Whether you specialize in IM or breaststroke, sprint or distance, freestyle is probably a mainstay in your training.
To help you refine your stroke mechanics, we broke down Katie Ledecky’s incredible freestyle technique. She’s arguably the best distance swimmer of all time, dominating the 200, 400, 800 and 1500-meter freestyle events. We can learn a thing or two by watching her races!
The first thing we notice about Katie’s freestyle is her high body position. Her hips are close to the surface of the water, and she looks straight down to the bottom. This position minimizes drag and allows her to swim fast.
Katie’s body position is so good that she can swim with a cup of chocolate milk balanced on her head!
Katie doesn’t place a big focus on her kick during long races like the 1500. In this case, she uses a 2-beat kick, which means she does one kick per arm stroke. This kick is used mostly to help her maintain proper body position rather than for propulsion. Distance swimmers and triathletes can take a page out of Katie’s book here — work on perfecting your rotation rather than building a massive kick.
In the 200 freestyle, however, you’ll notice that she picks it up to a 6-beat kick: 3 kicks per arm stroke. She can leverage her kick more in a shorter race for an extra speed boost.
Early Vertical Forearm
Early Vertical Forearm is essentially your “catch.” Good EVF turns your hands and forearms into big paddles, allowing you to pull more water. Katie Ledecky is a master of Early Vertical Forearm!
Related: What is Early Vertical Forearm?
Her hands enter the water fingertips first with minimal splash, at about 11 and 1 on a clock. She reaches her fingertips forward, and then bends at the elbow and begins to pull. She keeps her elbow high throughout the pull for maximum power and distance per stroke.
Starts & Turns
Katie has some of the best underwaters of any distance swimmer, and is on par with many of the best sprinters. Underwater dolphin kick is considered the “5th stroke” of swimming, and is actually much faster than any of the 4 competitive strokes.
Related: How Katie Ledecky Swims So Fast
She takes advantage of this in a major way during all of her races. Building the intensity of her underwaters through to the end of the race helps her pull ahead of her competition time and time again. In some races, she gets almost 10 meters off the wall before she takes her first stroke.
Katie breathes every 2 strokes, and has a “galloping” stroke. You may have been taught that it’s best to breathe on both sides, but that’s not always true. Breathing to one side can help you maintain good stroke rhythm for the duration of a race, especially the 200 and up.
Related: The 5 Most Common Freestyle Mistakes
During her breathing, Katie sometimes lifts her head forward, which causes her to fall out of proper body position slightly. Think about looking straight down and turning your head to the side to breathe — don’t bring your head forward!
Strength training helps Katie build the muscular endurance she needs to swim long distances. She works on balance, core stability and power in the gym to complement her swimming — and you can too!