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 and being able to put it to use in your own swimming is not as straight forward as it sounds.
Mastering a good feel and a low stroke rate requires a strategic balance between power and efficiency. Sure, there's number crunching required but don't be put off. It is worth the effort because nailing the sweet spot has helped rocket many to the lofty spots on the podium.
While we aren’t all built to be a Phelps, we can use the lessons of top competitors to elevate our swimming by becoming more efficient, and thus being able to swim faster. See, that headline isn't crazy after all.
Initially, the equation that creates a more efficient swimmer sounds dodgy; take less strokes and 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 put it into practice. 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 that closer to what you want to do. Hint: look at ways to reduce drag, and improving your feel for the water.
1. Count it out.
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 creating 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 sprinting, where your DPS will 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 closely related to improving speed.
Imagine yourself trying to swim through a tight hole in the water, with your body in a straight line and at the surface of the water. When our head picks up, or our legs begin to sag, we put pressure on our body and create drag. This means we need to pull and kick harder, use more energy and 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. Doing even better is about a different feeling. 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.
There 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 our arm. Closed fist swimming engages those neglected parts.
You can do sculling in 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 one 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.