Let's Get Real - You're Not Ian Thorpe

If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while you'll know that the great Ian Thorpe is one of our favourite swimmers.

The Pride of Australia: The great Ian Thorpe
winning the 200m freestyle at the Athens Olympics
Here's a fascinating quote from Thorpie's autobiography This Is Me, where he talks about counting his strokes in a 50m pool:

I also aim to reduce the stroke count (during technique sessions). I've got it down to 24 per lap which is about as low as I want it to get. I could reduce it by another four strokes but the danger is that I'd get to the point where I'm gliding rather than swimming efficiently.

Ian's talking about deliberately taking fewer strokes per length during a technique set but simultaneously warning us about the dangers of gliding.

But here's the really interesting point: When racing, Ian actually took 30-32 strokes per 50m. From the quote above we know that's a full 10-12 strokes more than he could do if he wanted to. Here he is winning the 200m at the Athens Olympics (wearing the black suit):

So whilst Thorpie has an exceptionally long smooth stroke, it isn't anywhere near as long as he could make it if he wanted to. The right stroke length for him is a full 10-12 strokes more than his minimum!

From the underwater view you get a real impression of the power and positivity he's putting into his stroke:

If you have been watching swimmers like Thorpe and thinking that the secret to better swimming is to make your stroke as long as possible then sit up and take notice. Just like Ian, your optimal point of swimming when you are at your fastest and most effective is not your minimum stroke count, it's a place a little shorter when you have strong rhythm and purpose to your stroke.

One Secret Is The Kick - The Fins Test

Try swimming 50m normally and count your strokes. Now don a large pair of fins and swim 50m again. How many fewer strokes did you take? You'll be anywhere from 3 to 12 fewer!

Did you know that Ian could kick 100m (with a kickboard) in under 70 seconds? That's almost certainly faster than you could whilst wearing those large fins. Try it if you like!

So one of the reasons Ian's got such a long stroke is that his kick is super-powerful, way stronger than 99% of age group swimmers, even if they are wearing fins. Having size 17 feet makes buying shoes difficult but is epic when it comes to swimming!

But it's not just his kick of course... Are you 1.95m (6'5") tall? Do you have super long arms? Hands like paddles? Do you have the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast to stretch into extreme positions? Do you swim 12 times per week?

Only if you can answer yes to all those questions (and you can kick 100m without fins in 70 seconds) should you reasonably expect to match Thorpie and take 30-32 strokes per 50m.

Of course, the further you are away from having Ian Thorpe like attributes, the shorter your optimum stroke is going to be. That doesn't mean you can't swim very well yourself - far from it - but you need to swim at the optimal stroke length for yourself, which like Ian is significantly shorter than your minimum stroke count.

Swim Smooth!


Unknown said...

Absolutely love this!
I'm 4'10" and teeny feet, I can't change this and so have worked hard on increasing stroke rate to optimal for me with a 2 beat kick too and the improvements are incredible. Great help from my awesome Swim Smooth coach Jason Tait in Swindon UK. Really grateful for all his hard work.

Cyndy said...

Keep up the great work! Thanks for joining the Swim Smooth family. Cheers Cyndy

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