Swimming is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise, and a few basic tips can help you improve your stroke and get the most out of your workout. Because water is denser than air, you expend more energy moving through water than on land, so it's an efficient calorie burner. Freestyle is the fastest of all four competitive strokes, and most triathletes select it for open water swims. It is a front-quadrant stroke, meaning that you propel yourself through the water relying primarily on your shoulders and upper back for strength and speed.
The less energy you expend pushing past water's resistance, the farther you will be able to swim. Body position is very important in minimizing drag or friction in the water. Ideally, keep a neutral body position, one in which an imaginary line would run straight from your head down your spine. You swim freestyle facing down in the water. To help keep your hips higher, keep your head low in the water. The water should reach halfway up your forehead. Keeping your head too high, or completely above the water makes your stroke less efficient.
Swim on your side, or rather, switch from one side to the other as you swim. By rotating your body with every stroke you take, you minimize your body's profile in the water. Think of your hip-bones as skate blades, and glide from one to the other. This rotation will help you with your breathing too. Rather than lifting your head to take a breath, just keep your head and neck still. When your rotate your body, your head will follow along in alignment. When your cheek breaks the surface of the water, you can take a breath.
Learning to relax in the water is important. Frenetic arm movements and a flailing body will cause turbulence, and will tire you out quickly. Beginning swimmers sometimes make the mistake of forcing their arms through the water. Keep movements smooth and fluid. When you take a stroke, keep your elbows high. By using a so-called "early vertical forearm," in which you quickly bend your arm as soon as it submerges in the water to take a stroke, you make your stroke more powerful. Imagine reaching over a barrel, and imitate that movement every time you pull with your arm. You should feel the large muscles in our upper back, engage and do the work of pulling you forward in the water.
Legs are the secondary players in freestyle. Splashy kicking looks impressive, but is inefficient. You use your shoulder to propel you and your legs keep your body aligned and afloat. Reserve fast kicking for races; a slow but steady kick works well for distance swimming. Kick from the hip, and keep your legs relaxed and relatively straight. End your kick with a flick of your ankles, as if you were kicking off a pair of loose sneakers. Don't bend your knees or perform a bicycle-style kick. Coordinated properly with your arm movements, you should feel as if you are cutting through the water efficiently.