I don’t remember where I read it, but it is sometimes recommend that if you want to be a sprinter, then just practice sprinting.
I don’t really enjoy swimming long distance. At least right now where I feel that my technique is poor. I prefer to swim hard, stop, analyze what worked and then go again.
One of the big issues I was having was about stroke timing. I read an article by Coach Emmett Hines entitled Swimming In Circles. He makes an analogy with race boats, which are built long and thin and how very fast sprinters strive to make themselves long an thin to glide through the water.
One of the main points I took from the article is that you should pretty much always have an arm out in front of you. This means that you don’t start your stroke until your recovering hand is nearly back in the water. Your stroke actually drives the arm entering the water farther forward, which stretches your body.
These two images of Ian Thorpe show this clearly.
You can see in the first image that the recovering arm is starting its drive forward and the other hand is only just starting it’s push. The coach calls this FQS, Front Quadrant Swimming. I really like the feeling of FQS.
What I like about it is that it compartmentalizes your stroke. You do one entire stroke, from push, to bringing your hand to your side, to recovery and entering the water, at a time. This helps me to focus on one arm at a time. Before I was busy trying to put my hand in the water while making sure my other arm was recovering correctly.
There is an exercise sometimes suggested, which is to practice handing a small rubber pipe between your hands on each stroke so that you are forced to keep your arms within FQS. I don’t actually use the pipe I just pretend.