Experimenting With Becoming A Swinger

Have you ever watched the swimming at the Olympics or World Championships and noticed how no two strokes are alike? How can some swimmers win their event with a seemingly beautiful "picture perfect" display of technique and finesse, whereas others seem to power on despite their ungainly style? And why do pool swimmers often look so much more elegant than their open water swimming counterparts?

At Swim Smooth we recognise and celebrate two fundamentally different stroke styles in elite swimming - The Smooth and The Swinger.

At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Mack Horton (Australia) took the gold medal in the 400m freestyle and Gregorio Paltrinieri (Italy) took the gold in the 1500m freestyle. Both swimmers are 1.90m in stature but Horton at 88kg is 16kg heavier than than Paltrinieri and covers each 50m pool length in 12 fewer strokes:

Paltrinieri (left) and Horton at the Hamilton Island swim in 2017

At a stroke rate of 66 SPM Horton powers his long, smooth stroke with a very strong 6-beat leg kick. Paltrinieri’s races at 97 SPM and uses a seemingly "lazy" 2-beat kick.

This leads to two wildly different looking strokes, which is made all the more surreal given that they are also best mates! Paltrinieri epitomises the "Swinger" style and Horton the "Smooth".

So, who has the better technique?

Watching both Horton and Paltrinieri swim side by side (as they did in the 1500m where the Italian took gold ahead of Horton in 5th), it would be very easy to admire the seemingly effortless style of Horton and conclude that he was more efficient and that this should be the way that everyone should swim:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttNdDJqCQCQ

However, the 1500m distance arguably provides a truer measure of efficiency in which Paltrinieri was triumphant, despite his stroke looking less elegant. Both swimmers have very effective stroke technique, but swim in ways which suit their own unique make-up.

Experimenting With Becoming A Swinger

We are always taught that to swim well we need excellent technique but could it be that good technique varies from person to person based on such things as your height, your build, your gender, your past swimming experience, your natural physiology and even your personality?

If you've been try to emulate the long smooth stroke style used by Mack Horton but perhaps you are not very tall or maybe you don't have a powerful leg kick then why not introduce a little "Swinger" into the mix and see if it benefits you.

Here's 4 elements to experiment with:

Arm Recovery

Swingers tend to use a more open arm recovery taking their hands higher over the water's surface:

Jonny and Alistair Brownlee recover over the water using a high open style

This is in contrast to the classical high elbow used by Smooths such as Horton. Going higher and more open with your arm recovery will feel a little strange at first so give it a few weeks to "bed in" before judging whether it's working for you.

Catch Timing

Swingers tend to get into their catch quicker than Smooths at the front of the stroke. This makes their propulsion more continuous leaving them less reliant on their leg kick for propulsion (see below).

You don't want to hurry the catch but try to keep the hand always moving at the front of the stroke, either extending, catching the water or pressing backwards. Done right you don't need to apply any more pressure on the water than you normally would.

Stroke Rate

By getting in to your catch more quickly you should find your stroke rate naturally lifts by 3 to 6 SPM. You can try re-enforcing this change using a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. If you normally swim at 53 SPM then try lifting into the 56-59 SPM range.

You might have quite a lot of "headroom" in your stroke to lift your stroke rate significantly but don't go too high too soon. Make small changes and adjust to them over 4-6 sessions.

Kick Power

Most Swingers use a less powerful kick than Smooths, something they can achieve because their faster stroke rate gives them more continuous propulsion.

Leg kick is a less efficient form or propulsion than the arm stroke, giving the Swinger a key efficiency advantage. However you still need to kick hard enough to keep your legs high in the water or any gain in propulsive efficiency will be overwhelmed by increased drag!


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