Here is some of my understanding and the considerations I design sprint training around:
There are two ways to work on the solution for speed in water-
- increase power to overcome water resistance, and/or
- decrease water resistance.
It is my conviction that as a smart swimmer I should will do everything possible to develop skills that reduce resistance throughout the whole stroke cycle, then work on applying just the right amount of power just where it is needed- in that order of priority. Undermine the enemy’s strength before trying to overpower it (didn’t Sun Tzu say something like that?).
As the Stroke Rate (SR) increases so does the challenge on the swimmer to hold superior form with precise synchronization of movement and on her ability to consistently apply just the right amount of force at each moment in the stroke cycle. I see it far more as a set of complex neuro-muscular skills that are needed to solve the speed problem than an exercise of shear muscle power.
In the TI mindset let’s assume we are preserving a superior body line- head down, spine long and stable, core rotation, etc.
- Speed is simply a result of a certain SL x SR combination.
For example: if I want to swim 15 seconds for 25m (60 second 100m pace), I must achieve one of the following SL x SR combinations (assuming at 5m push-off in 2.25 seconds): 15sec/25m = 16spl x 0.80tempo, or 17spl x 0.75tempo, 18spl x 0.71tempo, or 20spl x 0.64tempo.
In order to hold pace, if Stroke Length (SL) decreases, then SR has to increase to compensate.
- High SR is ‘easy’ to develop because high stroke rate doesn’t require the stroke to be effective in order to spin fast.
- Long SL is harder to develop because it requires the stroke to be effective.
- Holding a long SL as SR increases is the crux of the sprint speed problem.
I argue that it is not shear muscle, but power applied with precision that makes the fastest swimmer- the whole body contributes to this effectiveness. High turn-over stroke is meaningless for producing speed without a sufficiently long stroke to go with it. As SR increases SL will be compelled to decrease because of the greater water resistance working against it. Therefore, the strategy I advocate for says a swimmer should develop an appropriately long stroke first, then allow a calculated trade off between shortening the stroke in certain ways in order to enable a higher stroke rate.
When developing skills for increasing SR to improve speed, the first thing to gain time from is simply speeding up the recovery phase, without speeding up the catch. The long steady hold on the water allowing the body to slide past is extremely important for SL. In TI the arms are trained to move independently of each other (at variable rates, with overlap, etc) and so we have the advantage of adjusting the force and speed of movement at different parts of the stroke cycle.
To gain a bit more time needed for higher SR, when we need to actually shorten the stroke, we can consider that not all parts of the catch phase are of equal value for propulsion. So we carefully give up a less valuable part of the catch, while preserving the more valuable part. When shortening the stroke, to preserve best SL, the next area to gain time from is to pull out of the catch sooner, while protecting the extension and patient arm. Protect the front half of the stroke and sacrifice the back half first. (This is most effective when there is a high elbow catch). Again, preserving the long body line is more valuable for any vessel moving through water, than simply gaining a higher tempo. (see http://www.wavewalk.com/COMPARISON.html for an interesting article on hydrophysics and kayak design). This is better achieved through careful neuro-muscular training, not power training. If we train for power first, it is harder to improve technique upon it- muscle memory and deeply imprinted but inferior neuro-muscular connections will resist improvement at high effort levels. Slow way down, perfect, then speed up as perfection is maintained.
Water resistance will increase exponentially as velocity increases- so minimizing drag becomes exponentially more imperative as a swimmer attempts to increase speed. Keeping the vessel as long and narrow as possible through the entire stroke cycle respects the physics of water- thus providing a massive hydrodynamic advantage. There is so much that can be perfected in the whole body choreography: the core, the timing of each arm in relation to the other, and the variable speed of the arm through each part of the stroke cycle that superior sprinting will be achieved by those who develop these details the best, either by natural talent or intentional training. This is what I understand to be active streamlining as Terry Laughlin phrases it.
In this strategy ‘active streamlining’ is both the most complex concept and the most important skill for achieving ultimate speed.
Lastly, we would weigh the value of 6-beat kick in how much it worked in synchronicity with the whole body- adding maximum propulsion at minimal increase in drag and opposing force. Again, I would advocate for a sprinter to train in a 2 -beat kick first to deeply imprint the whole body synchronization, then practice carefully adding a 6-beat as a turbo boost that enhanced power rather than worked against the other forces of the body. Not all 6-beat kicks are equal- force, timing, ankle flex, amplitude are all factors that need to be examined and perfected.