By Kevin Koskella
New developments in freestyle swimming stroke technique come about every few years or so. With new technology we are starting to figure out the most minute details of someone's stroke that could be holding them back.
In competitive pool swimming, the devil is in the details. Especially at the Olympic level. Everyone at that level as more or less perfected their stroke, and nobody can afford to make mistakes or leave anything on the table. As someone who is training for a triathlon or an open water swimming event, and did not come from a swimming background, things are a little different. Is it going to be super important to shave off .5 seconds on your swim by turning your hand 1/4 inch on your pull? Or, should your focus be on basic stroke technique to allow you to expend less energy and get the same (or likely faster) result out of the water? So what do you do? Always use long, gliding strokes, and forget about having a fast turnover?
Since the open water, and especially the ocean, presents many new challenges to your stroke, I would not recommend going with a policy of "always" using long strokes in freestyle. Sometimes waves or competition can put you in a position where shortening your stroke will give you an advantage.
The point is to, for the most part, practice lengthening your strokes- do sets of free golf, work with hand paddles, and occasionally count your strokes per length. But do not be married to the idea that you must use long strokes at all times!
I recommend copying what the middle of the pack (MOP) swimmers are doing in general, rather than the leaders. This sounds like odd advice from a coach who is paid to get people to swim faster! But the problem is that many of the swimmers who are in the lead pack in the swim came from a swimming background- and this often means they did short, sprint or middle distance races in the pool, and can get away with a very fast turnover in the open water.
For the beginners, or intermediates, the goal should not be to win the swim, but to finish strong for the rest of the race. Therefore, practice long, and adjust where needed in the race.