Streamlining is old news

When we say the same things repeatedly they loose their impact.  The number of times that we say to our swimmers “streamline” is a good case in point.  It may even give us an affect that is different to what we want to see.   If the word ‘streamline’ becomes part of the white noise that becomes part of the background noise of the pool it is then meaningless.  An incorrect streamline may get a body position that is ‘somewhat’ streamlined but not truly hydro dynamically the body position of the least resistance.

streamline with ears between arms An important part of streamlining is keeping ears squeezed with biceps or deltoids. This picture demonstrates streamlining while doing a dolphin undulation.

If putting your hands together over your head is close enough to a streamline  and it is accepted as good technique then you are missing much of the advantage that a good streamline can provide.

poor_streamline_small This swimmer is a typical ‘streamline’. This is not the correct technique.

There are some important aspects of a good streamline that I like to see.  I am lucky to see a great number of swimmers over a full cross section of the competitive swimming world and I often am correcting a weak streamline in swimmers who truly believe they are doing the correct thing.

I believe that a good streamline has some basic elements that can be used to describe the true hydro dynamic:

1. Hands overlapping.  They need to be locked in a way to enable a head squeeze. Many swimmers hold their hands by grabbing the fingers of the other hand; like shaking someone’s wrong hand by their fingers. This gets the hands together but doesn’t give the leverage that allows a squeezing action. The correct hand position is one hand covering over the back of the other so that you can not see the lower hand, then the top thumb reaches down and locks onto the lower side of the hand.


2. Shoulder shrug. The muscles around the scapulae need to relax so that the shoulders lift up and the deltoids can be lifted high enough to cover the ears. This basic exercise can be demonstrated by asking any adolescent any question…answer: shoulder shrug, with the mumble “I dunno” or “nuthun”.

Poking fun at a teen is an easy target but if you make the exercise of shrugging the shoulders fun and memorable, then this new way of thinking about the ‘streamline’ will begin to become part of their normal practice.  With hands overlapping and the thumb locked onto one side of the other hand the arms can then squeeze together trapping the head.   I like to say ‘squeeze that melon’ indicating to squeeze their head.  The locking of the thumb then levers the locked arm(s) against the head tightly and this can allow the shoulder blades to become completely relaxed making them protrude out of the side.

streamline for phelps showing scapula protrution

Michael Phelps has his streamline perfected

3. Tight but loose.  If a streamline position is too tight then it is difficult to bend.  A good streamline is tight but pliable enough so that the swimmer’s shoulders can bend and undulate.  If the large bone called the scapula is loose then you will see it poking out along the sides of the swimmers.

The skill of squeezing the head, and more specifically the ears, but not locking up the upper spine, makes it possible to make your head and upper arms become one unit.  It is then easier to undulate like a dolphin. If you  can do this exercise on an exercise ball then you are very good already.  I also suggest doing hula hoop while in a streamline position.  I suggested this idea to Michael Phelps’ Coach Bob Bowman at a conference in 2003 so I hereby take credit for all his medals [insert smiley face!].


As a coach you need to find something that makes the swimmer think about the idea of streamlining differently.  For example maybe these images strike a cord with you:

213 Streamline ideas will be more memorable with descriptive words and images
streamline car I just added this to the top of ‘what I will buy when I win the lottery list’
kingfisher2 High speed entry requires perfect streamlining

All of this great work comes from a simple aspect:

lock the top thumb on the side of the bottom hand Lock the top thumb on the side of the bottom hand

Good luck…give your tired old shout: “STREAMLINE”! a new meaning.

streamling topedo imagery You are as fast as you think you are

About Coach Gary

I competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul representing Canada and coached in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for Great Britain. I have a degree in History and a minor degree in Psychology from University of Calgary. I have travelled extensively and have been very lucky to see so much of the world while representing Canada and Great Britain at swimming competitions. I am very proud of the fact that I coached a swimmer to become number one in the world in the fastest swimming race in 2002. I pride myself in my ability to find new and interesting ways to teach swimming. I am an accomplished artist specialising in sculpture, I have another blog called 'swimmingart' where I publish some of my swimming drawings. I have three young children; all boys. I have recently taken up painting and yoga....but not at the same time. You can see my new paintings at:
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