There are many different styles of freestyle, but one thing that’s common among fast swimmers is they don’t crossover. A ‘crossover’ is when the hand reaches across the head after entering the water.
At our freestyle clinics this is the most common error we see among triathletes with typically more than half the athletes having some sort of crossover in their stroke.
Why does it matter?
There’s two things a crossover will normally do to your stroke.
1. Sweep your hand out wide in the beginning of the catch where you have limited access to power
2. Drop your elbow which causes you to press down rather than press back during the catch phase
Why fix it?
By eliminating a crossover it improves your stroke and speed significantly by:
1. Reducing the amount of drag created by your arm as your reach forward
2. Improving your balance and stability through your body
3. Giving you access to more power throughout your catch and pull
4. Reducing the amount of energy and momentum that’s ‘spilled’ from side-to-side when crossing over
Most athletes that crossover don’t know they’re doing it unless they’ve been told by a coach. The funny thing about swimming is what you are doing is often very different than what you think you’re doing. At our freestyle clinics we often hear triathletes say “I never knew I was doing that!”. How do you tell if you’re crossing over? Have someone film you from front-on or look forward while you’re swimming and see where your hands are after entering.
Steps to eliminate crossover
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to eliminating a cross over but we’ve found these steps to be very effective in fixing it, even with athletes that have done it for years.
Step 1– Identify if you are crossing over and how much you are crossing over (see how to do this above)
Step 2– Aim for a slightly wider position on entry and during your reach. We’ve found that swimmers who crossover a lot need to make it feel like they are swimming wider than shoulder width to actually have the hand enter in line the with ear and shoulder
Step 3– Perform single arm freestyle drill with the hand in front holding a small kickboard. If you cross over your hand will hit the board in front. 4x25s of this drill during your warm up can help you feel the correct width the arms should be at.
Step 4– Swim with a snorkel. Using a front snorkel while swimming is a great way to focus on your stroke, particularly your entry, extension, catch and pull. With the snorkel you can look forward and see if your arms are crossing your head and make adjustments if needed. I like the Ameo Powerbreather snorkel but any other swim specific front snorkels will work just fine.
For many triathletes the two biggest keys to a better swim are improving their stroke alignment (eliminating the crossover) and fixing the angle of the arm during the pull. There’s no magic bullet to a faster swim but often by making small changes to 2-3 aspects of your technique is where the biggest improvement comes from.
We use underwater filming and video analysis at our freestyle clinics to identify where each swimmer can find extra speed and save energy. We then go through specific exercises to make those corrections so that they stick and become habit. There can be a lot to think about when you’re swimming, but we find the best approach is to keep it simple. We apply the 80/20 rule to swimming and focus only on what will make the biggest difference to your swimming and one these things is often eliminating a crossover.
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