Well, if it’s too high of course. 😉 So how do you know if it’s too high?When swimming at an easy pace, ie, not adding much power or force, you should be able to move forward through the water with relative ease indicating that you’re well balanced and streamlined in the water.
Everyone will find a limit where either swimming easier turns into drilling, or there is a lower limit to how slow you can swim before you feel you start to sink. Just above that point…what’s your stroke count?
You can reduce Stroke Count or (strokes per length) by reducing drag or increasing power. Stroke count is only a reflection of two competing forces water resistance vs stroking force.
These are some additional ways to think about balancing two swim skills to achieve speed in swimming:
Streamlining vs power
Flexibility vs Mobility
Slipperiness vs Strength
Based on your height, an “ideal number” for your stroke count can vary. For a 5’2″ person, maybe 18 is a conservative lower end target. For a 6’2″ person, perhaps 15 a good lower end target. If you can’t hit those targets at ANY speed…there are streamlining and /or balance issues…basically problems with drag.
As you increase your tempo, time between strokes decreases, travel distance decreases and stroke count goes up. What’s the upper limit of the number of strokes where you still feel smooth and in control? For me…around 21-22 SPL in a SCY pool when swimming comfortably fast.
Can you choose your stroke count at will? This would indicate that you’ve got great control over your form. Does your stroke count vary widely (maybe more than 2 SPL) when swimming at the same sustainable pace ? This suggests poor technique or technique that’s not wired in…as an 18 stroke 25 yd swim at 30 seconds is a very different stroke than a 16 or 20 SPL 25 yd swim at 30 seconds.
The stroke rate ramp test is a good test…but it only shows you your current comfort level. It doesn’t help you diagnose if your SPL and tempo ranges are good for you…only what feels good to you now. Unless we all have perfect technique, what feels good can always been improved.
FWIW at 5’3″ I can swim equally comfortably at 14 SPL or at 22 SPL…the difference is speed. at 14 SPL I’m swimming 1:50/100s easily and relaxed. at 22 SPL I’m swimming 1:30s and getting tired. A sustainable 1000 yd swim for me is around 1:40/100 and 18/19 SPL…unwavering from that narrow range.
Finally, if tempo stays the same, lowering your SPL (by either improving streamlining or adding efficient propulsion) will make you go faster!
Lots of good reasons to consider lowering SPL as part of a well balanced diet of swim practice and improvement exercises.
Note: This originally appeared in the USA Triathlon Coaching email forum in January, 2013. Going through and cleaning up old emails I thought it was worth sharing here.
“The design is finished not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”
Kicking has Multiple Functions in the Freestyle Swim
The kick can help rotate the body, create forward movement, and provide lift in the back end. Each swimmer needs to understand how their kick is fitting in to their stroke, what benefit it’s giving them and how they can improve it. Some folks will use kicking to keep the back end up, while in the mean time they are pushing down on the front of the water with their stroke. If they were to fix the front end, the back end could be repurposed and the same energy used would help them go faster. Yet in many swim squads, as long as the athlete is doing a continuous or 6 beat kick the coach is happy, and hopes over time they’ll get better at it.
Kick Removed equals the popular “band swimming” drill
If you take the above quote to the extreme and “take away” all the leg movements you’re left with the ever popular “band” swimming or no kick swimming, which helps teach swimmer how to quiet the legs, create good balance in the front half and identify the core muscles better.
Progress from there to 2 beat kicking which adds additional rotational component and not a lot of lift. A 4 beat may provide more lift and compensate for balance asymmetries at various stroke points (sun yang uses a 4 beat on his breathing cycle) and often a 2 beat on non -breathing for example.
Progressing again, a well timed 6 beat kick provides rotation as well as propulsion. Each step also uses more energy and is less efficient when comparing energy spent for forward movement produced. Having the technical ability to choose your kick strategically based on energy management as well as swim speed in a triathlon is a high level goal for any triathlete.
How much Energy should Triathletes spend in the Swim?
No one suggests that a triathlete should go all out on the bike portion of a tri, or that their best tri run split should be equal to their best standalone run split. Yet many swim-centric triathlon or masters coaches will suggest swimming with a 6 beat kick during a triathlon. This inconsistency in energy expenditure is baffling.
So why the inconsistency in suggesting a 6 beat or flutter kick… is it best for a triathlete because it will result in the best speed ? It may be faster when done well…but also uses more energy than a 2 beat kick. If a triathlete needs to manage energy across 3 sports, why not use kick timing as an energy management strategy and opt for a 2 beat kick more often?
Why not spend time developing both a 2 and a 6 so you have choices? After all, you train in more than one bike gear too, right?
Triathletes Should get Confident with Multiple Patterns for Maximum Choices while Racing.
It seems like the same coaches who advise against a 2 Beat Kick are also gung-ho for the “band” swimming drill. In this drill an elastic band is placed around the ankles to remove the kick, and force the athlete to focus on balance and the front end of the stroke. I think it’s also an excellent drill…especially when it can be done as a no-kick drill withOUT the band! Learnign to control the legs adequately and keep them closely streamlined without having a restricting band, also teaches the swimmer how to control the legs while kicking in any pattern.
If the kick is a progression of frequency from no kicking to a rapid flutter kick, then a 2, 4 & 6 beat kick all fall along this spectrum. It’s incongrunent to prescribe band drills but proscribe the two beat kick. Practice all types and expand your options while getting faster as well.
Some examples of Elite Swimmers & Their Kicks…
Here’s a fast female with a 2 beat kick from what I can tell… honesty with a tempo that fast I don’t know how she’d fit in 4 or 6 beats. This is the incomparable Janet Evans, a 5’0″ powerhouse champion.
Here is Katie Ledecky, World Record Holder in the 1500m at her performance in the 2015 World championship. This is a great video to wtach because she displays a variety of kick patterns including 2, 4 & 6 beat. her 4 beat kick is an asymmetric 1-3 kick, which means it resembles a 2 Beat kick on one half of the body and a 6 beat kick on the other half. Take a look and let me know what you see…
Here’s a great one of Katie Ledecky & Simone Manuel competing in the 200m race. Simone Manuel who I have written about before, is racing at the long end of her competitive ability, and Katie Ledecky is racing at the short end. Who do you think will win? Both are using 6 beat kicks here the entire way as far as I can tell. This shows that the distance can help determine the kick pattern. In the 1500m Ledecky kicks less often.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
What are your thoughts on the best kick timing for triathletes?
Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/tpsdave-12019/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=79592″>David Mark</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=79592″>Pixabay</a>
Photo removed at request of copyright holder, Associated Press. Image used according to Fair Use Doctrine.
You can learn something from 100m sprinter Simone Manuel or distance specialist Katie Ledecky, regardless of which one of these remarkable women is your hero.
Streamlining and drag reduction in the water helps us conserve forward momentum because water is 800 times denser than air. Anything you can do at any point in the stroke to become more streamlined, even as you’re trying to swim faster, will allow you to swim better, with less energy. Why? because slowing down is what humans do best in the water! Staying fast means paying attention to small details…for example, the “crossover effect”.
The Crossover Effect is Human
The Crossover effect occurs because of the way our shoulder joint is oriented, and the fact that we are used to operating in our daily lives with our arms reaching, holding, and manipulating objects directly in front of us. When we turn our upper body, we are usually still operating in the frontal plane, or the plane that divides your body into a front half and a back half. the shoulders lift the arms forward and typically our arms stay in front of us most of the time.
Picture things like typing, driving, cooking, cycling, having a conversation with someone (arms folded or hands in front pockets) as typical things we do. We carry this habituated position of the arms into swimming and as a result, while you don’t feel like you’re crossing your arms in front of you, the effect is that arms cross midline of your direction of travel.
This is a key point, and the reason it’s so difficult to correct…your arms are still in front of you when you crossover in swimming. The crossover effect is that you direct your energy diagonally instead of the direction you really want to go! How frustrating, right? Believe me, I know. But sometimes you don’t know you’re doing it until you see a video or photo of yourself, or have someone physically make that correction for you.
Olympians Eliminating the Crossover Effect (this is the slick arm trick)
Here are two examples from the 2016 Olympics, Katie Ledecky in the first photo, and Simone Manuel in the 2nd photo.
Photo removed at request of copyright holder, Associated Press. Image used according to Fair Use Doctrine.
Their arms are extended parallel to the lane rope, right? The arm is aligned, no crossover. The effect of arm aligned, is that momentum continues forward. However look at where their sternums are directed, and look at their body rotation.
Photo removed at request of copyright holder, Associated Press. Image used according to Fair Use Doctrine.
Now imagine those activities I mentioned previously…driving, typing, shaking someone’s hand. If Simone Manuel were autographing a gold medal photograph at this moment instead of swimming, her left arm would be pointed way over towards the right edge of the photo in a diagonal direction, right?
Her arms would be “in front” of her chest or directed to the right since her body is rotated to the right.
How does she do that?
When the body is actively rotating in freestyle (or backstroke), the lead arm aligned requires you to have the sensation that your arm is kind of off to the side a bit, even sticking out. Visualize yourself in their rotated positions in the pool…now hold your arm above your head and visualize where the surface of the water and where the lane rope would be. Can you get your arm lined up with the lane rope? It will feel far off to the side.
Avoiding the crossover effect is one easy trick you can practice while standing in the mirror so that you start to develop your Olympian’s freestyle stroke!
In the meantime, don’t try to sign any autographs while swimming, things will get messy and you’ll avoid the crossover effect!
Open Water Swimming & Spring Triathlon Season is here!
The first local triathlons are coming up soon and our local club membership kickoff is right around the corner. This summer two local to the Pittsburgh and Eastern Ohio area lakes will have organized open water swimming for triathletes including safety boats as well as buoy marked courses set up. It’s my favorite time of the year!
I’ve invited Dinah Mistilis of Discovery Aquatics in Moorsville, NC, my fellow Fresh Freestyle author who also received the distinction of Master Coach during her time with Total Immersion, to share some of her insights with you and I. Dinah has distinct advantage as a triathlon & open water swim coach of living right on a lake with an endless pool in her ground floor.
Are you getting the picture? Take a day trip to Moorsville, spend a Saturday doing a 90 minute endless pool session, have a snack then go straight out on the lake to put your open water skills into practice. What an ideal setup for triathletes! Dinah your swimmers are lucky to have you there.
Here is Coach Dinah’s post…and if you read to the end you’ll also find information for our local open water swim events you can put on your training calendar.
It’s heating up!
This time of year is wonderful! The air is getting to be that perfect day time temperature and the lake water is not far behind. Open water racing is underway and the first local triathlons have been completed. Last week also saw Discovery Aquatics athletes swimming at the USMS National Masters competition in Greensboro NC. So much swimming to be done!
If you have taken a break from swimming that is okay too.Most of us will take a break from swimming at some point. It may be a few weeks, months or longer between swims. Making the decision to head back to the water is the first step. Now, what to do when you get there?
Take these ideas with you to make the first swim back enjoyable, purposeful and successful so that you will want to do it again. and again. and again!
1. Relax Into It – choose a warm up distance and pace that is a comfortable for you. The goal here is to find relaxed exhalation and inhalation, and to keep the body tension free. Use this time to make a connection with your environment by stimulating your senses – what do you see, hear and feel?
It may be 4×25 repeated 3 times, or 6×50, or 3-5 x 100, or a 300, or a 500. Make it your practice from the start by feeling what your body can do comfortably.
2. Find a Focus – training yourself to think about swim technique in all of your practices is important. Start in this practice by repeating your warm up distance, this time with one swim focus in mind.
You may recall the focus from previous coaching, or from watching a swim video, or self assessing your stroke, or by watching graceful swimmers at the pool. Make it your practice by feeling the focal point and holding the thought and form for this set.
3. Add Some Speed – just enough to wake up your neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems. Choose some short distance repeats, a series of 25s or 50s and pick up the pace. Keep the focus from the second set and allow yourself recovery time between each repeat.
4. Warm Down and Reflect– round out your first swim back with an easy relaxed warm down. Use this time to congratulate yourself and to reflect on the swim. What went really well today? What can you improve? and….When will you be back for the next swim?
Thanks coach Dinah! We always love your insight.
2016 Summer Open Water Swimming Opportunities in SW PA
Here is information for the local open water swims in our area of southwestern PA and southeastern Ohio. Be sure to put these on your calendar and note what the requirements & costs are.
The first opportunity is at Keystone State Park with a series of four monthly swims by No Boundaries Fitness. Each swim day has two start times, 10AM & 11AM. Show up for the first, or the second or for both. Safety kayaks will be present.
The second opportunity is weekly Monday night swims at Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park. These are set up by Joella Baker of Get Fit Families. In addition to the ‘open house’ swim setup, she has several open water races on her calendar as well. Joella’s swims have become something I look forward to every summer. Whether you swim 200 yards or 2 miles, it’s so gorgeous to swim in the setting sun on the lake with the safety of a marked course and plenty of kayaks. Usually after I swim I’ll hop in a boat to do some coaching as well.
This summer I’ll be doing some mini open water clinics in conjunction with her swims as well. If you’d like to be notified of those events, please take a moment to fill out this contact form.
Fresh Freestyle: 99 Practices for Triathletes & Swimmers
Looking for more practice ideas? Pre-order my book of 99 Swim Practices for Swimmers & Triathletes. Fresh Freestyle, a refreshing way to approach your freestyle practice. Fresh Freestyle is perfect for new swimmers, fitness swimmers and triathletes. This collection of progressive technique based practices will have you swimming with focus, ease, confidence and speed.
Now taking pre-orders at a discount, with shipping expected by May 31st, 2016
Whether you are looking to swim a sprint distance or an Iron distance triathlon, having a few “goto” 1000 meter or 1000 yard freestyle workouts will help keep you from getting into a rut when training. For the long course triathletes, do these 1000 meter/yard sets 2 or even 3 times through to cover the distance needed in your training.
Creating a Mini-Project Accelerates Your Progress
You can use these sets to create mini projects or tasks to challenge yourself. It is a great way to stay engaged with your swimming and take control over your own training plan.
For example, a 1000 yd improvement project may look like a sequence of 3 sessions cycled through for 3-6 rounds before retesting. You can use these 1000 meter/ yard sets as the main set, add a 500yd tuneup or warmup to swim exactly 1500m (a swimmers mile). If you are swimming in a yard pool, just add on a 150 yard cool-down for an imperial version of the swimmers mile (1650 yards)
If you are looking for a main set that’s longer, such as 2000 or 3000 yards or meters, you can repeat the main set, or combine two of these into one practice.
Suppose you’re looking for 2000yd main sets, you could take these three suggestions below, each at 1000 meters/yards and to them in any of 3 combinations (1 & 2, 2 & 3, 1 & 3). Rotate through these combos for a unique set of 3 main sets, each having a set that you do twice before taking a break from it. There are a lot of ways to customize this practice idea.
Here are sample 1000 meter practices sets for you to play with
Pre-project test set: favorite warmup, 1000yd TT with splits & stroke counts, cooldown
Swim #1: 5 x 200
Swim #2: 10 x 100
Swim #3: 5 sets of 4×50
For each of these swims you can choose some element to improve like…consistent SPL across all sets, or consistent tempo (use a tempo trainer). When you gain or if you already have good control, manipulate a variable…like 5 x 200 swimming the first 50 at one SPL, the next 100 at SPL + 1 and the last 50 at SPL + 2. This should result in a build within each 200.
Vary the rest intervals to create a bit of variety. Since the 200s are more aerobic, keep the RI short in that practice. Since the 50s *can* be anaerobic, maybe choose to swim descending 50s with 30 sec rest, rest 2 minutes and repeat that 4 more times.
Then you cycle back to the 5 x 200 set and have some comparison…choose 1 metric to try and improve.
After 3 cycles of this…whether you swim every day, every other day or 2 times a week…you go back to your 1000yd TT and by that time you should KNOW before you swim it that you’ve improved based on metrics from the previous sets.
Yesterday this interesting article in the Washington post discussed a study linking a decreased risk of falling to the activity of swimming. Men over 70 who had fewer falls also swam more than their counterparts. While the study does not identify a causal link, I have a few ideas that I think are worth sharing.
Swimming may help improve balance and neuromuscular response, for additional reasons that are not discussed in this article.
The horizontal orientation of swimming challenges the cerebellum & vestibular system in a different orientation than on land…without the risk of injury. Much like a baby learning to walk by falling, catching itself, trying again and again until it “learns” how to balance, a human body in the water is always falling towards gravity…without the impact.
Every time the body rotates or changes its orientation there is an up/down shifting of the body in the water due to gravity…much like the body is “falling”. But as soon as buoyancy equilibrium is found, the body returns to neutral buoyancy.
During these “falling” episodes, humans respond by kicking or flailing or sculling or lifting the head…they are in built reflexes. Overcoming those reflexes forces the vestibular system to deal with a new normal…an new sense of orientation.
Whether a swimmer realizes it or not, swim time is “play time” for the brain and new pathways are be established. Like a baby learning to walk.
A sense of “falling forward” when swimmers get to the positions that are better swimming positions, horizontally balanced head, shoulders & hips, is due to the vestibular system & cerebellum being used to a much more vertical orientation.
If this sounds like you, try this curious experiment. Lay flat on a bed and let your chin be off the edge so you are looking at the floor…do you experience any vertigo? And if you do so then look right and look left a bit…how does that feel? This is the position you should be in ideally in the water…body horizontal, head looking down & aligned cervical spine.