Swimming is challenging for many of us. I agree it is a detail oriented activity but I think much of this is due to how we look at water and attempt to get through it. Much of the focus of swimming seems to be focused around body position and not so much the mechanics of the stroke. A gold medal Olympian, World Champion triathlete and friend Sheila Taormina explains in her book, Call the Suit, that swimming fast is really all about the pull. I totally agree with her. After the initial work on understanding body position and rotation, the focus should move towards perfecting your pull.
To understand the pull fully you must first understand water. Water is neither a solid nor a gas but depending on the force placed upon it, it may act more like one of these. The key to a powerful pull is to know when the water should become more like a solid and when it should be more like a gas. When your hand enters the water you want it to slice through the water with little resistance as if it were traveling through air. Once your arm has sliced through the water you quickly tip your elbow up and dig your hand downward so your palm assumes a position in which it is facing toward your feet. When you do this you have made the water like a solid. In this position your elbow should be slightly bent and you powerfully activate your LATS to “pull your body over your arm”. A way to mentally visualize this in the water while swimming is to imagine that there is a brick wall underneath the water and you are reaching your arm out for the wall and pulling yourself over the wall.
Think about this next time you swim. There are many drills and sports specific strength exercises that I give to people that I coach to help practice this but this is a very valuable tip to get the ball rolling.