Advice to a 50 something wanting to take part in a Triathlon and not being hot on his Front Crawl

Fig.1. From ‘The Swim Drill Book’ – an absolute must. In Kindle version I show swimmers pages such as this to show them a drill. It gets their attention and works.

Buy a copy of ‘The Swimming Drill Book’ Robert Gustein. either as a book, or eBook, or both! I swear by it. I create lessons plans that integrate a combination of TWO parts of this.

First part is to do with ‘feel of water’ and for any levels offers stuff you can do in any local pool or hotel pool just getting a sense of floatation, streamlining and ‘purchase’ of the water by your hand … which is now akin to the blade of a boat.

Second part is to go to a specific stroke. The drills are offered for novice through to a squad swimmer, so plenty to build on and to chose from. Variety helps in numerous ways, keeping your interest, working different muscle groups, making you think about what your body is trying to do and importantly breaking the swim into ‘whole-part-whole’ which is how  most swimming plans are constructed.

Three parts to your swim:

  1. Warm up
  2. Main Body
  3. Swim down

You can stretch before you swim and stretch after too – especially important where we must get your feet/ankles adequately flexed so that they aren’t slowing you down.

Ditch the beach shorts. They act like a drone. The drag interferes with everything.

You would benefit hugely from a pair of mini-flippers. These will stretch you ankles in a good way, give you lift so you train in the right position, while exercising your legs. OK, you’ll not be as fast when you take them off, but at least your head will know why they have to kick more efficiently and steadily to keep you body horizontal.

Other kit, if the pool permits your use of them, would include a snorkel so that you can train without having to swing your head around to the ceiling to breathe. This will show you what you are aiming for, not the ability to breathe out the back of your head, but certainly the need to be a fluid as can be when you breathe so as not to disrupt the fluidity of your swim.

Everything is about STREAMLINING …

The better you are at this the far, far easier it is to swim for a long time without getting tired.

All analysis of a swim breaks down into the mnemonic BLABT. This is how I studied your stroke.

Body Off the horizontal. Heavy in the water. Needs to streamline. Practice streamlining exercises (push and glide, ‘dead swimmer’, using kicker float to strengthen/correct kick, and short fins. Aim to be parallel to the bottom of the pool!


Legs Kick needs to be from the hip, like a footballer fallowing through with a penalty. Or ‘long legs’ like a ballet-dancer. Practice this with a kicker float until it becomes second nature to turn on this motor. A leg kick will naturally fall into one of three types 2-2 crossover, 4 or 8. It looks like you’re a 4 or even an 8. This must be a steady kick whatever else you are doing especially as you breathe … your kick hesitates and your legs sink and the whole body starts to look like a Jumbo Jet coming into land. Talking of which your feet with toes pointing to the bottom of the pool like flaps down to land, or that you’re wearing wellington boots. Pointed toes are crucial. Think how much resistance is caused as they drag through the water otherwise. Your left foot appears to be cramped up, so even stiffer than the other. There are a set of land-based stretches you need to do asap. And can be done when you can’t get in the pool. Ideally for a few minutes morning and night.


Arms Balanced, even, strong and steady. Lifts at the ‘pocket’ tracks forward with a high elbow and places the hand on the surface. Pulls back in an oar-like action. You are fine until your hand touches the water. You then need to reach forward, as if you are pushing your arm into the sleeve of a coat, then cupping your hand ‘catch’ the water and sweep back with a gradual acceleration in an ‘S’ shape under that side of you body. Ideally neither hand should cross a central line through the middle of your body.  Drills include swimming one arm only holding a kicker float. Watch what your arm and hand is doing then follow it through the water. You need to be bilateral, so make the effort to breathe to the right as well. This is also important so that both left and right arms have an equal share in pulling you through the water. The arm pull is 73% of the stroke … this is what pulls you through the water, the legs in anything but a sprint are there to keep your body horizontal and so causing the minimum amount of resistance. All resistance is bad, so slip the hand smoothly into the water, and the kick must be below the surface too. Smooth, silent, slinky swimming is the most efficient (and looks good too).


Breathing Breathes to the left, rolls head to ceiling. You need, eventually, to breathe on alternative sides every third stroke. For now get the body position right and aim to breathe only once your lungs are empty, so possibly every fourth stroke. Breathing is a continual action of ‘trickle breathing’ so blowing out slowly, possibly through your nose … then an explosive inhale as your mouth breaks the surface of the water.


Timing Currently you breathe every stroke to the left. In time you need to learn to breathe every other stroke to alternate sides. In a distance swim you may want to be as comfortable deciding at times only to breathe to one side rather than the other … either so that you can see where you are going, or because waves one one side are making breathing tricky. A tiny wavelet is more of a problem than a roller!


There is masses on YouTube. So look for FrontCrawl drills. Ideally I would have videod you and if in a few weeks or months you can get me a video of you I can offer more fixes. I have various lesson plans on my teaching/coaching website which I can point you at or download and adjust for your use.

ONCE you have got the technique, which requires some fitness to never used muscle groups, THEN we start on your stamina to get through a distance swim. It does reach a point for everyone where you feel you could go on forever, really, afterall, the water is holding you up and you can kick gently and efficiently and pull gently too.