Streamlines – From Fingers to Toes

By: Kris Goodrich
Certified USMS Level 1-3 Coach,
Certified ASCA Level 1-3,
BS Kinesiology

One of my favorite workouts to coach is a Thursday drill workout for my Masters team. I think of it as Drill with Purpose but the swimmers affectionately call it ‘Fun with Mirrors’ since we are lucky enough to have twelve mirrors to swim with and use for feedback. Swim mirrors are large pieces of reflective metal that can be placed in the pool to watch yourself while you swim. The Thursday group picks a topic every week that is the focus for the whole workout the following week. Usually I ask them what they would like to work on then I write the workout but at the beginning of the season I choose the topics and we start with the basics. Last week’s workout was streamlines and as I was writing the workout I happened to come across a quote online that was very appropriate for the week: “Not quite streamline isn’t streamline”. I coach many different levels of swimmers: summer club, age group, and Masters swimmers. My goal is always a perfect streamline for all swimmers but for many Masters swimmers their reality of a perfect streamline is quite different.  PHOTO CAPTION: 25 Streamline with a Partner Drill.

A perfect streamline starts with your fingers together, palms on top of each other, biceps behind your head, shoulders shrugged so there is no gap between your shoulders and base of your head, core tight, body straight like an arrow, toes pointed and big toes touching. An eight-year-old age group swimmer or fifteen-year-old high school swimmer typically has no problems or physical limitations that keeps them from being able to do a perfect streamline but that is not the case for many Masters swimmers. Many Masters swimmers are limited by injury, arthritis, and flexibility and cannot ‘close the gap’ so to speak and get their arms all the way behind their head. Because of hip or back problems or many years of working 9 to 5 at a desk job many Masters swimmers lack in core strength. To me core strength is not just our abdominal muscles but all the postural muscles that support us from shoulders to hips on our front, our back and on the sides of our bodies. Does that mean we give up? Or are there other things that we can concentrate on to make our streamlines the best they can be?

Why Do We Streamline?

The fastest you will be moving at any point will be when you leave the wall. A better streamline off the wall will take you farther, use less strokes and expend less energy each length that you swim. It is something you can do with very little effort to improve your swim times. The energy you save off of every wall is something that you can use in the rest of your workouts or races.

Putting It Into Practice

Working with our mirrors we practiced our streamlines off the walls and watched in the mirror for feedback. The first thing we worked on was to start at the top and squeeze our hands tight on top of each other. You may or may not be able to get your arms all the way behind your head but you definitely can get your head and chin tucked down and looking at the bottom. Anytime your head is up as you streamline it is like you are creating a wall to push against as you try to glide!

As we practiced multiple times I pointed out how many people were not tight through their core but looked more like canoes in the water rather than arrows. Your body should be straight like an arrow. Sometimes just looking in the mirror helped with holding the body straighter. Since we were doing it for short periods of time with feedback from the mirrors even those with limited core strength were able to improve quite a bit (water helps hold you up!).

Although many people could not get their arms completely behind their head, every one of them could touch their big toes together and keep them pointed. But when we started the first couple of times many of them had their toes apart when pushing off the wall. Every time your feet separate or flex to help you balance it will slow you down tremendously.

Practice gliding off the wall multiple times and see how far you can go and check yourself. Have a friend watch you and give feedback. It’s okay to roll over a little as you learn how to stabilize using your core muscles instead of your hands and feet so keep practicing – it takes time!
After we were comfortable with that we took it up a level and did a drill with a partner. You will both need snorkels, fins and a length of rope or tubing (jump ropes work well). One person wears fins and will kick backwards for a 25 pulling the other wearing the snorkel. The goal is that the person being pulled can hold a perfect streamline for an entire 25 (see picture). Have your partner give you feedback: was your head down looking at the bottom, were your hands together, did you separate your toes for balance, can you close the gap a little more, get your arms a little straighter, was your body straight like an arrow? After you give feedback do another 25 and see if you can improve. Make sure to switch and have the other person try it as well. For fun we did a second drill that was much harder, each swimmer wore a snorkel and again we did two lengths of the pool working on maintaining streamlines. But this time one person swam and pushed their partner in front of them with their toes on their partner’s head the length of the pool. That one was a lot harder because of the turbulence of the water and took more core strength to maintain a good streamline!

What Next?

What if you are one of those people that have limited flexibility throughout the shoulders, cannot get your arms all the way behind your head or straighten your arms completely? What can you do to fix or make it a little better? A daily stretching regimen for shoulder flexibility out of the pool is a great idea – especially as a swimmer to keep the whole shoulder and back complex healthy. If you have limited core strength and had a hard time maintaining a good body line a great addition to your workout regimen is yoga. Both out-of-water programs will not only improve your streamlines but also your strokes as well.

If you don’t have a mirror to practice in the pool you can still look in the mirror at home. Practice your streamline and see if you see any room for improvement. Head to the pool and try it out there with a few glides off of the wall. Your goal should be to go farther each time you push off and think about the things you saw in the mirror and make any corrections. If you did have a partner to practice with you learned some things about your streamlines and know what you need to practice in the pool. Every time you swim take the time to think about the skills, focus on the ones you need to work on and eventually they should become automatic. They don’t take a lot of energy but they do take focus and the energy saved will pay off each time you leave the wall.