How To Swim Like Phelps…

Or  Popov, or Thorpe, or Torres, or [insert your favorite elite swimmer here].

Now that anyone can access video clips of elite swimmers in the middle of their winning races, there is a often a false assumption made when trying to extract technique ideas from those swims…

The stroke (in all it’s intricate details) that they are using at that world-record pace is not necessarily appropriate for the pace you are able to swim at. You may not be able to take their stroke at their speed and make it work properly at your speed- there is much involved with the physics of water and physiology here.

The stroke you see [Famous Swimmer] using at her world-record pace is not the same stroke she uses when swimming at your pace. The stroke (and I mean the whole choreography of SL, SR, timing, pattern) that she applies in that race is appropriate to that speed. When she slows down that stroke changes shape to adapt to the nature of the water moving around her- the tempo decreases, the stroke (that is already long) is lengthened out even more, there is more overlap, etc.

If you want to swim like [Famous Swimmer] at his world record pace, I recommend that you first learn to imitate his pattern and skill when he is swimming at your current pace. His pattern at your pace has the foundation within it that he then builds his speed upon- at slower speeds he demonstrates long stroke quality that he is able to maintain at higher tempos- and that is what you need to learn to do. This is the key to swimming faster- not simply more power (or more tempo), rather very deliberate technique with the right amount of power applied with precision.

Here’s a hint on how to do it: first develop the long stroke, then the train to hold that long stroke at higher tempos and for longer distances.

For any swimmer with a mastery mindset, every stroke, at any pace is deliberate. A highly-trained, technique-oriented swimmer takes each stroke at your pace just as deliberately as when she swims at her world-record pace. Learn to swim ‘slow’ like your favorite elite before you try to swim ‘fast’ like her. Master the skills required to swim as smoothly as she does at your speed and you’ll be at a serious advantage in adopting her style at higher speeds.

Now good luck finding video of your favorite one swimming slow! That isn’t cool enough to get much airing on Youtube, but it would be worth gold to learn from.


2 responses to “How To Swim Like Phelps…

    • Hello Fred! If only we could get some of those [famous swimmers] to come visit and pace beside us!

      I have not heard of this Pacer2swim device until you mentioned it. I just read some on their website. Very intriguing. It has some distinct training benefit in that an individual’s pacing plan can be programmed and trained for with this giving live feedback during the swim itself. Obviously not a device accessible to any ordinary swimmer! But still, it is exciting to see someone working on technology like this. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

      Geek swimmers (like me) can work out a rough poor-man’s version of this (for at least one of the functions of the P2S device) with stroke counting and a Tempo Trainer, and setting up some markers on the pool floor. But the poor-man’s version requires the swimmer to hold some numbers in his brain while swimming to use it. He would have to count stroke each lap and then remember what count he must be at as he hits each marker on the floor of the pool. It sounds a little crazy but I actually do this in pool practice. (Hence, the geek swimmer title). For example, using a TT and have set a certain SPL x Tempo combination to achieve a certain pace, if I hit the half-way marker at 7.5 stroke count instead of 7 then I know I am on track to be 1 second behind my intended pace for that lap. I had better lengthen my stroke for the rest of the length in order to make up for that pace deficit.

      But still, the P2S device raises some very interesting training possibilities. No doubt it would make certain advanced training activities we do a lot easier to measure. But it would be a bit tough to use in a lane full of swimmers. Maybe they could make a strip down the lane with 4 LED colored rows on it and each swimmer in the lane gets her own color to follow! Then it could work for a club (and a coach with time to program all that).

      Now this has got me daydreaming…

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