Telling Swingers And Smooths Apart

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If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while, you'll know that one of the unique things about our coaching philosophy is that we recognise two 'ideal' types of stroke - The Swinger and The Smooth. In this post we're going to revisit this concept because sometimes there's a little confusion about telling them apart - especially amongst coaches watching swimmers from the pool deck:

The Smooth

The long smooth stroke of The Smooth is used by swimming greats such as Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps, and is aspired to by swimmers and coaches alike. Here's the classical smooth stroke demonstrated by our own Jono Van Hazel:

Notice how Jono uses a high elbow arm recovery over the water with the hand close to the surface. This looks very elegant indeed but not all smooths do this, many choose to use a slightly straighter arm, especially if they are doing a lot of swimming in open water.

Here's Carolyn - very much a Smooth - and one of the top swimmers in our squads in Perth:

Carolyn's using a straighter arm recovery - but that doesn't make her a Swinger! She still has the rhythm and range of a Smooth but simply chooses to open the arm out a little straighter than Jono.

To compare, here's classic Swinger Mel Benson, an elite open water swimmer from Perth:

Note the shorter punchier style of stroke with the arms swinging quickly around the side. This style is used by many elite swimmers (e.g. David Davies, Laure Manadou, Ryan Cochrane) and most elite triathletes to great effect (e.g. the all-conquering Brownlee Brothers).

Swingers tend to use a straighter arm but the straightness varies quite a bit, from almost straight (as if bowling a cricket ball) up to around 90 degrees. If you ask them why they do this, they normally reply "it just feels right".

So if some Smooths use a straighter arm and the occasional Swinger favours a bend at the elbow, how can you tell them apart? Fundamentally the difference between Swingers and Smooths isn't about arm recovery style, it's about the length of the stroke and the rate of the stroke (cadence). Smooths have a longer stroke with a slower stroke rate, whilst Swingers use a shorter stroke with a faster rhythm.

This is a little like the choice of gear when riding a bike - the Smooth chooses a bigger gear pushed at a lower cadence whilst the Swinger spins a smaller gear at a higher cadence. The Swinger takes more strokes than the Smooth but each stroke is at a lower effort.

When watching swimmers, use the following process to identify a Swinger or Smooth:

- First check they are swimming quickly, all Smooths and most Swingers are fast swimmers travelling at 1:30 /100m or faster (often a lot faster). If your swimmer is slower than this, they're much more likely to be one of the other Swim Types.

- Count their strokes per length. Typically a Smooth takes 32-40 strokes in a 50m pool (14-18 strokes in a 25m pool), meanwhile the Swinger takes 45-55 strokes in a 50m pool (21-26 or more in a 25m pool).

- Also take a look at their stroke rate (cadence), with experience you can judge this by eye but you might want to use a stroke rate stopwatch. A Smooth has a stroke rate in the range 60 to 75 strokes per minute whilst Swingers are in the range 70 to 100 strokes per minute.

Then for a little circumstantial evidence:

- Take a look at the arm recovery - even if your Smooth is using a straighter arm it should come a little more over the top than round the side like a Swinger.

- Finally observe the kick. Smooths nearly always favour a continuous 6-beat flutter kick whilst Swingers can use either a 6 beat or 2 beat kick (although a 2 beat is perhaps more common).

Swim Smooth!


zackme said...

I swim at around 55 spm and need 45 strokes per 50m. I wonder where I fit then. Although I have the impression to be Smooth. I have worked on a high elbow catch and longer strokes but I definitely can't reach and sustain <40 strokes per length. Don't know where to go from here. Swimming at 1:45 per 100m over a long distance

Jonas said...

I have another way of looking at the difference between swingers and smooths: during recovery, swingers put their arms much to the side (too much), smooths don't do that, even when they recover with a straighter arm. It is better not to swim with a swinger in the same line because you risk being hit in the face !

I agree the swinger style is the best for open water, especially against waves. But, sorry Swim Smooth, I know you like swingers, but their style is so ugly ...

Anonymous said...

Started reading and thought, yes, I'm a smooth. Going by the videos and descriptions I am. But then, similar to zackme, realised I do 44 strokes/100m, 52 strokes/min, and average about 1:44m/100m over longer distances so don't fit.

Oh, and I tend to fall naturally into a 4 beat kick!

I guess being 50 years old must come into it. My daughter tells me I can't be cool at 50, so maybe I can't be smooth either :)


Paul said...

Whilst we all appreciate the aesthetics of a nice stroke, in swimming there are no points awarded for style, only he or she who finishes first irrespective of how they look. Beauty is in the rhythm of the stroke, not in the high elbow necessarily.

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