18 January 2013

Swim stroke rate - who is right?

I had a moment in the pool today; an epiphany, if you will.  Maybe epiphany is too strong a word (according to Wikipedia it is a relatively rare occurrence, generally following a process of significant thought about a problem... A leap of understanding).  Maybe trying to get across the pool with the fewest number of strokes is NOT the most efficient way for me to swim.

Let me back up.  I learned to swim properly as an adult and I operated under the assumption that fewer strokes = faster/better/more efficient swim.  This is why I beat the "catch up drill" into the ground at every opportunity.  I was going to get across that pool in 16 strokes if it killed me, but I was always a little disappointed to see that my stroke rate tended to be upwards of 20.  I had to really try to get it down to 16.

Today I was watching a girl in the lane next to me swim.  She was swimming at a high cadence, definitely taking more than 16 strokes per pool length, and she was hauling.  She had good form as well, high elbows, and her catch looked great (I am not an expert, but you didn't have to be super smart to see that she was grabbing the water efficiently).  So I started to try to grab the water like she was and instead of trying to lengthen my stroke, I focused on swimming with a turnover that felt more natural.  I wasn't timing myself to know for sure, but I certainly felt like I was moving faster through the water with less of an effort.

About a month ago I measured my ape index - the difference between your arm length and your height - and I'm about a -2 (my armspan is two inches smaller than my height).  According to the Feel for the Water website, those with a 0 or negative ape index are very unlikely to have much luck in having long strokes in the pool be very efficient.  Faster turnover is the way to go for those of us with short arms.  And then tonight I did a little bit more reading on swim stroke (online reading, so take this with a grain of salt).  The Swim Smooth website claims that swimmers are realizing an overly-long stroke can be less efficient because it introduces dead spots and pauses into your freestyle.  Those pauses are exactly what I was feeling when I was trying to stretch out my stroke.  And while there is a danger of having too high a stroke rate (too much windmilling, not enough glide), I think that increasing my turnover just a bit in the pool, like I was doing today, will put me on the path to a happy medium.  This is what is so fun about swimming, there are so many little pieces to pay attention to and small changes and tweaks that can end up making a big difference.  I'm curious, especially from you swimmers, on what people think about their swim stroke and how they've improved it.     


Melissa said...

A swimming post! There is definitely a balance between too much gliding and too fast turn-over. My ape-index is +3. I'm 5'9 and wing span of 6". To me it's not so much about turnover as it is about rhythm. I get into a rhythm with my stroke and that's when I know I'm killing it. There are definitely a lot of triathletes who have that 'dead-time' before they start the catch. Just hanging out there, up in front.

James Ford said...

I used to work on trying to cut my swim stroke down, but I did not see a lot of gains by cutting 2 strokes off, so I quit worrying about it and focused on my head placement, my reach and pull and getting my elbows high out of the water!

Allison said...

I think it's just like running - you have to find the form that works for you. It's that right balance of turnover and reach. You don't want to be too choppy or too long. Easy, right? :)