IMAGINE being able to swim faster without working any harder, or even better, swim with less effort. Do you struggle to swim 100m freestyle in a 1:50 and wonder how you'll ever be able to swim a 1:30 without dying? Keep on reading to find out!
Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.
Being efficient in the water should be your number one goal, especially when you're training for a long distance swim and it's even more important if you are planning on doing a ride and run after. In triathlons you want to make sure you get out of the water with plenty of energy left for the other disciplines. And if you don't want to be last out of the water the number one thing to work on is your efficiency.
How do you know if you are an efficient swimmer? The best way to check this is to count how many strokes it takes you to swim one lap. This could be 25m or 50m, it doesn't matter as long as you compare your number of strokes over the same distance and in the same length pool.
By counting your number of strokes you check how much you get out of each stroke, the more distance you get out of each stroke, the more efficient you are.
The best way to do this is to swim 100m or 200m at a moderate/75% effort level and count your strokes each lap, don't do anything special; push off like you would usually do, kick like you would usually do and swim like you would usually do. Take the average number of strokes per lap and you'll have a pretty reliable score.
I like to count my strokes each time I start a stroke and make sure you count both arms, meaning one stroke is simply one stroke on one arm and the next stroke will be with your other arm, etc.
What is a good score? I believe that if you get down to 20 strokes in a 25m pool or 40 strokes in a 50m pool without kicking hard or pushing off the wall like crazy, you are getting pretty good!
So what if you've just counted your strokes for 25m and you've counted 36 strokes? First of all, don't stress! This is exciting! It means that by working on your technique you will be able to swim faster and easier.
The two elements that determine your efficiency is your resistance/drag you create when moving through the water and how much forward propulsion you get from each stroke. So let's see how you can improve this and become a more efficient swimmer.
1. Reduce resistance/drag
For most swimmers this comes down to their body position. If your legs are hanging down behind you this creates massive drag and a lot of forward propulsion created with your arms will be wasted by putting on the breaks with your legs.
Create a better body position by looking straight down the bottom of the pool and leaning forward on your chest. Your lungs are a big air bubble so by leaning forward on your chest you will feel your legs coming up higher behind you.
2. Increase the forward propulsion from your stroke
A good and efficient stroke starts with a good catch in the front of your stroke. Reality is that most swimmers miss the catch and only start pushing themselves forward halfway through their stroke, missing 50% of the potential forward propulsion!
To set yourself up for a powerful catch it's crucial to rotate your body slightly so you can stretch your arm out further, making yourself as long as possible. Start your catch by bending your elbow and pushing it out to the side and pointing your fingertips down. You should be creating about a 90 degree angle in your elbow and get the feeling of pulling your body over your hand, keeping your elbow out wide. You want to find the hardest way to push your hand back, feeling constant resistance on your hand until your arm is straight next to your body.
Both your body position and your catch are difficult to see for yourself while you're swimming. It might feel like you're doing the right thing, but are you really? The best way to check this is by asking someone to take an underwater video of you swimming. Swim at a good moderate/race pace to get a view of your real stroke, not the pretty version. If you're not sure if you're doing the right thing, feel free to send me the video and I'll have a quick look for you. Or if you are in the Cairns area we can set up a Video Analysis Session for a full in depth analysis of your stroke and key areas you can improve on. Click here for more info and to book.
If after reading all of this you're not yet convinced about the importance of efficiency, just make this quick calculation: If you reduce your number of strokes for 25m by 10 (say from 30 to 20 strokes per 25m) and you're training for an Ironman which includes a 3.8km swim, how many strokes are you saving yourself from doing on race day?