The cost of technique issues

So how much do those technique issues in your stroke actually slow you down? An analysis of just how much those swim flaws affect your race.

| June 22, 2017 | TRAINING

Photo >Frank Wechsel

Introduction: The Cost

by Daniel Bullock

Following on from the last article about the straight arm push down being a really common issue among triathletes, this article will focus on what the cost of some swim mistakes might be. To me the cost of a swim fault is going to be a reduction in efficiency leading to a slower time, an increase in effort needed to overcome more drag and, very much linked to this, an unnecessary increase in heartrate.

If you started a bike ride with your brake pads rubbing, it would be foolhardy to continue since the fix is rapid, quite straightforward to administer and results in a much better ride. When I tell people the advantage of a modern wetsuit over not wearing one can be as much as 10 mins for the full distance, it is not a hard sell. It is believable, too, due to the instant improvement you recognise: you know you are higher in the water, you know your legs are no longer dragging behind and it all just gets a lot easier regardless of your swim ability. When I suggest that a wetsuit made in the last 18 months is going to be significantly better then something older, though, it gets a little harder to measure. Both feel better than the alternative of not wearing one, but is the extra money worth the new upgrade?

When you put on your aero helmet you know you are saving three to five minutes over 112 miles of cycling. Simon Smart from Drag to Zero tells me that the long narrow brake levers hanging off your drop handle bars are worth eight watts, which in turn is extra work unless you can hide them by investing in a TT cockpit. I even queried him on the notion that if, in water and moving so much slower than on land, is it still necessary to pay attention to such small details in the world of hydrodynamics. He assured me it is, due to the density of water.

Triathletes love their stats: how far, how high, how long. If we can put a number to it, then we know we are getting faster or slower, travelling further or for longer. It is harder to measure swim specific issues, but I am going to try in an effort to convince people that it is worth pursuing technical improvements. Unfortunately, the fixes are rarely rapid or straight forward to administer, but the resulting easier /faster swim should be worth the pursuit.

The following swim issues and their comparisons were not conducted by NASA in a wind tunnel or flume. The issues are basic swim faults I work on daily with people of all shapes and sizes. These are the most common themes that hold most swimmers back regardless of physique. The statistics were not conducted across every foot size/arm length, hand shape to get the most representative cross section of results. If your feet are a size 12 and point to the bottom of the pool, then they will drag more then a size 3 pointing to the bottom. If your hand size suggests you wear large gloves rather then borrowing your children’s, that also suggests different results. The actual results will vary in terms of much more drag being created, how much more speed is lost, or how much the heart rate is pushed up. They were also performed in an un-fatigued state. As you fatigue the inaccuracies exaggerate. I use a simple test for new swimmers when they come to see me for a consultation to illustrate this. Swim 50m, rest 10, swim 100m, rest 10, and swim 150m at a constant steady pace. There is not enough rest to recover, but as the distances build, fatigue builds.

Results can look like:

  • 50m, swum in 60secs and 28 strokes (for the second 25m length)
  • 100m – 2:10 and 30 strokes
  • 150m – 2:20 and 32 strokes (timing the last 4 lengths of the 6)

The overall idea is that there are certain issues that are costing you dearly in terms of speed and more effort which should be fixed in order to swim faster.

The following are the main culprits I work to help people overcome daily. We work in the water with drills, with dry land and with improved body awareness. Often movements are incorrect as they are unnecessarily too big and need to be restrained. It is rare anyone needs to be made stronger to perform these correct new movements or change the pathway of the hands and arms. Often the skill is in limiting a movement, the body control to make a leg kick smaller, along with an improved range of movement in order to point a foot away from the body or a shift in timing.