"Everything you know about swimming probably is wrong," says Terry Laughlin, a former West Point swimming coach and founder of Total Immersion Swimming in New Paltz, New York. Laughlin's approach: Increase efficiency in the water by focusing on balance, energy conservation, and streamlining. He suggests these three steps to improve your freestyle stroke.

1. Relax Your Neck
The human head weighs about 10 pounds. When you hold it up in the water – a perfectly natural instinct – your legs and torso sink, which creates drag. "Relax the neck and upper back muscles until your head feels like it's hanging," Laughlin says. "Focus on the pool's bottom, directly under you. Visualize your head-spine alignment projecting like a laser in a straight line."

2. Exaggerate the Reach
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the reach is more important to propulsion than the pull back. "Reach forward as far as you can when you stroke," Laughlin says. Rather than chopping the surface with the edge of your hand, use your fingertips to slice a slot through the water. "Then slide the forearm through that slot without a splash," Laughlin

3. Lengthen Your Body
Bubbles and splash are evidence of wasted energy. "Your legs should draft behind you and gently kick – not churn the water into froth," Laughlin says. And take the focus off your arms and shoulders. "Instead, start the stroke from the hip, and reach forward with your whole side body," Laughlin says.