Amount of rotation in freestyle?

I have been Masters swimming since 7-23-2022, swim 3x per week and have competed in 2 swim meets to date.  My first open water, one-mile swim meet is tomorrow.

My Masters club has five pools and my current pool is closed for maintenance.  As such, I have been swimming with other coaches at other pools.

There is a discrepancy between coaches telling me how much to rotate during freestyle.

The coach at my regular pool has me rotate a lot during freestyle so that I am nearly sideways though not quite.

A coach from a different pool (former Olympian) asked why I was rotating so much and said that I need to be flatter (less than 45 degrees).  I told her that that is what the previous coach said so I can be streamline and faster.  The former Olympian coach said that rotating too much results in not being able to pull through efficiently and significantly slowing me down because of the time and energy it takes rotating so much.

I can see where both coaches make good points regarding how much to rotate.  

Can you give me your feedback about this?  Is one better than the other for speed?  Shoulder health??  

  • I would agree with the second coach that you are over rotating.  I believe you should rotate between 25 to 35 degrees (more on your stomach than on your side).  There is a freestyle webinar by Russell Mark (formerly High Performance Manager with USA Swimming) where he talks about the drawbacks of over rotating.  Here is the talk if you are interested in watching it:

  • Wow, that was FANTASTIC!!  Exactly what I have been looking for regarding all aspects of freestyle.  Thank you tons!!

  • I’ve always thought less rotation and faster turnovers in sprints and more rotation and longer glide with distance swims. The latter is really pronounced in how Adam “Ocean” Walker swims. You should work in a range and see what gives you the efficiency you want for the swim distance you choose.

  • I will look into this.  I have only been swimming since 7-23-22; never really thought about sprint vs long distance swimming.  Thank you!

  • I have a great interest in the discussion of Russel Mark.  But when I select the vimeo link, above, I get a message that the link is "Private".  Ganache, can you provide assistance so I can access to that webinar?  I'd surely appreciate it.  I have exactly the same question

  • XUBS2,

    Under normal circumstances, rotation greater than 45 degrees is detrimental to power, tempo, and general stroke mechanics.  Karlyn Pipes uses the description "rocking from side to side" to describe of body movement for freestyle.  In a pool, you might be able to get by with as little as 20-30 degrees.  This is shoulder rotation - not neck/chin/head rotation.  

    Having said that, with open water swimming because of wave activity, that rocking motion may need to be greater so you can breathe.

    Having coached alot of triathletes/beginner swimmers (all ages), I have sometimes told swimmers to rotate and turn their head enough to look at the ceiling because: a) their heads were so deep in the water from pressing their chest down, b) their shoulder/neck mobility was limited, or c) they had not figured out how the slight delay at the front of the stroke that provides balance and timing.

    For the swimmers with their heads too deep, it usually stemmed from a coach telling them to press their chest down (aka press your sternum towards the bottom) to get their legs higher in the water.  Invariably, when these swimmers did that, they hinged at their waist so their legs were still deep and their head was completely below the surface of the water.  Ideally, your head position has your eyes looking at the bottom about 30 degrees in front of you and your ears are underwater.

    One of the best "drills" for new swimmers is to learn how to "facedown in a streamline position" float so your heels are at the surface of the water.  This requires the swimmer to gently use their glutes, hamstrings, and lower back for good body position. Once the swimmer figures this out, alot of other things fall into place.  You can practice this at home by lying on the floor in streamline position (forehead touching the floor) and raising your upper and lower body up from the floor a couple of inches while maintaining the streamline position - think "superman."

    Many coaches immediately put fins on beginner swimmers to "bring their hips" to the surface and generate a bit of speed to do drills, etc.. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence is the swimmer never learns good body position.  Some coaches use pull buoys for the same reason with the same poor results.

    Sorry to write a "book" - hope this helps.