Friday, July 25, 2014

Yesterday's Commonwealth Games Stroke Styles

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If you live in a Commonwealth country, we hope you watched the two Commonwealth Games Triathlon events yesterday. If not you missed out, both were thrilling races at the fantastic Strathclyde Country Park near Glasgow.

The swims in both the men's and women's races were hotly contested with the warm conditions making wetsuits illegal, giving a distinct advantage to many of the stronger swimmers in the field. The women's swim was particularly interesting because of the two very distinct swimming styles that were on display.

England's Lucy Hall led for much of the swim and her long smooth stroke style was immediately apparent:

Lucy races on the French Grand Prix circuit where she is known as "La Sirène" or "The Mermaid" - and it's easy to see why! Swimming at around 68 strokes per minute, we calculate that she would take around 18 strokes in a 25m pool or 38 in a 50m pool.

We're sure you'll agree Lucy has a very long and smooth stroke - nicely fitting the mould of the Smooth Swim Type. Notice how she likes to use her kick quite a bit, which is a trait of Smooths when racing hard. It helps push them through the very slight gap between strokes when swimming with such a long stroke style but raises their heart rate and energy consumption higher than you might expect given how relaxed they look in the water.

Many Smooths tend to seek out clear water and sit on the front of the field like this, they don't like being knocked by other swimmers or buffeted by disturbed water. If you are as strong a swimmer as Lucy this is an option for you but of course there's no drafting benefit to be had, which can allow you to swim with much faster swimmers or save up to 38% of your energy expenditure! 1

(By the way, you might have noticed Lucy enters thumb-first into the water, we don't recommend copying that as it is the leading cause of shoulder pain and injury in swimming, instead enter with the palm facing downwards, fingertips first.)

What was happening behind her? Well that was altogether more chaotic:

Here we have the likes of Gold and Bronze Medallists Jodie Stimpson and Vicky Holland swimming with a lot more punch and rhythm, drafting in Lucy's and other swimmer's wakes. These are the Swingers - their strokes are not as pretty as Lucy's but are none the less very effective in open water, all that punch and rhythm ideally suited to swimming in disturbed water beside and behind other swimmers.

These girls are swimming at around 85-95 strokes per minute, with a stroke length equivalent to around 23 or 50 in a 25m and 50m pool respectively. It just goes to show that there's more than one way to swim efficiently and effectively! In fact most top age group and elite triathletes swim this way (and elite open water swimmers too) - it is actually the Smooth style that is the rarity in open water swimming, not the other way around.

If you watched the mens race then you'll know this to be the case as there were no Smooths at all on display, the rapid turnover of Henri Schoeman and the Brownlee Brothers powering away at 95 SPM plus, splitting the field and creating a breakaway pack of around seven Swingers, which proved to be the decisive break of the race.

A few years ago we posted our classic blog Behind Every Smooth Is A Gaggle Of Bloodsucking Swingers and this is exactly what with saw with Lucy and the girls behind her. If you're a Smooth and you don't want to do all the work and drag everyone around the swim course it's worth taking a leaf out of the Swingers' book - put a little more rhythm into your stroke, regularly practise drafting in training and become comfortable sitting in the pack. You will swim the same speed but at a much lower effort, ready and fresh for the bike. Or in the case of a swimming event ready to unleash your devastating turn of speed over the last 200m to win the race!

Swim Smooth

[1] CHATARD, J.-C., and B. WILSON. Drafting Distance in Swimming. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 35, No. 7, pp. 1176–1181, 2003.

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