Why Is My Swimming Not Improving?

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Swimming is a very technical sport and a sound technique generally cannot be self-taught. Unless you were lucky enough to have mum and dad throw you in the ‘deep end’ at a young age, getting a grasp of correct swimming technique can be a daunting and lengthy task. The fact is that no-one has perfect technique (well maybe some Olympians are an exception), and everyone can improve their swim technique through proper coaching.

4 Reasons why your swim may not be improving

Firstly, take a look at this video of Sun Yang, the 1500m world record holder. As you read the common mistakes below, come back and view this video to see the correct technique.

These are some of the most common mistakes I see with triathletes and/or leisure swimmers, and some insights into how you may address them. 

1. You are holding your breath

A common mistake I see is swimmers holding their breath until the last minute before rotating the head to breathe. To then blow the air out and suck it in again (all within 1-2 seconds) becomes extremely overwhelming and can lead to panic and fatigue. Can you imagine trying to hold your breath running or performing another type of exercise? It’s guaranteed your heart rate will spike and you will fatigue very quickly. Holding your breath will also lead to a poor body position due to the lungs acting like a balloon. The chest will sit high and the hips and legs will sit low, creating more drag and resistance = slower swimming.


Aim to slowly exhale air out your nose at all times. As you begin to rotate and turn the head to breathe, exhale all air out the nose and mouth. You will then suck in air through the mouth.
Kicking drills are a good way to practice this correct breathing technique. Beginner swimmers can use a swimmers snorkel to perfect this technique.

2. Your posture is poor

Poor flexibility and range of motion through the shoulders will limit stroke reach and catch and ultimately lead to poor technique. But did you know that poor flexibility through the hips and glutes will also cause major technique issues? Being tight in these areas will significantly inhibit your kick, increase drag and resistance and ultimately lower your body position.


Take the time to stretch out your mid-section, especially after any ride or run sessions. Regular massage and Pilates can also assist with greater flexibility and core stability. Completing Yoga classes such as the great routine shown below can also assist greatly.

3. You don’t make the time to go easy

A common issue among fitness swimmers is endlessly flogging themselves every-time they set foot in the water. If this is the case, then don’t expect to improve your technique—which some ‘lane bashers’ are comfortable with. If, however, you do want to improve technique, then you’ll need to become more efficient at a slower pace before this will be effective at a higher intensity. Surprisingly enough, it is these easier sessions that will benefit you the most in the long term. At least 1 session per week (or parts of each individual session) should be dedicated to slower swimming including drills etc.


Don’t get caught up with what others may be doing. If you find it hard to complete easier sessions with others, then swim by yourself. True aerobic training (<75%) will yield the best adaptation and sustainable fitness in the long term.

4. You’re wasting energy through poor alignment

The freestyle entry, catch, pull-through and recovery is all about forwards and backwards movements—NOT sideways movements. The most common mistake I see is swimmers entering in-front of their face, pulling across their body and swinging their arms around during the recovery. Not only is this inefficient, it will cause you to NEVER swim in a straight line because a proportion of your energy output is being wasted with these sideways movements. This is particularly concerning in the open water when there is no black-line to follow.


Side Kick is a great drill for practicing a streamlined and well aligned position:

 Catch up freestyle is a great drill to practice correct entry and underwater pull through:

Swim in a pool with your eyes closed and see where you end up. If you immediately run straight into the lane rope then your alignment is poor.

For more information or to book a 1:1 swimming session with Ryan please email:


Ryan Bourke is a Triathlon and Swimming Coach at CF Racing who provide swimming clinics and programs and personalised triathlon programs.

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