Lift vs. Drag: Which Matters Most to Swimming Speed?

Swim Speed Strokes SSST_600x315_pulloutIn her book Swim Speed Secrets, Sheila Taormina makes the case that swimmers should focus their attention on the one part of swimming that matters most to swimming fast: the underwater pull.

She provides the example of “Tarzan”, Johnny Weissmuller, the Michael Phelps of his generation and one of the most dominant swimmers of all time. Weissmuller swam using the body position considered fastest during his time: he swam freestyle with his head fully out of the water. And he set world records doing it.

[See Olympic swimmer Peter Vanderkaay demonstrate the Tarzan Drill from Swim Speed Secrets and Swim Speed Workouts.]

Sheila says in her book that Weissmuller’s swimming form shows that the drag created by poor body positioning is not as critical to fast swimming as the thing Weissmuller got right: his strong underwater pull.

In her new book Swim Speed Strokes, Sheila explores the contributions that lift and drag make to the underwater pull in all four swimming strokes.

Two ideas drive 90 percent of swim propulsion theory and discussion. These concepts are also fundamental to aerodynamics and flight. They are drag and lift.

Here are several ways to explain drag:

  • Drag is the resistance a fluid has to being pushed aside.
  • Drag is the force on an object that resists its motion through a fluid.
  • Drag is a force that works parallel to the flow direction of a fluid (parallel here simply means “head-on”).

[cont'd]

The easiest way to understand lift is to consider an example with which we are all familiar: airplanes flying.

This example will give us a visual image, and once we have an idea of how lift works on a plane, we can better visualize its role in the swim stroke.

An airplane gets off the ground because of a force called lift. The physics behind flying is quite complicated, but two basic conditions required for lift force can be applied to the swimming stroke. The first is the orientation, or angle, of the airplane wings. The wings are pitched up during takeoff. In phys­ics this is called the angle of attack. For lift to occur there must be some angle/pitch to the wings and a pressure imbalance between the bottom of the wing and the top.

[cont'd]

So which matters more to swimmers? Pushing back on the water (drag) or changing the pitch of the arm like a wing (lift)?

If you’ve done a fist drill (swimming with hands balled into fists), you know that drag’s awfully important.

But if you’ve done a sculling drill, you know that lift is important, too.

Swim Speed Secrets sheila taormina sculling pattern

Sculling patterns

In her book Swim Speed Strokes, Sheila Taormina offers an interesting overview of the swimming theories that dominated the sport from the 1940s on. She explains how the sport has been informed by legendary coaches like Doc Counsilman (a proponent of lift), Cecil Colwin (vortices and lift), and Ernie Maglischo (drag first, then lift).

Then she explains the two simple steps that guarantee a swimmer isn’t missing out on a stronger underwater pull.

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. The Series is are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

Roll Call! Who Are the Elite Swimmers Featured in Swim Speed Strokes?

Alright, let’s get something straight. Sheila Taormina has one heck of a Rolodex.

The people at VeloPress, her book publisher, have made jokes that if they need to get in touch with any Olympic athlete, they can just ask Sheila to open up her Olympics Yellow Pages.

And we are positively giddy over the swimmers Sheila asked for help in her new book Swim Speed Strokes. They generously donated their time to show us their winning swim technique and share it with you.

Get to know the swimmers in Swim Speed Strokes.

Elizabeth Beisel ELIZABETH BEISEL won a silver medal in the 400-meter IM and bronze in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2012 Olympics. She is an NCAA Division I champion in the 200 backstroke (2012) and a world champion in the 400 IM (2011).
BEST TIMES
200-yard backstroke: 1:49.82
400-yard IM: 3:58.84
400-meter IM (LCM): 4:31.27

 

 

 

Nicolas FinkNICOLAS FINK is a 2013 world championships finalist in the 100 breaststroke, and he placed second in the 100-yard breaststroke at the 2014 Division I NCAA championships.
BEST TIMES
100-yard breaststroke: 51.48
200-yard breaststroke: 1:51.92
100-meter breaststroke (LCM): 1:00.10

 

 

 

Rowdy Gaines

ROWDY GAINES set 10 world records between 1978–84 and won three gold medals at the 1984 Olympics. He is currently NBC’s swimming commentator for the Olympics, alongside Dan Hicks, and is a masters swimming world-record holder.
BEST TIMES
50-meter freestyle (LCM): 22.96 (1980)
100-meter freestyle (LCM): 49.36 (1981)
200-meter freestyle (LCM): 1:48.93 (1982)

 

 

 

Andrew GemmellANDREW GEMMELL won silver at the 2009 world championships in the 10K open-water event, earning the title of 2009 U.S. Open Water Swimmer of the Year. He also won the 1500-meter freestyle in the pool at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, earning a spot on the 2012 Olympic team.
BEST TIMES
500-yard freestyle: 4:17.75
1650-yard freestyle: 14:41.86
1500-meter freestyle (LCM): 14:52.19

 

 

Ariana KukorsARIANA KUKORS is the world-record holder in the 200-meter IM (long-course meters). She is a U.S. Olympian and world champion and was named American Swimmer of the Year in 2009 by Swimming World Magazine.
BEST TIMES
200-meter IM (LCM): 2:06.15

 

 

 

 

Melanie MargalisMELANIE MARGALIS won bronze at the 2013 World University Games in the 200-meter IM and placed second at the 2014 NCAA Division I Championships in the 200-yard IM.
BEST TIMES
200-yard IM: 1:52.64
400-yard IM: 4:00.30

 

 

 

 

Vladimir Morozov freestyle sprint swim techniqueVLADIMIR MOROZOV is an NCAA champion, world champion, and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist. He holds the NCAA record in the 100-yard freestyle and turned in the fastest 50-yard freestyle split in history at the 2013 NCAA Division I Championships.
BEST TIMES
100-yard freestyle: 40.76
50-meter freestyle (LCM): 21.47
100-meter freestyle (LCM): 47.62

 

 

 

Aaron PeirsolAARON PEIRSOL is the world-record holder in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke (long-course meters). He has competed for the United States at three Olympics—2000, 2004, and 2008—winning five gold medals and two silver medals.
BEST TIMES
100-meter backstroke (LCM): 51.94
200-meter backstroke (LCM): 1:51.92

 

 

 

Doug ReynoldsDOUG REYNOLDS is a Division I NCAA All-American and Southeastern Conference champion known for his powerful underwater dolphin kick off the walls.
BEST TIMES
100-yard butterfly: 45.92

 

 

 

 

Laura SogarLAURA SOGAR is the 2013 NCAA Division I champion, 2012 U.S. Open champion, and 2012 world championships (short-course meters) silver medalist in the 200 breaststroke.
BEST TIMES
100-yard breaststroke: 58.32
200-yard breaststroke: 2:05.04

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Soni breaststroke swim techniqueREBECCA SONI is the only woman in history to win the 200-meter breaststroke at back-to-back Olympics. She won gold en route to world records at the 2008 and 2012 Games. She has held world records in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events in both short-course and long-course during her career, and is a six-time NCAA champion.
BEST TIMES
100-meter breaststroke (LCM): 1:04.84 (1:02.70 SCM)
200-meter breaststroke (LCM): 2:19.59 (2:14.57 SCM)

 

Peter VanderkaayPETER VANDERKAAY has competed for the United States in three Olympics—2004, 2008, and 2012—winning four medals. He is a five-time NCAA champion, three-time world champion, and the American-record holder in the 500-yard freestyle.
BEST TIMES
500-yard freestyle: 4:08.54
400-meter freestyle (LCM): 3:44.69

 

 

 

Ashley WhitneyASHLEY WHITNEY is a 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the 4 × 200-meter freestyle relay and a former U.S. national team member for open-water swimming.
BEST TIMES
200-yard freestyle: 1:47.10
500-yard freestyle: 4:44.30

 

 

 

 

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Both books are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

Which Arm Is Swimming Which Stroke? A Quiz for Swimmers and Triathletes

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverMy first book, Swim Speed Secrets, focused solely on the freestyle stroke and the vital elements of the underwater pull—the few things swimmers cannot forgo if they want to get faster. I knew that the vital elements in freestyle are also vital and present in all strokes, but even I was shocked at the extent to which this is the case.

Swim Speed Strokes by Sheila TaorminaMy intent with my new book Swim Speed Strokes was to photograph the underwater mechanics in each of the four competitive swimming strokes, including the most critical elements of it, so swimmers could learn from the sport’s icons in their stroke specialty.

As each photo session ended, however, and the images downloaded, I saw a striking resemblance among the strokes. I zoomed in on images—focusing on just one arm during a particular phase of the stroke—and noted that the strokes are not only similar, but they are indistinguishable from one another.

To show what I mean, here is a fun test:

Each of the four strokes—butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle—is represented in the photos on page 7 (below). Each photo captures the stroke during the catch phase of the pull. The arms you see in these photos are the arms of world-record holders swimming the stroke naturally. None of the photos were staged.

Can you match the photo with the stroke? Take a close look and really give this some thought. (The answers are at the very bottom of this article.)

Swim Speed Strokes arm quizHow did you do? Not an easy test, right? If I wasn’t the one to select the photos I’m not sure how I would do. It’s a bugger. Don’t worry about how you scored. The key is that you understand through this example how working on the mechanics of any one stroke reinforces the other strokes. I hope this inspires you at practice.

Many swimmers think of themselves as one-stroke, or maybe two-stroke, specialists. The majority of triathletes stick to freestyle, and competitive swimmers slip to the back of the lane at practice when the coach gives a set that involves their weaker strokes. We fall into the trap of thinking, I’m just not naturally good at that stroke, so why try?

The stealth message in Swim Speed Strokes is that putting forth effort in your non-primary strokes will do you more good than you can imagine. Consider this quote from a triathlete who took a backstroke clinic I coached in the winter of 2014:

“What stunned me is that learning the correct catch and grab for the backstroke translated into my FINALLY figuring out the catch and grab for freestyle. Who knew that after all these years, it would take flipping me onto my back to get the most important part of the freestyle stroke?”

This triathlete now deliberately practices backstroke rather than using it as a stroke to take a rest.

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. All three books in the series are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

ANSWERS: A) backstroke B) freestyle C) breastroke D) butterfly

Swimming more than one stroke will make you a better swimmer in your preferred stroke. Get started with Swim Speed Strokes.

Master Elite Swimming Technique with Swim Speed Strokes

Swim Speed Strokes by Sheila TaorminaIn her best-selling book Swim Speed Secrets, 4-time Olympian and gold medalist Sheila Taormina revealed the freestyle swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Now in Swim Speed Strokes, Taormina shows swimmers and triathletes how to swim their best in all four swimming strokes—butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. Swim Speed Strokes is now shipping online preorders! Look for the book in bookstores, swim shops, and online in early September.

Using crystal-clear photographs and her engaging, straightforward style, Coach Taormina explains the science behind power and speed in the water, explores the elements common to every stroke, and examines stroke technique in detail in individual stroke chapters.

Swim Speed Strokes features elite swimmers and Olympians including Peter Vanderkaay, Rebecca Soni, Aaron Peirsol, Rowdy Gaines, Ashley Whitney, Vlad Morozov, Ariana Kukors, Andrew Gemmell, Laura Sogar, Nicolas Fink, Elizabeth Beisel, Doug Reynolds, and Melanie Margalis.

Stunning over- and underwater photographs unveil the winning technique that has carried these athletes to the top of their sport. Whether you want to master every stroke or simply improve on your best one, Swim Speed Strokes will get you there and make you the strongest swimmer you can be.

Swim Speed Strokes for Swimmers and Triathletes
Foreword by Rowdy Gaines
Paperback. Full-color photographs throughout.
7″ x 9″, 224 pp., $21.95, 9781937715212

Download a pdf preview of Swim Speed Strokes at www.velopress.com.

Find Swim Speed Strokes in your local bookstore, tri or swim shop, or from these online retailers:

VeloPress.com
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookseller
TriSports.com

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. The series is available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

How do you do a push-up in the water? Try a Press-Out Drill.

The Press-Out Drill is an easy way to get in some quick upper body and core strength training in the middle of any swim workout. Press-outs can be tough depending on the water level at your pool, so maybe give this drill a first try in the deep end.

Before watching this Swim Speed Secrets drill video, please read this brief note about how the videos are intended to be used.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverIn Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes, 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, and triathlon world champion Sheila Taormina reveals the swim technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers. Find new speed in the water with Swim Speed Secrets, which is available in bookstores, tri and swim shops, and online.

Distance per Stroke vs. Swim Stroke Rate: How to Find Your Swimming Cadence

Do you know your cadence?

Ask any committed runner or cyclist and you’ll probably get a confident reply. But ask a triathlete or swimmer his swimming cadence, and he’ll probably think you’re talking about how many strokes it takes to cross the pool.

Swimming cadence or stroke rate is the time it takes your arm to make one full cycle from hand entry through the underwater pull to recovery and back to hand entry.

You need to know it. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’re leaving speed in the water.

Fast swimming relies on good technique because the medium of water is very dense. Little differences in swimming technique have big consequences:

  • If your stroke rate is too slow, you’re gliding.
  • If your stroke rate is too fast, your underwater pull is inefficient.

Stroke rate is half of equation that determines your swim speed. For an introduction to stroke rate, take a look at this post The Swimming Equation.

Then get to a pool and time your stroke rate!

How to Time Your Freestyle Swimming Stroke Rate Swimming Cadence

How to Find Your Stroke Rate

  1. Get a friend, a stopwatch, a clipboard, paper, pencil, and head to the pool.
  2. Warm up.
  3. Swim a series of 100s at your goal race pace.
  4. During these, your friend should time one full arm cycle. That is, start the stopwatch as soon as your leading arm hits the water and then stop it when that same arm hits the water surface in front of you again. (It doesn’t matter which arm.)
  5. Your friendly assistant should time your stroke several times during each 100. She should also occasionally time two full cycles (right arm then left arm) and divide that time by two to minimize error from reaction time.

Now that you have some data, review the stroke rates your friend wrote down. Look for the number that shows up most often. This is your stroke rate. Check out this post on what your stroke rate means to your swimming.

For a complete discussion of freestyle stroke count and stroke rate, take a look at Swim Speed Secrets.

Turning TV Time into Tube Time

Reader Beth, who has been writing about her progress with the Swim Speed Workouts program through comments on the Test Team reports, makes an excellent suggestion for comparing your stroke rate to the pros: Watch them race on TV or via online video and move your arms along. If their stroke rate feels fast, you probably need to speed up your arm cycles. You can also turn tube time into Tube Time: get your swim tubing and do a tubing set that matches the cadence of the pros on screen.

If you own Swim Speed Workouts, the green toolkit cards include an introduction to stroke rate. Many of the workouts include drills and fast turnover sets that improve stroke rate. Workout 5-1 includes drills on arm extension designed to help you find the best arm extension for you.

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Both books are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, and online. Click below for online retailer links.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

Freestyle Swimming Core Strength, Part II

Swim Speed Secrets underwater pull

In her book Swim Speed Workouts, 4-time Olympian Sheila Taormina describes a key concept for developing your fastest freestyle, the Serape Core Drive. Here’s Part II of an overview of serape swimming, which is explained fully Swim Speed Workouts, a swim training program that develops the world’s fastest freestyle swimming technique. Part I of this series introduced the Serape Core Drive.

TIMING, RHYTHM, AND MOMENTUM

Many swimmers think low stroke count is the only key to speed, and they’ve sacrificed every natural instinct of athleticism to reach an all-time low count. They hold their extended hand/arm in front of their head, envisioning a “gliding” effect, to achieve low stroke count. Yet, many swimmers in this group remain mystified as to why their times don’t improve after years of working at lowering stroke count.

The reason is a lack of tempo (the rate side of the swimming equation, # Strokes × Rate = Time), and this is directly related to rhythm, timing, and fluidity of forward momentum.

Tempo (rate) is as important as stroke count. A swimmer must strive to lower either of the two numbers without adversely affecting the over-all equation. Optimizing the equation can be complicated with freestyle because our pulling arms move asynchronously. While one arm presses back on the water, the other arm recovers forward over the water. (For more in the Swimming Equation, read Swim Speed Secrets.)

But even though the arms move asynchronously during the freestyle stroke, particular muscles show up in both arm extension and core drive. Everything is connected; what may appear to be unrelated independent movements (each arm spinning freely on its own) is actually a coordinated, connected motion.

The serape movement is central to this connected motion. To feel the coordination and connection in your stroke you must be patient during the catch. A swimmer who rushes the catch, hastily pulling the hand back, lacks not only a feel for the water but also loses the opportunity to load the core with athletic tension. A swimmer who works through the details of the catch gains traction on the water and allows the core the moment to extend on the serape plane to load tension.

Stroke timing can be thought of in two ways. (For more, please see Swim Speed Workouts.)

Where does kicking fit in?

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is true for swimming; a swimmer who doesn’t kick won’t pull as strongly under water because they aren’t anchoring their pull. A leg kicking against the water provides the leverage and stability that the core, shoulders, and arms need to pull more effectively. This is why all swimmers must kick, even triathletes. To neglect your kick is to leave a lot of speed in the water—and lose out on another way to build fitness, strength, and flexibility in your legs that can pay dividends for cycling and running.

Where Kicking Meets Breathing

Concentrating on my breathing during yoga class brought about the greatest benefit to my athletic performance. Under pressure, especially when my body was in a spinal twist, my diaphragm had to strengthen to breathe against the pressure and tightness. [Yoga helped my] diaphragm become very strong, giving me the ability during a race or training session to powerfully take in air volume.

The diaphragm also shares attachment areas with the psoas, [a crucial muscle group of the core drive]. Thus, this area has been called the part of the body “where walking meets breathing.” As a swimmer I’d rephrase that as “where kicking meets breathing.” So don’t dread the kicking sets on the workout cards. Instead, breathe strong and notice how the kick is connected to your breath.

VIDEO: See two drills from Swim Speed Workouts that help develop serape swimming, the Serape One-Arm Drill and Serape Kicking Drill.

Swim Speed Workouts is a card deck of waterproof swimming workouts designed to develop the technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers. Workouts and drills early in the program focus on developing feel for the water, fitness, and the high-elbow underwater pull. Workouts later in the swim training program focus on developing the timing, rhythm, and momentum of serape swimming.

The Swim Speed Workouts Test Team is a group of volunteers that committed to using Sheila’s workout program to get faster in the pool. They describe their early exposure to serape swimming drills and their later success in their Test Team reports.

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Both books are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, and online. Click below for online retailer links.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.