Want to be faster? Let's talk EFFICIENT vs. EFFECTIVE...

OK, let's float a controversial idea which runs distinctly against the status quo of swimming "fact".

Here's a very efficient road car (bear with us here this is about swimming):

It's a Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI, reaching 62mph (100kph) in 12.9 seconds with a fuel efficiency of 76.3mpg (3.7L/100km) on the combined European cycle.

All very respectable.

On the other hand, here's a Formula 1 car, a 2018 Ferrari SF71H in fact:

Top speed 240mph (390 kph). 0 to 62mph (100kph) in around 2 seconds. Super fast, super sculpted and streamlined. An awesome machine.

Now here's the thing, the fuel efficiency of this performance machine is a completely lousy 7mpg (33L/100km). Yes that's nearly 10 times worse than our VW Polo (and the car is less than half the weight)!

Ferrari haven't wasted any efficiency - just like an elite swimmer, the drag of this car is as low as it can be to get the job done.

And the clever engineers at Ferrari could easily make this car more efficient but the result is that it would immediately be slower (defeating its purpose). It would be less effective at covering ground quickly.

Here at Swim Smooth we believe "EFFECTIVE" is a good word for most swimmers to focus on. Rather than focusing solely on becoming more efficient, instead try thinking "I need to be a more effective swimmer". You'll swim with much more more purpose as a result.

Unfortunately the nature of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics means that the easiest way to be more efficient is to just go slowly. So the danger with chasing efficiency to the nth degree if that we just end up being slow.

We're not suggesting thrashing around like a mad thing and wasting energy unnecessarily. Instead we're looking to develop an effective stroke working with the water to move you forwards quickly over longer distances.

Want to be fast? Try thinking EFFECTIVE...

Swim Smooth!


Oliver K said...

Indeed a very important distinction.

I am not aware of any other sport where people got that idea of "saving energy". If you go to the gym, you want to *spend* energy (and that's a good thing!).

Part of the problem here are the variations on that idea of "effortless swimming". Taking to the extreme, the idea is the less you move, the faster you are -- and finally you just do the magic arm motion, the magic hand entry, and WHOOOW, you go off like a rocket (BAAANG, you unfortunately smashed thus into the wall ;-)).

As an antidote, I actually think it can be useful to think from time to time of SPENDING AS MUCH ENERGY AS POSSIBLE.

Among other things, if you have competitive interests, then at the end what counts is how fast you did it, not how much energy you saved. And if you spend 10x the energy to get 0.1% faster, and that made you win -- there you go!

Another issue might be, that people when they get older are no longer used to the feeling of the heart pumping, and think that's a dangerous thing, especially in the water.

And sure there's the "triathlon equation", where for this sport swimming is typically placed first, which creates some daunting prospect. But that doesn't need to apply to your training. And the muscles etc. are different.

Paul said...

I don't think this is news. Most triathletes will admit that their competitive stroke is poor. They know that they can swim and from start to finish the swim is pure energy expenditure. I am sure that many can swim with grace and rhythm in open water or the pool if asked to do so. However in competition their swim efficiency takes a poor second place. Swim Smooth's beginners and improvers are learning so a time will come when they think can I do what I have learned a bit faster. I would not introduce energy thinking until reaching advanced swimming.

Oliver K said...

On the comment by Paul:
The statement on "Most triathletes" needs some restriction. Depends on where to look for them. From my observations there is this type of young guy, typically in his 20s or 30s, training like made, and here it applies that "from start to finish the swim is pure energy expenditure". I would add that there seems to be a specific, hm, stiffness to their swimming. Very very eager, but missing the "relaxed speed".

But perhaps especially amongst the older triathletes, I don't see much of that. Quite a few "bambinos" amongst the late starters. And then there are the believers in TI and these ideas ("swim like Popov" -- except for the speed, the kick, the flexibility, talent, training volume etc.). That is still quite influential (seems to gain track recently in Germany). I know such guys from the local pool. Concerning running and cycling, effort is fine, but with swimming, there is a strong hesitation, only years of preparation might allow you to finally put some effort into it; these ideas seem quite strong.

A variation on that are the "early vertical forearm" experts, who also seem to believe that, say a late starter, age 50 or above, should first spend years on preparing to scratch the surface with the elbow.

Unknown said...

A common element with the VW and Ferrari is the aerodynamics. But the type needed for one may not aid the other. If the VW was designed to carry one person more effectively at road rather race speeds, would it have the same aero features as the ferrari, and vice versa?

We know that on bikes the aero position and also deep rim wheels have aero advantages but they only become effective above a certain speed.

What does this mean in the water? If you are a typical male with legs that sink more than the typical female? A swimmer with either great upper body or conversely lower body strength? Broad shoulders vs narrow? Is there a speed where the Hydrodynamic drag is no longer a concern, and that above that you just need more grunt?

Richard Stienstra said...

"Want to be fast? Try thinking EFFECTIVE..."

Just finished session 171 redmist endurance. A 5k session, first set 4 x 400m at CSS + 5
How can you swim effective at a "slow" speed? I had to withhold myself and by doing so I picked up some old habits, dropped elbows, over gliding etc.
Which is neither efficient nor effective!
Do you have a suggestion to prevent this?

Lawrence Stubbs said...

I am very excited about using new words to better help swimmers understand how to swim faster for longer, so thanks Paul and Adam for going down the path. If you don’t mind I'll add a few of my supporting thoughts.

Effectiveness in its truest sense, i.e. the degree to which something is achieved, is such a useful term in swimming. Using Paul and Adam's car example, we could ask how effective are the tyres in transmitting the loads from the car's engine to the road? For a swimmer this is analogous to how effective is someone's catch in transferring the load from the shoulders to the water? It is easy to describe what a good catch looks like, and it's easy to show people what they need to change to improve their catch, and we can measure the results of changes on pool deck by measuring things such as their swimming speed. It's impossible to do this on pool deck using efficiency, in its truest sense that is, as we have no way to measure the useful power output or the power input!

In my view we should use effectiveness whenever we are dealing with change. If the swimmers goal is to increase speed over a certain distance, and for most this is the primary goal, we establish something we can measure - speed. Using the car analogy again - put the foot on the accelerator in any gear and the car will increase speed. If the car has a five speed gearbox there are five possible gearing solutions to moving the car, and that doesn't include the many different engine revolution combinations, but which is most effective? If the goal is to do this as fast as possible the gear chosen and the revolutions made on the engine may not necessarily be the most efficient way to burn fuel and transfer energy, and may even damage the engine, but we can see the car move forward and we can measure it. Playing around with gear combinations and engine revolutions allows us to find the most effective way to get the car from A to B. The same can be said for swimming, changing Stroke length and rates, modifying forearm positions and raft of other parameters can all affect how fast the swimmer moves, hence we can determine what configuration is more effective for that swimmer over the distance chosen. I'll leave discussion regarding efficiency to those who have access to MAD systems and Oxygen monitors.

Paul said...

Perhaps I muddied the water a little by mentioning 'triathletes'. Yes, the distance in question needs to considered. Swimmers like Popov, Van Hazel and Phelps are rightly lauded for ability and technique over comparatively short distances in the pool. The 5K 'red mist' swimmer above cannot maintain his efficiency and finds his stroke breaks up and I would guess that would happen with also with the swimmers mentioned. The whole point of endurance training even in the pool is to learn to hold on to the best features of your stroke for as long as possible. Some elites claim to take no breaths or only one breath for a 50m sprint. Obviously that cannot be maintained the longer the distance and that would probably be the first feature to be surrendered. Most elite swimmers know their weaknesses and that tends to determine the distance over which they compete.

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