Mark Foster's 6 swim tips for mastering the freestyle stroke

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Written by Patrick McAleenan
The freestyle stroke is the fastest, most efficient of the competitive swimming strokes, so no surprise it’s often the preferred stroke of experienced swimmers and triathletes.
Not everyone is a whopping 6ft 6 inches tall like 8 time world record holder Mark Foster, but they do say size isn’t everything.
A lot of distance can be covered without taking too much energy from the swimmer and no-one knows that better than the freestyle and butterfly sprinter himself, holder of six world titles, 11 European championship gold medals and two Commonwealth golds. We asked the swimming legend to impart some holy-grail advice on nailing the freestyle stroke:

1. Keep your head in line with your trunk and look straight down

Eyes on the prize? Try the bottom of the pool. It may feel unnatural at first but Mark advocates looking straight down: “Don’t look forward, otherwise you will have the tendency to lift your head, which in turn causes your hips and legs to drop and you will have to kick harder to keep them up."

2. Swim more on your sides rather than flat on your stomach and chest

The more relaxed the body is the more flexibility you’ll have to engage those important muscles, as Mark highlights: “Roll from side to side with each arm stroke allowing you to engage the larger back muscles and shoulder muscles to improve your propulsion.”

3. Learn how to swim with a ‘high elbow’

Go high or go home. This freestyle technique is all about flexing your arm and keeping your elbow high in the water during the under water arm pull. Here Mark gets a little more technical: “Your forearm is facing backward rather than downward for as long as possible, which again improves propulsion.”

4. Exhale continuously in the water while your face is submerged

Relax and then relax some more. It’s all in the timing and making sure not to waste the opportunity to clear your lungs, as Mark reminds us: “There simply isn’t enough time to both inhale and exhale on the side during a breathing arm recovery."

5. Use a relaxed two-beat kick for middle and long distance swimming

Swim to a beat and a rhythm. Basically, both legs are kept parallel and quickly flutter up and down with toes pointed, which means: “you kick at the same pace as you stroke with your arms."

6. And finally, breathe fully

Believe it or not, one of the most difficult parts of any stroke and the most common freestyle breathing mistake is holding the breath. “If you don’t exhale fully when your face is in the water, you cannot take a full breath when you turn your head out of the water,” instructs Foster, “and once you fall into this pattern, your breathing becomes short and laboured, and it will slow down your stroke.” Bad news for anyone looking to get over that finish line first.
Red Bull Neptune Steps takes place in Glasgow on Saturday 10th March 2018. The unique open water adventure race will see 600 competitors swimming, climbing and conquering the icy cold waters of the Forth and Clyde canal.