This discussion is continued from Part 1…
If body shape, stroke pattern and stroke length were equal between two swimmers, but one swimmer is sending her recovery arm forward with better momentum and directing that into her sleek Skate Position, she would be swimming faster with less force per stroke (=swimming easier) than the other swimmer. Her ability to produce and direct momentum through her recovery arm and entry into Skate make the difference.
Two Forms Of Inefficiency
There are two stereotypical ways that swimmers are missing out on momentum:
We work with swimmers who are fast-but-wasteful. They are using much more effort than is necessary to travel at that speed. They may likely have a fast tempo, but poor stroke length. A great part of this is often because their recovery and entry technique does not take advantage of momentum. For them, we first slow things down to improve streamline in Skate skills and improve potential for momentum in Recovery skills. We measure improvement in terms of stroke length getting closer to optimal. Then we gradually speed things back up so they are then achieving speed more economically – we measure that economy by seeing that they can maintain optimal stroke length while increasing tempo.
We work with swimmers who are precise-but-slow. They are maintaining streamline, but are not applying enough initial power to get up to speed, to build up momentum. Without enough initial power or without fast enough tempo, they are not likely able to achieve optimal stroke length even through they seem to get into good streamline Skate Position. Or they can achieve appropriate stroke length but fatigue quickly because the slow down too much between strokes.
For both of these scenarios, we teach swimmers how to gradually train the brain to increase momentum with faster tempos while maintaining best streamline and movement patterns. For the fast-but-wasteful swimmer, we emphasize loyalty to form over tempo, then show them the way to train to achieve both. For the slow-but-precise swimmer, we emphasize that it is necessary to challenge the stroke with faster tempos even to the point where form starts to break down, then learn how to restore it under that kind of training stress.
To summarize, here are the skills you need to work on to utilize momentum:
Finish and start each stroke in your best (Skate Position) streamline.
Shape and send the recovery arm forward, in a way that its force is directed straight forward and then downward into the water into Skate Position.
Learn to protect both of these skills under the stress of higher intensity swimming.
If, you’ve been stroking too slow or too lightly, apply more force per stroke at the beginning of the swim to build up initial speed.
And, gradually work your way toward using stroke tempos that are fast enough to generate momentum and preserve it from stroke to stroke. You need to approach this gradually (over weeks), because you must take your qualities with you as you increase tempo.
The obvious question here is, what is a critical minimum stroke tempo to build momentum?
It is a good, but difficult question to answer for all people in any kind of situation because tempo is a variable that we set based on other factors. It is dependent on your body dimensions, the event you are swimming, the speed you need to maintain, and your current ability to achieve and sustain optimal stroke length. An increase in tempo is applied once the swimmer has certain fundamental skills in place and she has some idea of what tempo is appropriate for economy in her specific situation.
But in general, it is my observation that a tempo of 1.40 seconds per stroke (43 strokes per minute) seems to be around the minimum critical tempo. Tempos that are slower are useful to drills and slow, careful balance and streamline work, but these are not efficient swimming tempos for distance swimming, and certainly not for short sprint work.
There are factors that could alter this judgment, but in general, 1.40 and faster is more functional for swimming for speed or distance. Some people might run into difficulties at using faster tempos by restrictions in joint mobility, or lack of muscle tone, or old injuries.
But this is the very purpose of training for all kinds of bodies – to improve your mobility, to improve your control, to improve your strength, to improve your precise application of power to create greater economy. Momentum is one of the key ingredients in economy. You can take advantage of momentum when you establish and combine these critical stroke skills.
You slow down the movements first to allow you to move gently through a wider range of motion, gradually expanding that range. You slow down in order to become aware and improve precision of movement. Then you work on speeding things back up, to seek out this momentum.
For those who may be on the ‘fast-but-wasteful’ side of the ideal, I urge you to slow down for a while and establish a sensitivity and a loyalty to holding streamline position and maintaining precise movements. You must demand more carefulness, less failure in your movement patterns. Realize that every section of the stroke has a critical role to play in your economy – no section can afford to be sloppy. Then gradually speed the tempo back up.
For those who may be on the ‘precise-but-slow’ side of the idea, I urge you to add some healthy stress to your training by increasing the amount of power you apply per stroke, and to gradually increase your tempo. This will be uncomfortable, but that is necessary and good. It will provoke some failure in your precision, but that is what you need to work through in order to build greater power-with-precision.