There are so many advantages gained by getting started from the pool wall with a good push-off. Competitive swimmers make hundreds of them each day. And yet I see so many inefficient efforts to push off, so many that compel me to make it the first skill taught on the journey toward efficient swimming.
Pushing off is an easy skill to learn, and because its fundamentals transfer to every stroke, it benefits a swimmer every lap.
A squared shoulder, head-up push-off maximizes resistance in a sport where efficiency depends on reducing resistance, primarily by being on your side and under water for as long as possible.
It’s as easy as 1-2-3. Begin with your feet on the wall, toes pointed to the side of the pool, knees bent (ideally 90 degrees), one hand gripping the deck or gutter and the other pointed to the far wall [top drawing].
First move: lift your hand from the deck or gutter. That’s all. The equal-and-opposite reaction to this, aided by gravity, causes your upper body to sink, with your head resting on your outstretched shoulder, while your feet remain on the wall [middle drawing].
Second, bring your lifted hand to meet your outstretched one, ideally one over the other, head between your biceps and feet still on the wall.
Only then comes Step No. 3, the actual push from the wall by extending your legs into a long glide on your side [bottom drawing].
As you practice this 1-2-3 skill, the first two will blend into a “Ready” before you “Go.” And be sure that you develop your push-off on your other side as well.
Pausing long enough to sink, placing feet on the wall a little higher or lower, pushing through the chest, keeping a dynamic balance, and developing the longest possible glide on both sides are more than enough for you to work on before adding specific stroke elements.
With an efficient push-off, what you have learned most is the relaxation and patience to wait until your body is in its most efficient position to benefit from applying a propulsive force. This will be true of every additional skill or stroke to be learned or re-learned.
Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired professor and coach who recently published “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors.” firstname.lastname@example.org.