Do you feel like you can hold a reasonable pace over longer distances but when the coach says "Sprint!" you just can't go much faster no matter how hard you try? Don't worry, you're not alone! This is quite a common problem and it is actually telling you something interesting about your swimming and how to improve it.
Drag And Propulsion
To be a truly efficient swimmer you need two things:
1) Low drag so you slip through the water easily
2) Good propulsive technique so the effort you are putting in is pushing you forwards effectively
Elite swimmers have both of these elements in place in their stroke which is why they are so fast and efficient. But what happens if you are strong in one area and weak in the other? What are your swim-symptoms?
High Drag But Good Propulsion
The swimmer who has a low body position but relatively good propulsion can normally sprint quite well over short distances of 50 or 100m because the extra propulsive power helps lift their legs higher in the water. However at a more sustainable level of effort, their legs sink lower which increases drag dramatically. The result is a large drop off in speed over longer distances.
Low Drag But Poor Propulsion
From our Swim Types system, the two swimmers who have quite low drag but suffer from poor propulsion are the Kicktastic and the Overglider. The Kicktastic is brought high in the water by their strong kick but has poor arm propulsion, normally pressing down on the water during the catch:
The Overglider has worked hard on lowering their drag but by trying to add a pause-and-glide into their stroke has got into the habit of pushing the water forwards. This adds the pause into their stroke timing they believe is necessary to make their stroke more efficient but in doing so it has harmed their catch technique:
A Balanced Approach To Developing Your Stroke Technique
If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while you will know that we give equal importance to reducing your drag and increasing your propulsion. You need both in place in your stroke to be a truly fast and efficient swimmer and as we saw in the case of the Overglider above, focusing too much on one aspect can actually harm the other.
Work on both drag reduction and improving your propulsion all year round and you will be on the optimal pathway to improving your swimming.