Fast swimming is determined by a number of factors – physiological, psychological, biomechanical, etc. A swimmer may be so gifted in one attribute (e.g. strength, lung function, pain tolerance) that it offsets his/her technique limitations. A swimmer with a high maximum oxygen uptake (75 ml/kg/min) or a high peak hand force (60 lbs) can have substantial technique limitations and still swim very fast.
Our research shows that faster swimmers have more effective technique than slower swimmers. However, our research also shows that even the fastest swimmers have limiting factors. If you copy the technique of an Olympian, you risk adopting their limiting factors as well as their positive technique elements.
A characteristic technique element of an Olympian may be obvious, but not necessarily helping him/her swim faster. It’s vital to differentiate between characteristic technique and effective technique, especially in Olympians.
Hand force is the single most important factor in swimming propulsion. Research shows that hand force is directly related to swimming speed – the greater your hand force, the faster you swim. Research also shows that faster swimmers generate more hand force than slower swimmers. While most swimmers have peak hand force values of less than 50 lbs (220 N), Olympians generate as much as 80 lbs (350 N). The arms account for about 80% of total propulsion and hand force accounts for about 80% of arm propulsion, so learning how to position your arms to generate maximum hand force throughout the stroke cycle is essential to swimming your fastest.
Most swimmers can increase hand force by increasing hand speed throughout the stroke cycle. Improving bilateral symmetry, minimizing wasted motion, and decreasing force losses will help to increase the average force on each stroke.
The arm can move into stronger and stronger positions at faster and faster speeds throughout the stroke cycle. Hand force peaks about halfway into the push phase (after the arm passes the shoulders) for freestyle, butterfly and backstroke. For a swimmer with effective technique, the force value on the push phase is typically twice as much as on the pull phase.
The entire stroke cycle is important. Most swimmers don’t take full advantage of the push phase because the arm exits prematurely. Maintaining the elbow below the surface can increase the force and time of the push. A swimmer who does not double the force from the pull to the push has a major technique limitation.
Three contributing factors to shoulder injuries are: overuse (excessive training distance), ineffective technique, and inadequate strength training. Any single factor can cause injury, but a combination is often responsible. A decrease in training distance, a change in technique to decrease stress on the shoulder, and strength training that targets muscular imbalances are all necessary to recover from a shoulder injury.
No. In freestyle, the torso rotates about the polar axis (a reference axis through the center of the body from head to feet). Summation of forces requires that successive body segments (e.g. torso, upper arm, lower arm, hand) rotate in the same direction (as in throwing). The freestyle arm motion is perpendicular to the torso rotation and the hand force cannot be increased by the force of hip rotation. Although the timing of the push phase in freestyle is usually simultaneous with torso rotation, rotating the hips harder or faster will not increase hand force. Exaggerated torso rotation can even produce counterproductive motions.
It is appropriate to glide when the body is moving faster than swimming speed. For example, when the body enters the water after a start or leaves the wall after a turn, it is moving faster than swimming speed and gliding is appropriate. There is one other time when gliding may be appropriate. During breaststroke, for a fraction of a second after the kick, the body may be moving faster than swimming speed. When this is the case, it is counterproductive to immediately begin the arm motion.
No. Gliding in freestyle (usually associated with “catch-up stroke”) is counterproductive. During a glide phase, there is no propulsion from either hand. The body slows down and requires considerable energy to speed up. The energy cost of speeding up on every stroke is greater than maintaining a relatively constant speed. Gliding in freestyle is biomechanically ineffective, physiologically inefficient, and anatomically stressful.
Reducing the body cross-section (the area perpendicular to the direction of body motion) is the most important factor in swimming resistance. Keeping the hips and legs directly behind the shoulders minimizes the cross-section.
Counting strokes is the easiest way t