pressureThere are a lot of things that distance per stroke, i.e. how far your body travels with a single stroke might be…but here are five things it ISN’T:

  • It isn’t about how tall you are.
  • It isn’t about how strong you are.
  • It isn’t about having long arms.
  • It isn’t about having big hands.
  • And most importantly it isn’t about where you put your hand into the water and where you take it out.

It’s about understanding Power and Pressure.

What is swimming?

When you start swimming, it is all about three things:

Technique – Technique  – Technique.

Then once you have mastered technique, then name of the game is being able to use that technique in racing and competition. So you progressively learn how to:

  • Swim with fast strokes;
  • Swim with long strokes;
  • Swim with fast and long strokes;
  • Swim with fast and long strokes in race conditions, i.e. under fatigue and under pressure;
  • Swim with fast and long strokes in race conditions, i.e. under fatigue and under pressure……consistently.

Fast strokes and long strokes…..the perfect performance pair!

Just moving your arms fast is not enough. Taking too many strokes means your body gets too tired too soon and those last 20 metres of your 100 feel like you’re are dragging a Semi trailer down the pool.

Long strokes alone are not the answer either. Long, smooth, relaxed strokes might look great but without speed the only thing you can win is the “Most Wonderful Looking Stroke” award.

Fast strokes are good.

Long strokes are good.

But, fast and long strokes are best.

The Entry – Exit myth.

One of the most common myths in swimming is that you develop longer strokes by ensuring your hand entry is as far as possible out in front of your body and that your exit – where your hand exits the water, (in fly, back and free) should be way down past your hips. Like most myths, this is completely wrong!

Distance per stroke is not the distance from hand entry to hand exit: it is based on how effectively between entry and exit that you actually apply force to the water.

Important concepts: Power and Pressure: Force and Feel

Swimming effectively is about knowing how, when and where to apply force (pressure) to the water.  It is a matter of knowing how, when and where to alternate between feel and force throughout your stroke that creates the optimal technique for fast swimming.

Power Points and Pressure Points:

Pressure points.

Pressure points are those points in your stroke where feeling the water becomes critically important. These are the moments and positions in your stroke where your ability to feel the water then directs you to when and where you can apply power most effectively.

Typically pressure points occur:

  • Just after entry, i.e. just after your hand enters the water (or just after recovery in breaststroke).
  • Just before your high elbow catch.
  • Just after your high elbow catch.

Power points:

Power points are those points in your stroke which occur immediately after the pressure points. They are the moments and positions in your stroke which allow you to apply force after you have felt where the force needs to be applied.

You can’t force feel.

A big mistake many swimmers make is to try and “force” feel. That is, instead of learning how, when and where to apply force effectively, they try to “force” feel by increasing training distances, doing too much paddle work (particularly with large paddles) or by spending a lot of time in the gym getting bigger and stronger.

The most effective swimming strokes are those which occur when swimmers take the time to learn how to “feel” and to understand how to most efficiently apply force to the water.

It is a bit like increasing the power of the engine of a motor vehicle without improving the quality of the tyres. A bigger engine has the potential to apply more power to the road (i.e. so the car can go faster), but only if the tyres can grip and hold the road surface and provide the opportunity for all that power to actually translate to speed.

Stronger muscles are the same. Getting bigger and stronger muscles will only improve your swimming if you understand how, when and where to apply that extra potential power at the right way in the right place and at the right time.

How do you develop Pressure and Power?

Try these three exercises to help learn about Power and Pressure and develop a more effective swimming stroke:

Hand claps. A simple exercise but an important one to help learn about power and pressure. Standing in chest deep water and with your eyes closed, place your hands flat together near your belly button, i.e. as if you have just clapped your hands. Now turn your hands “back to back” so that the back of your hands are touching each other, (with your thumbs down) and push them outwards to shoulder width. Then turn your hands over and “clap” them together underwater, i.e. palms together. Repeat 10-20 times slowly and deliberately. Feel the water on and around your palms.

Fist clenched drill. This drill helps to develop sensitivity to the flow and movement of water around you. It helps you learn how to apply force to the water with subtle changes in your hand movements. Push off the wall with your fist tightly clenched: this removes most of your ability to feel the water. Keep your fist clenched for 10 strokes, and then slowly open your hand, a little at a time, just a fraction each stroke over the next 10 strokes, until your hands are fully opened. What did you notice? Did you recognise the moment when your hands began to “feel” the water and to apply pressure (force) effectively? Swim easily to the end of the pool, rest for 30 seconds and repeat the fist drill.

Paddles and fins. Swimmers have traditionally used paddles to get stronger and most believe that using paddles increases stroking power by overloading shoulder, arm and chest muscles thereby increasing strength in key swimming muscles. The BEST way to use paddles is to use them to learn about “pressure”. Put on your fins and paddles at the same time. Wearing fins with paddles transforms the paddles from strength development tools to pressure (feel) development tools. In a short course pool, swim 25 metres slowly, all the time “feeling” pressure on the full surface of your paddles. After 25 metres, remove your paddles and swim 50 metres slowly and with control trying to maintain that same feeling of pressure on the palm of your hand. Put your paddles back on and swim 25 metres slowly again concentrating on feeling pressure over the full surface of the paddle. Rest for thirty seconds and repeat 4-6 times. Other pressure and power drills with fins and paddles include:

Swim 400 slowly and with control. Leave your paddles on until you can feel pressure on the full surface of your paddles for a full 50 metres. Remove your paddles and swim until you lose the sensation of pressure on the palms of your hands. Once you lose your sense of “pressure” put your paddles back on and continue swimming until you regain your “pressure” (i.e. feel) again. Rest for 60 seconds then repeat.

12 x 50 on 1:45 Power and Pressure set (and countless variations):

Swim with paddles and fins on for 50 metres at 400 metre pace concentrating on feeling pressure over the full surface of the paddle throughout your stroke. Remove your paddles and swim the second 50 metre repeat at 400 metre pace focusing on “feel” more than force. Paddles on again and swim the third repeat at 400 metre pace. Paddles off for the fourth repeat and again swim at 400 metre pace. Paddles back on then increase your speed to 200 metre pace. Paddles off for the next repeat and so on. Repeats 9-12 are at 100 metre pace again alternating paddles on / paddles off. This Power and Pressure sequence teaches you to hold stroke and to maintain pressure on the water as your swimming speed increases – an important skill and a critical part of great swimming. 

Summary:

  1. Distance per stroke is important for every swimmer but it’s more about feel than force; more about touch than being tough and more about subtlety than it is about strength;
  2. The critical part of developing long strokes is learning how to maintain pressure on the water throughout your stroke;
  3. Learning to maintain pressure throughout your stroke means feeling the “pressure-points” to allow you to apply real power the right way in the right place and at the right time.

Remember…….fast strokes are good, long strokes are good…fast and long strokes are perfect.

Wayne Goldsmith