So you want to swim fast? An introduction to drag.

Intensity and duration of swim workouts are definitely important when trying to swim fast. As these components increase, fitness will improve and speed will get faster, but only to a point. Training harder and longer has its limits. For most of us, there is only so much time we all have available to swim and there is only so much intensity that the body can cope with. At some point, increasing intensity and duration will not be enough to recognize gains in swimming.

This leads to the other key aspect to swimming fast, which is technique. Specifically, the two facets of this are:

1. Decreasing drag in the water
2. Increasing propulsion in the water

Water is denser than air. Drag in the water increases by the square of the speed that we swim. This means, as we swim faster, the effects of drag will become more noticeable. Since reducing drag requires skill as opposed to applying a force to increase propulsion, it means there is more room for improvement. With this in mind, here are my 5 key principals, followed by the first 5 of my top 10 drills to help reduce drag. In the next article in this series, I will introduce you to the next 5 drills.

Five Principals for Reducing Drag

Principal 1: Work on Balance
Improving balance in the water is the first and foremost way to decrease drag. The more horizontal you can remain in the water, the less water is displaced, and therefore, the better your balance. If the head is positioned too high in the water or is lifted when breathing, the resultant effect is that the hips and legs drop. The streamlined position is compromised and more drag is created. 

Principal 2: Swim Tall
Making yourself as “long” as possible in the water is akin to a tapered racing kayak moving through the water as opposed to a small rounded recreational kayak. The racing kayak creates less turbulence as it moves through the water than the compact vessel. Less turbulence equates to less water displacement and once again, decreased drag. Swimming taller requires that upon hand entry into the water, you continue to reach forward, even as you rotate to take a breath

Principal 3: Neutral Head
Keeping the head in an aligned and neutral position (i.e. In line with your body, with just your face in the water) will help with streamlining. Focus on the hips to lead the rotation and then let the head follow. Minimizing head movement will result in less water displacement.

Principal 4: Compact and Efficient Kick
Research indicates that even the best Olympic swimmers only generate approximately 10% of their speed from the kick. While kick efficiency is important for swimming fast especially for those competing in 100m sprint freestyle events (to help create the propulsion), a compact kick is more important for triathletes with a goal being to reduce drag.  This means the kick should not move too low below the body line or break the surface. 

Principal 5: Exhale 
Holding the breath when the face is submerged creates additional buoyancy. While this may seem like a good thing, the problem is the increased buoyancy happens in the top half of the body. The resultant effect is it causes the legs to sink. When the face is in the water you should be continuously exhaling through your mouth, nose or combination of both - whichever is most comfortable for you. This will also help to ensure that the lungs are ready to receive a full inhalation of breath.

Here are the first five of my top ten drills that will help you focus on applying these 5 principals into practice. These drills should be done with long fins on to maximize their effect. Aim to perform each drill slowly.

The First Five Drills

1. Kicking on Back: Hands and arms outstretched above the head. Focus on keeping the hips high in the water and your head in a neutral position. Relax your breathing.

2. Vertical Kicking: From a vertical position in the deep end of the pool and your arms at your sides, use a flutter kick to keep your head above the water. Aim to keep the legs straight and toes pointed. As you get stronger you can start to add a 90 degree rotation to each side with a pause in the center. Aim to initiate the rotation from the hips and legs and not the upper body with a goal to rotate the body as one unit. For a more advanced version, try to raise your arms for 10 second intervals.

  

3. Kicking on back with rotation: This drill helps focus on good body position and working on your long axis rotation. In a horizontal position on the back with arms by the sides, rotate your body to the side 90 degrees. Hold the position momentarily (3-5 seconds) before rotating on to your back and on to the opposite side. Let the hips lead the rotation and focus on keeping the head in a neutral position. Take your time and relax the breathing.

   

4. Underwater push-off wall: This drill helps you focus on being streamlined in the water.  On your stomach, take a deep breath, bob under water and push hard off the wall. Staying underwater and with hands in an outstretched and torpedo position, kick until you need to come up for air before repeating the drill. Don’t hold your breath; rather, slowly let the air out through your nose and mouth.

   

5. Kicking on stomach with hands outstretched: Start in the same position as the above drill with your hands in a torpedo position (hands clasped above your head, elbows straight). Complete this drill on the surface of the water, aiming to kick slightly below the surface. Keep your head aligned so that your ears are between your shoulders. Focus on exhaling continuously when the head is in the water. Lift head to breath.

   

~Karen Allen Turner - QT2 and ORR Coach



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