Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (3)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #3:  The reason one should rotate the body along the long axis in freestyle is to reduce drag.

Please don’t tell me this is not a myth. I hear this from beginner coaches all the way to some of America’s top coaches. Rotating the body is very important, so is reducing drag. I just don’t think we rotate for that reason. If we did, kicking on our side would be faster (whether underwater or on the surface) than kicking on our stomach. Truth be told, there is not much difference in speed either way. In reality, we really spend very little time on our sides in freestyle. Most is found in the transition from one side to the other. Finishing a freestyle race on our side is also important because we can extend our reach further, but this is not done to reduce drag, either.


So if body rotation is not about drag reduction, why do we do it? I would suggest that there are two primary reasons. The first is to gain more power. By rotating, we put our arm into a mechanically better position of strength, engaging much bigger muscles in our back and core to help with the pulling motion. The second reason has to do with the counter-rotation. When we enter our right hand in the water, for example, our body is rotating to the left. At the moment we begin our catch, the body has stopped rotating and initiates the counter-rotation back to the right. We call this point the connection (between the arm and the core/hips). This counter-rotation creates a stabilizing force that gives us something to pull against.


I call this the pitching mound effect. If a pitcher throws a baseball at 60 mph from the pitching mound, throw him into the deep end of the pool and have him throw just as hard as before. We will see his ball speed drop by about half. The primary reason that the ball speed reduces so much is that in the water, he no longer has a pitching mound to push the back leg against. So what happens when you are swimming in the middle of the pool, and you can’t pull on the lane line? What are you pulling against? Remember, it is you and the water; no walls, starting blocks or pitching mounds to push off or pull against.  We can create our own stabilizing force out of the rotational motion of our own body. The faster and longer the counter-rotational turn, the greater the stabilizing force and the better distance per stroke (DPS) we can achieve. This is one advantage that hip driven swimmers have over the high stroke rate swimmers. Holding out in front longer gives them more time to rotate their hips and generate more power. But before you all go rushing back to that technique, if you don’t have the legs driving you, even extra DPS cannot overcome the inertia problem. You are still swimming ‘stop-and-go’ freestyle, which is not as efficient as the high stroke rate of a shoulder driven freestyle.


Most swimmers I teach swim very flat, like a surfboard that has arms and legs. That would be ok if we had the buoyancy and drag coefficient of a surfboard, but we don’t. We are more like barges and to move our bodies through the water, we need the added power that the body rotation gives us.


Can you use good body rotation with a high stroke rate? Yes, but it takes work. Great body rotation doesn’t just happen, you make it happen. Because there is less time between strokes, rotation stems from the shoulders and less from the hips, which take longer to turn. This is, in essence, how shoulder driven freestyle got its name.


For some great body-rotation drills, check out our DVD entitled Fundamentals of Fast Swimming, available in the store at


Gary Sr.