Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Charles Case Study: Is Your Athleticism Holding You Back In The Water?

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#paul, this was tricky to write second hand so please correct/highlight as appropriate#

Last week on the blog we discussed how you might judge if you have low drag but poor propulsion. Not surprisingly we received a lot of emails and tweets asking us to take a look at the opposite situation, where your drag is high but your propulsion is relatively good.

To that end let's look at a case study involving just such a swimmer called Charles, who has made some big strides forwards by reducing his drag:

If you've attended one of our clinics or talks in the UK recently, you might have seen some video footage of Charles showing his legs lying low in the water when he swims:

This footage was taken in 2011 and we show it to highlight how your perception of your stroke might be very different from reality. Charles felt that his legs were quite low but estimated they were "2-3cm" lower than they should be. Watching back the video footage of his stroke, he was quite shocked to see that his legs were sinking by as much as 60cm (2 ft) beneath the surface.

Charles is a strongly built triathlete with lots of lean muscle mass. He's a strong cyclist and runner but finds swimming frustrating and looking at the shot above it's easy to see why with his legs sinking low in the water, creating a huge amount of drag. This a classic trait of our Arnie Swim Type, together with their strong tendency to fight the water with a crossover of the centre line in front of the head, as we see Charles doing here:

At the time of this footage Charles swam 42 minutes for 1500m, which (with his competitive mindset) he described as "a disaster". Unfortunately it doesn't matter how fit Charles is, dragging his legs through the water like that is going slow him down dramatically.

During our initial video analysis and stroke correction session with Charles we worked on:

- His exhalation technique into the water, ridding his lungs of excess buoyancy which otherwise lifts him up at the front and sinks the legs
- Improving his swimming posture to remove his crossover in front of the head
- Keeping his head low when he breathes
- Improving his kicking technique to avoid bending from the knee and scissor kicking the legs wide apart
- Slowing down his stroke rate a touch to help him straighten out the stroke

Charles found that immediately following this session he dropped his 1500m time to 35 minutes, which was a nice improvement in a very short period of time.

(All the information on how to do this with your own swimming is in our Arnie Swim Type Guide here.)

Is Your Athleticism Holding You Back When You Swim?

If you are an Arnie yourself, you will know how difficult and frustrating swimming can be despite your natural athleticism. Ironically it's actually this athleticism that is making swimming harder for you by sinking your lean muscular legs downwards in the water.

If you have low-lying legs when you swim unfortunately there's no silver bullet to lifting your legs high, it's going to take diligent and consistent work on all of the areas of your stroke we mentioned above. However, be persistent and diligent and the improvements will come:

Two Years Later...

Since that initial consultation in 2011 we hadn't seen Charles until he came back for a follow-up session with us last week. We were very impressed with how much his body position had improved since 2011:

Although he's not yet perfectly horizontal in the water, his body position is drastically improved and although there's still a slight tendency to crossover with the right arm, this is much improved too:

These stroke improvements are giving him some very large speed gains. In fact he recently swam 28½ minutes for 1500m, a full 13½ minutes faster than two years ago!

As well as consistently working on all the areas we mentioned above, Charles has found that swimming with a light flutter kick results in a lower effort than trying to use a minimal two-beat kick. Although some additional energy is being used in the faster kick, this is more than offset by his legs sitting higher in the water.

Some swimmers are naturally suited to a 2-beat kick (particularly those with shorter punchier stroke styles) but with such a dense muscle mass, Charles will always be best served with a light flutter to help bring his legs higher. This a classic example of why you must always think of yourself as an individual and not follow a "one size fits all" approach to swimming.

Persistence And Chipping Away

After further refining his stroke technique in our follow up session, we are excited about the improvements Charles will now experience as he continues to improve his stroke technique. Getting into the 25-26 minute 1500m speed range is a realistic short term goal for him and he's also aware he will gain another minute or two when he dons his wetsuit for open water events. This means he should now exit the swim towards the front of his age-group rather than coming out at the rear and having to play catch-up on the bike.

So a big congratulations from us to Charles on the large improvements he's made with his swimming, it's not been an easy journey but your persistence and hard work is really starting to pay dividends. Thanks also for allowing us to share your experiences with the wider world.

Swim Smooth!

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