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No matter what kind of stroke you use -- whether it’s a loping style or straight arm or high elbow -- balance is key. It’s fundamental. And by balance I mean that you can keep your body horizontal from front to back...

... and from side to side with your rotation.

You can be the strongest swimmer in the world, but if you’re not balanced -- with head low and with hips and legs riding at the same level -- you won’t swim to your full potential.

In 2000, when I made the US Olympic Team for the first time, I wasn’t very good at being balanced. When I took a breath, I’d lift my head and my whole face would come out of the water. It’s hard to do now, but my stroke used to look like this.

My loping stroke was actually a disadvantage back then, because my hips were dropping and my body was going out of position on every breath.

Between 2000 and 2008, I watched video of my stroke and worked constantly on being balanced -- on keeping my head down and keeping it in line with the rest of my body.

I still have a galloping stroke, but now it’s more effective because my body is more horizontal and streamlined. My stroke has lengthened, and I’m taking a lower and quicker breath.

As I worked on balance, I dropped a lot of time, but it didn’t happen quickly. It took four years to make the change, and I’m still working on it.

Balance is one of those things that you have to practice on a daily basis and something you constantly think about.

And, you need to slow down in order to really focus on it. Use your warmup as a time to work on balance and other good habits...

... that you want to be automatic when you start to go fast.

Some people think that a loping stroke is fast because it keeps you under water for a portion of your stroke. My feeling is that it’s more about having a balanced bodyline than it is about being under water.

One drill that I use for balance is Single-Arm Freestyle. I keep one arm at my side so I can really focus on the pull and the position of my body.

It’s important not to rush through this drill. From this angle you can see that I’m rotating equally to both sides. I breathe to the side on which I’m pulling.

Instead of muscling through the pull and using just my arm, I try to get my whole body into the pull, connecting the pull with the rotation of the hips. I try to maintain side-to-side balance...

... and horizontal balance from fingertips to toes.

Balance is something every swimmer can work on, and something that can make a huge difference in your speed, no matter what level of swimmer you are. It’s one of the fundamentals of fast swimming -- and so is a good kick, which is what we’ll talk about in the next chapter.