Category Archives: triathlon swim

Reduce water resistance and increase propulsive

I am getting back in the pool these days and see beginners making the same mistakes I made, thinking, “If I just increase my strength, then I’ll be so much better.”  I’ve since read that swimming is 70% technique and 30% endurance/muscle.  Much of the technique is learning how to move through the water-space with as little drag as possible.  Drag slows you down.  Drag makes you work harder for the same speed or distance.  The take-away from this excerpt is to reduce your drag!

In this excerpt, we learn about reducing drag and increasing propulsion from the book “Swim Fastest“, reprinted with permission of Human Kinetics.

Fundamentals for Reducing Resistive Drag

  • Maintain lateral alignment in the front crawl and backstroke by
    rotating the body around its longitudinal axis in synchronization with
    the downward and upward movements of the arms.
    The entire body
    must rotate, from head to toes, as an entire unit. Never try to
    maintain one part—the hips or legs, for example—in a flat position
    while the arms and shoulders

    I am getting back in the pool these days and see beginners making the same mistakes I made, thinking, “If I just increase my strength, then I’ll be so much better.”  I’ve since read that swimming is 70% technique and 30% endurance/muscle.  Much of the technique is learning how to move through the water-space with as little drag as possible.  Drag slows you down.  Drag makes you work harder for the same speed or distance.  The take-away from this excerpt is to reduce your drag!

    In this excerpt, we learn about reducing drag and increasing propulsion from the book “Swim Fastest“, reprinted with permission of Human Kinetics.

    Fundamentals for Reducing Resistive Drag

    • Maintain lateral alignment in the front crawl and backstroke by
      rotating the body around its longitudinal axis in synchronization with
      the downward and upward movements of the arms.
      The entire body
      must rotate, from head to toes, as an entire unit. Never try to
      maintain one part—the hips or legs, for example—in a flat position
      while the arms and shoulders are moving up and down.
    • To reduce form drag, keep the head in line with the trunk whenever possible.
      The only time the head should be out of alignment is when it is lifted
      out of the water for a breath in the butterfly and breaststroke. The
      head should remain aligned with the trunk when it is rotated toward the
      side to breathe in the front crawl stroke.
    • Maintain horizontal alignment by swimming through the water, not over it.
      Any efforts to elevate the head and shoulders above the water will only
      increase form and wave drag. The exceptions are the butterfly and
      breaststroke, in which swimmers should raise the head and shoulders out
      of the water to breathe. Even swimmers in these strokes should maintain
      a horizontal body position during the propulsive phases of the
      armstroke and kick, however, at least when it is possible to do so.
    • Body undulation is essential to propulsion in the butterfly
      and, to a lesser extent, in the breaststroke, but it should not be
      excessive.
      Swimmers should raise the head and shoulders out of the
      water sufficiently to reduce resistive drag during breathing and, in
      the case of butterfly, to allow arm recovery without forward dragging.
      Undulation should take place at or just below the surface to a position
      above the surface where the breath is taken. Swimmers should not push
      the body underwater simply to increase range of undulation. Excessively
      pushing the body downward will only increase form drag.
    • All entry and recovery movements of the arms and legs should be “soft” and smooth to reduce pushing drag.
      Where possible, keep the limbs within the cross sectional area of the
      body as they enter the water, and slide them forward through the water
      with the smallest and most tapered surfaces, the fingertips, facing
      forward.
    • The first portions of all underwater armstrokes, the downsweep and outsweep, are not propulsive.
      Therefore, they should be executed softly and smoothly to keep pushing
      drag to a minimum. Lead with the smallest and most tapered surfaces of
      the hands and arms, the fingertips, when sliding them down and out
      during the downsweeps and outsweeps of all four competitive strokes.
    • Don’t kick any deeper, higher, or wider than necessary to produce an optimum amount of propulsive force.
      Kicks that are excessively wide and deep will increase pushing drag and
      may disrupt horizontal and lateral alignment. Kicking upward
      excessively will push the body downward. Where possible, maintain an
      optimum leg spread that keeps the legs within the cross sectional area
      of the torso in both lateral and vertical directions.
    • Don’t pull the legs into a flexed position in the flutter and dolphin kicks.
      The legs should only travel upward to body level during the upbeat of
      the flutter and dolphin kicks (downbeat in the backstroke). The
      remainder of their upward motion should take place during the
      subsequent downbeat (upbeat in the backstroke). Leg flexion at this
      time may make it appear that the upbeat is still underway, but that
      flexion should occur as the thighs are actually pushing downward. At
      that time, the water underneath the relaxed lower legs will push the
      body upward into a flexed position until the legs start to extend at
      the knees. Use the minimum amount of muscular effort needed to flex the
      legs forward during leg recovery in the breaststroke.

    Guidelines for Increasing Propulsive Force

    • Always wait until a high elbow catch position has been achieved before applying backward force against the water.
      Inexperienced swimmers try to apply force when the arms are facing
      downward or against the water. They must learn to wait until they have
      positioned the undersides of the arms and the palms of the hands to
      push back against the water before applying force. The arms and hands
      should travel through approximately one-third of their underwater
      armstrokes before swimmers begin to push backward against the water.
    • The arms should be flexed approximately 90° when the catch is
      made, and they should not be extended or flexed further by any
      significant amount during the propulsive phases of the strokes that
      follow.
      In other words, swimmers should form a boomerang-shaped
      paddle with the undersides of the arms and hands when they make the
      catch, and they should press backward against the water throughout the
      stroke without changing the shape of the arms appreciably. In this way,
      the work of forward propulsion is done by the large adducting and
      extending muscle groups of the shoulders and torso instead of the small
      muscle groups that tend to rotate the forearms and hands. The only
      exception to this rule occurs in the backstroke, in which the arms
      extend backward and below the thighs during the propulsive phase of
      their strokes.
    • Keep the palm of the hand and the underside of the forearm
      aligned as though they were one jointless unit during the propulsive
      phases of the various armstrokes.
      The tendency to rotate the hand
      in and out in advance of the arm in the same direction and the tendency
      to overflex or hyperextend the hand at the wrist during the propulsive
      armstroke phase are two of the most common errors swimmers make. The
      hands do rotate during the various underwater armstrokes, but this is
      only because they are facing in the direction the arms are moving. This
      rotation is not initiated by rotating the palm and allowing the arm to
      follow. Swimmers should keep the palms of the hands aligned with the
      undersides of the forearms and allow the direction the arms are moving
      to dictate the pitch of the hands.
    • Always stroke in diagonally backward patterns during the propulsive phases of the underwater armstrokes.
      Even though drag is probably the dominant propulsive force in swimming,
      pulling and pushing the arms straight back through the water will not
      provide the greatest distance per stroke, nor will it provide the
      fastest forward velocity. Effective swimming requires deviations from
      the straight backward application of force for all of the reasons
      described in this chapter and in chapter 1.
    • Hand speeds should accelerate in pulses with each major change
      in their direction, from the time they make the catch to the end of
      each underwater armstroke.
      The hands accelerate in pulses during
      underwater armstrokes, slowing as they make the transition from one
      sweep to the next and then accelerating to the next point of
      transition. Nevertheless, hand velocity does accelerate from the start
      to the finish of their propulsive phases. Although they accelerate and
      decelerate in pulses, the hands should never reach maximum velocity
      until they are near the end of the propulsive phase of a particular
      underwater armstroke.
    • Propulsive efforts should cease as the hands approach the legs on their way to the surface.
      Many swimmers make the mistake of pushing against the water until the
      hands reach the surface. Because the arms will be facing too far upward
      after they pass the legs, applying force at that time will not create
      any additional propulsion. Instead, it will push the body downward,
      decelerating forward speed in the process.”