Still Trying To Glide? Check Out These Two Images

Who are the greatest female and male swimmers of all time? Undoubtably Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps with 28 Olympic and 42 World Championship gold medals between them!

Check out these two underwater images of them at the same point in their freestyle strokes. They are both finishing one stroke at the rear and visibly starting to tip the fingertips downwards to start the next stroke at the front:

Why is that significant? Because in a single image for each, we can see that neither of these GOAT swimmers is gliding - there is no perceptible pause between one stroke finishing and the next starting. Both Katie and Michael are smoothly transitioning from one stroke to the next down the lap.

Despite our best efforts, there are (still!) many swimming coaches and coaching programs on the internet teaching swimmers to pause-and-glide when they swim. This is a massive mistake as water is 800 times more dense than air and by pausing in your stroke you instantly decelerate before having to reaccelerate on the next stroke. An incredibly inefficient and ineffective way to swim!

When you watch elite swimmers on TV they often look like they are gliding forwards through the water but this is an optical illusion brought about by the length of their strokes. The fact is they achieve that length through good streamlining and a great catch and pull technique, not by gliding.

You should follow the same philosophy in your own swimming, work on your stroke technique by improving your body position, becoming more streamlined and developing a good propulsion technique - transitioning smoothly and continuously from one stroke to the next.

Whether you are coached or self-taught, by actively trying to glide you are artificially lengthening the stroke - putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

Also see our classic posts:

Curing The Overglider:

Case Study: Scott The Extreme Overglider 5 Years On:

Swim Smooth Analysis: 2013 Barcelona World Championships:

Swim Smooth!


Unknown said...

Can’t argue: no pause in the movement of the limbs throughout a stroke cycle.

However, what deines a “glide”?

Whilst struggling to improve my own body alignment, timing and propulsion, I have been trying to make sure I “feel a glide”.
That is, whilst I am tipping the fingers and setting up the catch, I’m trying to remove all tendency to put effort and propulsion into that front end of the stroke, until I get the hand and forearm into reasonable driving position (note other arm is in recovery). The result is that I feel a pause in my “effort”.

I think my tendency, particularly when my cadence lifts, is to rush and work the front end too hard, body alignment suffers, and despite working a lot harder, I don’t go much faster!
If using 6 beat kick, then my timing is close to:
1. Hand driving forward as other is in strongest propulsive phase;
2. Starting catch, tipping fingers and developing EVF;
3. Catch pretty much completed and smoothly developing drive, and
1. Back into most propulsive phase driving forearm and hand back.

In doing this, during counts of 2 and part of 3, I have been trying to feel a relaxed moment in my stroke; a definite “glide”.

So, am I trying to do the right thing here or not? Anybody else consider a “pause” and “glide” to be different?

Response from somebody who can actually swim would be nice :-; (I.e. from Swim Smooth)

Swimsmart said...

less or no glide in sprints but certainly glide in longer races like 1650

Adam Young said...

Hi Unknown,

What sort of speed are you swimming? It sounds from this:

I think my tendency, particularly when my cadence lifts, is to rush and work the front end too hard, body alignment suffers, and despite working a lot harder, I don’t go much faster!

Like you have a crossover in your stroke (at all speeds) and this is certainly going to feel worse if you try and lift your tempo. Any video of your stroke to see?

As for the definition of glide, check out:

If you are actively engaging the catch then we wouldn't call that glide - but pausing, and creating a period without propulsion - would be.

I hope that helps,


Adam Young said...

Hi Swimmart,

Actually if you study elite swimmer race footage you will see the opposite is true. Because swimmers can sustain a powerful leg kick over shorter distances they can use this to push through a slight gap between strokes. This tends to peak around 200m race distance, where we see the longest strokes (actually this was Phelp's best freestyle distance). As race distances increase, strokes get slightly shorter and stroke rates increase because the swimmer cannot sustain a powerful kick.

Hope that clarifies!


Unknown said...

Hi Adam,
I have video footage and no crossover - but at that time hand too deep and straightish, and bit “stuck at back of stroke. Hopefully I have improved since then (from 60s to 56s per 50m length). I still feel embarrassingly slow. Tempo around 58 - but working on lifting it. Can achieve 39 strokes per l50 ength but around 44 at CSS pace.

In the blog page there is an image of Mr Smooth from below, lead arm extended, and he other has just left the water and is in recovery. It seems to me that there cannot be any propulsion from the arms at this moment. And, there cannot ( should not be?) until after the catch has finished and a “grip”on the water has been established. At that point there is enough of the hand/forearm at an angle to the direction of motion to warrant exerting effort (any earlier and force is not in enough of backward direction to be efficient. Through this catch there is no propulsion - hence the “glide”. Even look at Mr Smooth there is a period where arm is extended developing catch when other arm is out of the water. The bubbles you can see on hand, arm entry indicate that during the catch the arm is effectively moving at speed of water until propulsion starts and bubbles left in front. With better flexibility I guess the catch can be established earlier - hence less glide, my limited flexibility has my catch finishing just around the top of my head. I rigged out camera vertically above me and at side streaming to a monitor so I could get the feel of the best catch movement i can achieve out of the water - so that in the water I can shut my eyes and try to replicate.

Like I said, I get there is no pause in movement - but still seems to me that there is a break in propulsion during the catch.

I know you guys are the experts - and I wished I lived in Perth. Just mightily frustrating bashing away making such marginal improvements when it seems anybody with half decent technique would be swimming at least 10s per 50m faster!

Mush appreciated your response, thanks

PS I have your Book, catch masterclass, tempo trainer, fins, finis paddles, snorkel - the works. Swim everyday (almost) Still obsessed.

Chris said...

I notice in the Ledecky/Phelps glide video that their hands when entering the water at the front of the stoke are fingers speed open and fingers closed at back of the stoke. Can SwimSmooth comment on the spread fingers...? Do they do this on purpose?
CL, Canada

Adam Young said...

Hi Chris,

Good question! Check out this post for an answer:



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