SIR 6: Swimming a 1500 like cod

Fish in nature have a burst of speed they coast. Should we do the same?

For most of my coaching career I’ve followed a simple logic: In every stroke except for breaststroke, gliding = slowing down. That makes perfect sense to me and I’ve always taught my swimmers to eliminate gaps in propulsion so that they are always getting maximum forward motion, but now that I’ve come across this study I’m asking myself a few questions. Before I get to my questions, here’s the study:

Gait transition in swimming

Here’s one of my major questions: is a no-glide philosophy only for sprint races? I can see how that argument could be made from an energy perspective ie. races that last longer require energy to last for a longer period if time. Surely this doesn’t mean we can resort to catch-up stroke however as catch-up stroke not only has gaps in propulsion, it is also inefficient by encouraging swimmer to be more flat in the water.

I have so many more questions like: “How is the index of coordination affected?”, but I shall hold them.

Here’s an interesting excerpt:

Burst-and-coast swimming behavior is quite common in nature. It consists of cyclic burst of swimming movements followed by gliding phase in which the body is not producing thrust. This surprising strategy of propulsion is observed in fishes such as cod and saithe and was shown to be actually energetically cheaper than steady swimming at the same average velocity

What do you think? Should we also begin bursting and coasting?

SIR 5: What does perfect technique look like?

An invention to improve technique

If you’ve ever tried making technique corrections to an already efficient swimmer then you know how quickly advice can get subjective! We start saying things like “deeper catch” and “higher recovery”, but does anybody really know how much deeper or exactly how much higher?

Even if a coach were to somehow know the exact depth for the perfect freestyle catch, they have to communicate that to swimmer who has to then perfectly translate the words into actions. Even then questions remain: What should it look like? What should it feel like?

We are essentially aiming in the general direction of a target with nothing to indicate to us that we have hit a bullseye.

Recently I came across a patent application that you might be interested in. It’s called Apparatus and method for improving swimmer performance, but all I could think as I read through it was that this is an attempt to not only say where the bullseye is, but also how far we are from it. Here’s the abstract:

The present disclosure describes some embodiments of an apparatus including a measurement panel to enable generation of a measurement related to one or more data points associated with a swimmer's stroke. The disclosure also describes an embodiment of a method including processing one or more images associated with a plurality of model swimmers to obtain information related to at least two structural data points related to a swimming stroke having a catch phase, processing one or more images associated with a target swimmer to obtain information related to the at least two structural data points associated with a target swimmer's catch phase, and generating one or more recommendations to change the catch phase of the target swimmer to bring the catch phase of the target swimmer closer to the model swimmer's catch phase.


Definitely an interesting concept. For photos and more visit: Apparatus and method for improving swimmer performance

SIR 4: The Pacing Secrets of Finalists

For all of my swimming career I heard advice like “go out fast and hold on” and so it’s nice to see real numbers and results to back up recommended pacing strategies

Goal

The goal of this study was to answer the following questions:

  1. In international swimming competitions (think 50m pool), how does the pacing of each lap affect the final race time.

  2. How do finalists pace their races and is that different from the way non-finalists pace?

  3. How much change is needed (and the nature of that change) for a swimmer to place better or possibly earn a medal


Analysis of Lap Times in International Swimming Competitions


Noteworthy

  • The researchers found that in races lasting less than 60 seconds (100s and 50s )the best strategy is to start the race at 100%, but in 200s & 400s the best strategy is to start fast and fallback to an even pacing strategy. If I am reading this right then "the start" is referencing the entire first part of the race and not just the dive. Does this really mean that the swimmer who goes a 51 in the 100 free should go out sprinting for the first 20 or so meters?

  • A few interesting patterns emerged: (1) Of the 16 swimmers that advanced they all had a similar pacing pattern, (2) in the 100m free the winners had a faster final lap than the others and (3) the winners of the 200 & 400 free held the lead throughout the duration of the race.

  • In the 100, the lap that had the most bearing on the final time was the last lap/half of the race and in the 200 & 400 the determining lap was the 2nd and 3rd 50. With that knowledge it makes sense for coaches to focus on improving those laps for greater improvement.

  • In most events male and female lap time patterns were quite similar except in the 100m free. The winners of the men's 100 free had a slower first lap than the silver medalist, but less of a time drop off and in the women's 100m free the winners were faster than their competitors in both laps.

  • By evaluating all of these performances it seems that less successful swimmers need to prioritize fitness and technique over pacing strategy.

  • So what does it take to improve? Well if you're talking about improving from heats to finals then there needs to be a time improvement of ~1% and another 0.4% to reach the medal podium. To achieve that improvement it is recommended that swimmers target the laps that have the strongest relationship with the final time and do so without disrupting the overall pattern of racing.


So it would seem that the ideal racing/pacing strategy for an elite 100m freestyler is to sprint the first portion of the race and maintain the speed in the final lap while mid distance swimmers should aim to maintain the lead for whole race.

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