I’ve been experimenting with a new way to use the Tempo Trainer in adjusting the stroke timing, in order to preserve a long stroke at faster tempos.

In TI we use a Focal Point called the Patient Front Arm to help train this skill. This long stroke skill is recognized also by the terms Stroke Overlap, and Front Quandrant Swimming.

I’ve made a crude little diagram here to try to graphically represent what I’ve been examining in my mind while swimming lately.

The red oval represents the pathway the hand travels during the stroke cycle,  centered roughly where the shoulder pivots. The yellow vertical line represents the shoulder joint which divides Front section and Rear section of the stroke cycle.

In this diagram you can see that both arms are in front of that yellow line. Both arms are in the Front Quadrants of the body at the same time. (There is some debate whether they both should be in the lower front quadrant in order to be ‘Front Quadrant’)

You can also see that the Recovery Arm is half-way overlapping the Catch Arm (the Recovery Hand is at the point of the elbow on the opposite arm). This is what is known as Stroke Overlap.

When using a Tempo Trainer, you can take a measurement of your own stroke overlap by setting your Entry (just in front of the head) to the First Beep then paying attention to that same hand, see where it is positioned at the very next Beep. If you have decent overlap that catch hand will be at your goggles or still in front of your head when the second beep hits.

Achieving this overlap in your normal stroke is one of the hallmarks of well-developed freestyle technique. And the faster you attempt to swim the more critical this overlap will be in reducing the water resistance working against you.

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What TI adds to this is focusing on extending the Catch Arm and body line straight ahead, projecting forward the force flowing through the body (not hanging there purposeless creating dead space in the stroke as some critics mistakenly assume) as the Recovery Arm completes its return to the front of the body.

You’ll notice micro-seconds of additional extension happening, from finger tips to axilla to hips to toes, when you examine videos of Phelps in the 200m and Sun Yang in the 1500m. There’s no dead space – there is perfectly timed projection of force forward utilizing the available thrust while the Recovery arm gets back into position for another stroke.

One of the keys to achieving this is constructing the stroke so that each arm learns to move through its stroke cycle independent of the other arm. I call this ‘disconnecting’ the arms from each other.

In contrast, under-developed swimmers (even ones who consider themselves accomplished) cannot move one arm without moving the other- we might call this the Windmill Effect- the Catch Arm must pull back while the Recovery Arm swings forward. This is typical of swimmers who do not have balance under control. The Windmill destroys Stroke Overlap. The faster the tempo the greater the loss in overlap. The worst state to be in is to have one arm in the back quadrant while one arm is in the front- completely opposite of each other. The drag created by this poor timing is devastating.

Having the two arms able to move through the stroke cycle independent of each other is a critical skill for open-water swimmers. For instance, variable stroke timing enables us to adapt each stroke (and even shift the pace of the catch and the recovery phase) to the pattern (or chaos) of the waves in whatever direction they might come at us. By this we can conserve energy while holding pace in a variety of conditions. Think of it as shifting gears on a bike – it would be quite tough to race on rough terrain on a fixed gear bike! Yet it’s tragic that so many people do this while swimming.

It is also critical for sprinters who understand the importance of preserving a long stroke length as they train to stroke at extremely fast tempos. The only way to get that long stroke is to train for it and protect it as tempo increases – as tempo goes up the stroke will only shorten because of the increasing forces working against it. The key then is to first get the long stroke and then protect it, training in such a way to know how to make only the most calculated trade-offs between length and tempo. And in order to protect it a swimmer has to learn to vary the speed at different parts of the stroke cycle – for this a Tempo Trainer is invaluable.

If there is no balance, and the two arms cannot move independently of each other – there is no chance. Done right, it allows the best swimmers to preserve that overlap and gain more ground for less effort than their competition.

Of course, you want to know how to train those arms to stroke independently of each other, don’t you!

I’ll work on the next post to share how we can use the Tempo Trainer to measure and adjust this stroke timing.

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