The Importance Of Technique And Timing

The Importance Of Technique And Timing

The Importance Of Technique And Timing

Courtesy of WOWSA. Olympic 10K Marathon Swim video courtesy of the Olympic Channel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. USA Swimming National Open Water Championships video courtesy of The Athlete Village, Long Beach, California.

The physics of movement through the water is a fascinating topic.

Dolphins, whales, sharks and fish have evolved over the eons to specific shapes and lengths with distinct biological characteristics to optimize their existence in the ocean. In contrast, humans are dryland mammals and are, frankly, a poorly evolved species for in-water propulsion other than our innate intelligence and relative stamina.

Unlike dolphins or fish, human have a neck, relatively small feet, and a spine that does not run the length of their bodies.

So when a human swims freestyle, we turn our heads sideways left and right, and sometimes forward or diagonally to breathe. We kick our legs up and down, mixed in with frequent leg kicks in asymmetrical diagonal directions. And we move our arms around and around as our torso shift to accommodate these three axes:

* Head moves left + right
* Legs move up + down
* Arms rotate in asymmetrical circles

Humans, unlike the natural denizens of the world’s oceans, use our arms to propel ourselves through the water. This is our power, the force that help us propel ourselves (relatively) forward. Of course, there is a natural drag force due to the water resistance and inefficiency of our suboptimally streamlined movements. For dolphins and fish, these drag forces are minimized, largely due to their evolved shapes and biology.

As our hands and arms enter the water and pull backwards towards our hips, the power generated enables us to move forward. Great open water swimmers like Ferry Weertman have a tremendous power in their stroke because their bodies, limbs and head are as streamlined as possible in the water at the same time they are pushing back as much water as possible.

While the upper body provides power as we move through the water, our lower body provides propulsion. The greater the flexion in our ankles and knees enables a greater range of motion which gives us a greater propulsion through the water as we move our legs up and down. If we can hyperextend our knees and ankles, then there is greater propulsion through the water.

But if our kick is lazy and slow, or our knees bend too much, we lose – or significantly reduce – the degree of propulsion.

In addition to utilizing the proper technique of our swimming arm stroke, leg kick, and torso and head rotation, the timing of all these movements must be optimized. The fluidity of motion of these three axes (left + right, up + down, around + around) has a significant impact on our overall speed. This is what we can practice best in a pool when we try to maximize our speed at various distances.

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Steven Munatones