Run An Experiment On Your Swimming: Do You Have High Drag Or Low Propulsion?

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The next time you swim try the test set below. The idea is to run an experiment to find what might be holding you back with your swimming - excessive drag or a lack of propulsion.

Some swimmers have lots of propulsion but also lots of drag, others have low drag but little propulsion whilst great swimmers have low drag AND great propulsion. Use this session to identify where you lie on this continuum and get started improving your stroke.

Great swimmers like Michael Phelps have low drag AND great propulsion.

Drag Vs. Propulsion

Swim the set below straight through. If you know your CSS pace per 50m, add 5 seconds to it and use that as your cycle time. So if your CSS is 2:00/100m (1:00 /50m) then set off each 1:05 aiming to get about 5 seconds rest between each swim.

Set 1: 8 x 50m with a pull buoy (no kicking)

Set 2: 8 x 50m normal freestyle

Set 3: 8 x 50m normal freestyle but with paddles (no pull buoy)

What you should do next depends on how things felt: If Set 1 felt easier than Set 2 then swim Set 4a below, otherwise swim Set 4b.

Set 4a: This suggests you have high drag in your stroke.

Swim 2 x 100m focusing on long straight legs with big toes tapping as they pass and eyes looking down.

Then 200 or 300m continuous freestyle maintaining this focus over a longer distance.

Set 4b: This suggests a low drag profile negatively affected by too much buoyancy at the rear from the pull buoy (the same would be the case when wearing a wetsuit).

Swim 2 x 100m thinking about pulling yourself along a rope and minimising your kicking effort.

Then 200 or 300m continuous freestyle maintaining this focus over a longer distance.

Then if set 3 felt easier than set 2, swim set 5a below, otherwise swim set 5b.

Set 5a: This suggests your catch may need some fine tuning and may be the cause of low sinking legs, i.e. pushing down on the water at the front of the stroke.

Swim 2 x 100m (no pull buoy) as 15m scull #1 then 85m freestyle focusing on tipping the finger-tips down at full reach to initiate the catch and avoid pressing down on the water.

Then 200 or 300m continuous freestyle maintaining this focus over a longer distance.

Set 5b: This suggests your catch and pull through is quite ineffective and you tend to pull through with a straight arm rather than bending at the elbow

2 x 100m (no pull buoy) as 15m Doggy Paddle drill then 85m freestyle focusing on bending the elbow like Becky and pressing the water backwards.

Then 200 or 300m continuous freestyle maintaining this focus over a longer distance.

Swim Smooth!


zackme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zackme said...

Whenever I try using a pull buoy (between ankles), I feel like my legs are dragging me hard, as if they were almost sinking at 45°. Is that normal, should I move it rather between the knees, thighs? I am rather tall and thin (187cm, 75kg), with long legs, and with aCSS of 55s/50m, feeling I am between overglider and smooth.

Nemo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nemo said...

I'm a little confused about what to do with the results from Step 1. It says "What you should do next depends on how things felt: If Set 1 felt easier than Set 2 then swim Set 4a below, otherwise swim Set 4b." But Set 2 is a normal freestyle swim. Did you mean If Set 1 felt easier than Set 3? Or maybe if Step 3 felt easier than Step 2?
Similarly, after Set 4 the instructions say "Then if part 3 felt easier than part 2, swim set 5a below, otherwise swim set 5b." But so far there seems to be only 2 parts not 3.

Adam Young said...

Hi Zackme - it'll give you the most lift if it's as high up in your crotch as it will go so go for that. Definitely try Set4a in the session!

Hi Nemo, yes sorry in that final sentence it should have said 'set' instead of 'part'. It's corrected in the post above.


Jonas said...

Hi, thanks for this great post. I'd like to try set 4a but I don't understand what "big toes tapping as they pass" means. Could you explain it with other words?

Blackdogdale said...

Jonas it means actually tapping your big toes on each other as your feet pass each other. Promotes a nice narrow streamlined kick rather than legs splaying increasing drag.

luke said...

hi adam and paul,

I made this video this week and was wondering about any feedback. specifically, would you recommend any of the paddles you use for me for technique training?

following your blog for quite some time I've been working on adopting a 2 beat kick and a punchy stroke/high stroke rate (even though my recovery is not at all swinger style yet...).

feel like underperforming in open water compared to the pool...very happy about any advice THANKS!!!

Luke said...

btw. the only (literally) technique training I do is watching your video of melissa benson over and over again :-)

Luke said...

oh and a second btw.: I brought my CSS down from around 2:00 when I started swimming a little over 3 years ago to 1:22 today :-) with the exclusive help of swim smooth!!

the next things I thought about working on was using the agility paddles to get my "finish" of the stroke straight (pulling out to early I guess) and the freestyle paddles to help me with the crossover at entry... curious about what u say!!

Adam Young said...

Hi Luke,

Great stuff and excellent progress!

Yes the crossover with the left arm when breathing right... But the primary way to fix that is just to breathe bilaterally, which would help remove the crossover, help the left arm clear the water properly over the top (it has a tendency to drag through the water) and improve your catch with your left arm which has a tendency to pull through straight when breathing. You have plenty of stroke rate so should find bilateral relatively easy... :)

You also sometimes have a large scissor kick when breathing (again caused by the crossover):

My only other comment is you tend to snatch at the water hard at the end of the catch as your hand goes under the head. Try to keep this acceleration of the hand smooth - it's not easy and is all part of the timing of your stroke and feel for the water. If you watch yourself and Mel Benson side by side you will see how she does this incredibly smoothly.

What do you think happens in open water? The high stroke rate should help you... Do you think you veer off course? Again bilateral will help with that. :D

I hope that helps!


zackme said...

Rotation axis, a different topic: should one continuously swim rotating around the horizontal axis that goes through the head to the feet? Because when I swim, rotating with my hips and shoulders, it feels like I lean on my right hip (rotating around this axis: right hand-right shoulder- right hip) then moving onto the left hip (then rotating around the opposite left axis).
When I watch Jono van Hazel, it looks like he continuously rotates around his central axis, but then how do you rotate your hips if you don't lean on one of them?

Harry Dowdell said...

Did the Propulsion & Drag session this morning with my mixed bunch of open water and triathlon swimmers. So simple and so effective: Most could understand what the 3 test sets showed and worked through the following focussed sets with some very positive results. Yes, we have worked quite a lot on alignment and catch previously but during this session most seemed to 'get it'
So many thanks Paul for the blog

Adam Young said...

Hi Zackme, with yourself it's all about getting your body position high in the water:

From what you say at the moment you're sinking at the rear and that will cause that feeling of 'leaning' on the hip.

Harry, great work - thanks for posting!


Alias said...

Great post! I tried the workout today just now (a few weeks after pool squad training have stopped). I often reach for the equipment at squad sets instead of finding and correcting my flaws. 4a and 5a felt great! Will definitely keep focusing on these things.

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