they want to join a swimming squad and take swimming up as a competitive sport they will have the correct Crawl Stroke technique. If they choose to simply enjoy the freedom of being able to swim brings to your life your child should be comfortable swimming in just about any body of water and should be safer in the water for the rest of their lives.