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Perfect stroke technique by Fred Vergnoux

Coach Fred Vergnoux on the small change that could improve your stroke technique.

Learn how making a small change to your stroke technique can help you swim faster and stronger. Elite coach Fred Vergnoux (the man behind Spanish no.1 Mireia Belmonte’s record-breaking performances) shares his expertise, technique tips and training secrets in his blog entry, here.


Stroke technique


In swimming, pretty much all the propulsion comes from the arms, so your stroke technique is key. The first phase of the stroke, the catch, is really important because the way you catch the water determines everything after it. Think of a downhill skier when they’re at the start line with two poles in the snow – they use them to really push off. In swimming you want the connection to be as good as possible because everything that follows depends on it.


To improve your stroke technique, aim to make one small change this week from the suggestions below.


Use finger paddles to get a feel for your catch and pull technique


Finger paddles help improve your awareness of your hand placement in the water and are great for working on your stroke and for sculling. They’re especially good for improving your feel for the catch position when swimming backstroke, which is quite a complicated procedure because you have no visibility of it.


Finger paddle drill: Try swimming wearing a finger paddle on one hand only. Swim 25 metres and then swap to the other hand.


Breaststroke – practice sculling to improve your stroke technique


Top breaststroke swimmers do a lot of sculling. My tip is to vary the angle of your arms and hands – for example, scull with both arms facing forward, then switch to having your elbow high and your hand low in the water, and scull in and out, in and out. You can use a pullbuoy when you do this, so you don’t have to worry about your legs.

Freestyle – trace a straight line with your arms


In the past, we used to advise freestyle swimmers to trace an ‘s’ figure in the water during their pull. Now, because of the evolution of science and biomechanics, we recommend tracing a straight line – so when your hand enters the water you’re going to pull it down and straight back towards your leg. It’s more challenging on the muscles, and from a cardiovascular perspective, but from a biomechanical point of view, it’s a lot more efficient.


Backstroke – go ‘pinky’ first


When your hand enters the water during backstroke, your pinky should enter the water first. Not your thumb, because that complicates a lot of things, not with your hand flat, creating a splash, but with your pinky.


Use paddles to improve your pull power and upper body strength


Because they catch more water, power paddles provide more resistance, so your workout is harder and your arms tire quicker. Consequently they are a great way to improve your distance per stroke and the amplitude of your pulling, as well as your fitness and strength. Power paddles also help you to swim faster, which is a pretty nice feeling in the water.


Try this: One-arm technique drill


This drill is good for arm coordination, pull and speed in the pool.


Swim (any stroke) with your left arm by your side in a streamlined position and only your right arm performing the stroke. After 25m, return to using both arms and swim for 25m. Next, place your right arm by your side and use only your left arm to perform the stroke for another 25m. Do this six times. You can also perform this drill wearing paddles.


Breaststroke – improve your head and arm coordination


For me, the pull with your arms in breaststroke is absolutely related the position of your head. Both come together. When you’re swimming, imagine you have a little cord attached to your wrist and your forehead, so when you pull your head goes down.

Challenge: Improve your stroke count and speed


The objective of this set is to reduce your stroke count and improve your swim time.


Time yourself swimming 25m freestyle using power paddles and count how many strokes you do. Next, add the number of seconds to the number of strokes to give you a score (E.g. if it took you 20 seconds with 20 strokes, your score would be 40.)


Every time you swim, try to reduce your score, either by going faster or reducing your strokes. Aim to reduce your total by a second or a stroke each time.


Summary of the week



  • Adding finger paddles to your training can help improve your catch position and feel for the water.


  • Try the one-arm technique drill, alternating one arm working through the stroke with the other static by your side.



Next week… discover the small change to your breathing technique that promises a more efficient swim.


Want to know more about improving your stroke technique? For more tips, and to see the correct stroke technique in action, why not watch our Speedo how-to videos covering freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly