Triathon Swimming – What can Tuna fish teach efficient swimming technique?

I just got back from a quick 5 day trip to San Francisco Bay visiting a friend and 2nd cousin.  My cousin Steve is having a great start to his cyclocross season (they just started their CX season out there) and podiumed in his age group, 45+.  I hope that some of those genetics found their way to my legs!

While I was there, we took a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  If you love the ocean, you really need to make this a destination someday. It’s on the site of a former sardine cannery right on the pacific ocean. In fact, it’s so close to the ocean that the aquarium pumps in water from the bay as part of it’s exhibits. I learned something really amazing about Tuna and similar fish during the Aquarium Visit.  Tuna use a form of propulsion called thunniform swimming.  In this type of swimming, the propulsion comes mainly from the tail and very little movement occurs from the fish’s body.  As a result, the area just in front of the tail fin has a unique streamlined shape specialized for side to side movement!  A small ridge pointed to each side allows the part of the tail that articulates to move left & right while slipping through the water….leaving the large crescent shaped tail fin to propel the fish forward.

Look carefully at this video…it’s short, but notice the narrowing of the body immediately in front of the crescent shaped tail. If you look closely, you’ll see the horizontal ridges in this narrowest part that I’m talking about!

If reducing drag is so important for tuna, which are naturally designed to swim, how much more important is it for us lanky humans…with dangling arms & legs to work on reducing drag as well?  This made me think about importantit is for us as humans can improve our swimming by spending most of our time focusing on drag reduction.

The problem is that frequently our brain tells us things that aren’t true about what our body is doing in the water.  We are not designed to live, breath and swim underneath the water and therefore GOOD swimming feels very unnatural to us…our brain simply doesn’t know what it should feel like.  As a result we tend to learn one way and that way sticks.  The sensation that we are working hard feels “right” to us. 

Learning to reduce drag immediately makes swimming feel like less work and our brain tells us that we must be doing something wrong…so as a natural tendency, most of the time we actually convince ourselves that what we are doing is wrong…and we revert back to what felt like we were working hard.  After all if it feels hard, it must mean we are building strength and power.

We need to be willing to step back and look at what is really happening under the water and what allows us to slip easily forward.  If you feel yourself pushing hard against the water, something is probably not right.  Post a link to your swim video in the comments and i’ll take a look at it for you!