How saving energy can make you swim faster
It's a crazy headline: saving energy can make you swim faster. But take a step back and you will see the fastest swimmers in any stroke in any squad, from sprint sparks to distance demons, have a good "feel" for the water and a low stroke count per lap. Cracking this code means being able to put it to use in your own swimming but there are a few key steps to get the recipe right.
Mastering a good feel and a low stroke rate requires a strategic balance between power and efficiency. Don't freak! This isn't painful like some math exam you haven't studied for. You just need to know and understand a few key numbers so you can set targets to become more efficient - that in turn makes you able to swim faster. See, that headline isn't crazy at all.
Initially, the secret code that creates a more efficient swimmer may sound dodgy; take less strokes to cover the same distance faster. Yeah, right. The concept works because improving your DPS, or distance per stroke, means you also conserve energy, which can be quite handy at the pointy end of sets and races.
The best way to grasp the potential of this theory is to dive in with numbers in your head. Start to improve your DPS by counting your strokes. Once you know how many strokes you currently do, you can start plotting how to move closer to what you want to do. Pro Tip: look at ways to reduce drag and improve your feel for the water.
1. Count on it.
Make a habit of counting your strokes is the first and most essential step to stepping up your DPS. Know where you are at and create targets to get to where you want to be.
Get into the routine of keeping track of how many strokes you are taking when you at cruising pace as well as when you sprint because your DPS should go up anywhere between 20%-40%.
The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro is a handy swimming metronome that will help you manage your stroke rate without counting but you need to do the research first to really be able to put it to work for you. Our 3 x 100 m stopwatch is another way to lift training and make monitoring your output more routine.
2. Ride the plane.
This doesn't mean it's time to go on holiday but it is about focusing on doing less work. The effects of drag can be hard to see when mid-stroke, but the effects are there. Water is nearly 800 times more dense than air, meaning that improving drag reduction is a big part of the equation to improve speed.
Imagine yourself trying to swim through a tight hole with your body in a straight line and near the surface of the water. When our head lifts or our legs droop, we put pressure on our body and create drag. This creates the need to pull and kick harder and use more energy to move through the water.
If you are finding it hard to change or refine your body position, FINIS have developed a Posture Trainer that helps swimmers achieve optimum positioning in the water. It works on all four strokes and with or without goggles.
3. Feel better.
We all know the feeling of a hard training session when you know you've done good. This kind of feeling better is totally different. Learning to feel the water better is a key step to improving your DPS. Having a better catch and feel for catching more water during your pull will help you to take less strokes.
Here are a couple different drills that can help you use the water to train smarter:
Closed fist swimming.
Your forearms are an often neglected surface area that helps generate propulsion. We tend to get caught up with our hands at the expense of the rest of these amazing bits of kit. Closed fist swimming engages those neglected parts. No explanation is really needed but just in case:
1 close fists
Sculling involves specific drills for the different strokes but all focus on the hands, not kicking or going fast.
For a basic freestyle drill, pop a Foam Pull Buoy between your legs and start face down in the water. Put your arms out in front of you and start "swimming" by making figure-8 movements with your hands with a very slight pull on each action to propel yourself forward. You won't go fast and you won't go far but that is the aim.
Keep focus on your hands and forearms
Try not let your legs kick. Support them with a buoy or do small kicks if you have to. It is important to NOT propel yourself through the water with your legs when sculling.
Make sure your body position in the water is as close as possible to how you'd swim when racing. To be truly effective, sculling drills need to use the same body position you use during competition.
If you train with your face in the water, consider using a Swimmer's Snorkel so you don’t interrupt the drill with head turns. If not using a snorkel, try to breathe as you would during a race.
Keep hands and fingers relaxed - don't tense up and squeeze fingers together. You want to maximize the surface area of your hands.
There's no need for speed. Focus on form and the feel of the water. Speed is the enemy in these drills.
There is a lot of work you can do simply with sculling. There are drills for all areas of your stroke, from the catch, to the pull, to the exit. You can also do sculling on your front, back, and side, giving you tons of options no matter what your stroke or specialty is.
FINIS Agility Paddles are also another way of helping to improve your feel for the water. Because they don't have straps to hold them on, you can't cheat - they will fall off the moment your technique gets sloppy.
Putting in hours at the pool is key to seeing better results but it doesn't make sense to put in hours that aren't as effective as they can be. FINIS specialises in innovative products to help simplify training. We have a Stroke Lab in California where elite athletes and FINIS swim scientists continually test products to figure out how to squeeze more milliseconds out of them. We love that challenge and want everyone to get as much out of the water as we do.