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The TBN #38-Swimming Speed Secret: A Mind-Blowing Fact

Updated: Apr 8

Read time: 3min.

By Coach Yan Busset

Swimming Speed Secret – A Mind-Blowing Fact:

It's Not Your Hand Moving Underwater...

...It's Your Body Moving Forward Past Your Hand!

Don’t worry, I will explain how to get there.

When discussing the freestyle stroke, it's often decomposed into phases: the catch, the pull, and the push and the recovery. But what if I told you that to truly master the feel for water, you should realize that these phases don't exist in the way you think? Instead, aim to feel that, yes, you catch, but then there's no distinct pull or push. It’s your body that moves forward past your hand, which acts as a fixed point. This is similar to climbing a ladder: when you grip a rung, you don’t move the rung, your body moves beyond it.

You don’t believe me? Then observe for yourself. Next time you're at the pool, watch a skilled swimmer. Notice where they enter their hand in the water, using the side pool lane as a marker, and see where the hand exits. You will observe that the hand exits at the same level.

This is a marker of an efficient stroke. If your stroke doesn't cover the same distance, or if your hand exits too soon, you need to improve the following:

  1. Improve Your Catch: You need a solid catch, not a soft "petting the kitty" style. Let try not to be to geeky but here is a bit of fluid dynamic rules that will make you understand the need of a solid catch: the harder you push, the more your hand will push water molecules in a shorter amount of time. This increased effort to displace water molecules is why the water feels 'harder' or denser leading to more resistance. And that the resistant you want to feel and grip to forward your body forward.

  2. Keep Your Elbow High: This ensures your hand and forearm are oriented perpendicular to the surface. I often call the system « hand+forearm » your « paddle » so it’s crucial to engage it in the right position to maximize propulsion. In other words you want to avoid pressing down at the beginning of your stroke. You want to use your precious energy in the right direction to use this other physic law “ Action > Reaction”

  3. Strong Catch with Finesse: or « an iron hand in a velvet glove ». Though you need a strong catch, finesse is crucial at the beginning. Ensure your hand enters the water fingers first and continues extending under water. This not only maximizes stroke length, and minimize drag but also ensures there are no bubbles under your hand, which would weaken your grip. You want to press on water not on air.

  4. Optimize Stroke Length: Never compromise on this, regardless of your speed. Aim to reach as far forward and as far back as possible. A common beginner mistake is to have semi-bent arms at the front and exiting too early. I like to compare your stroke length to the chainring of your bike, you can upgrade your chainring size but you can’t change your arm length( Yes with two horses and some cahin in the medival time they could achive that but lets not go there…), you must optimize what nature gave you. Focus on maximizing your stroke length first, then increase the frequency to go faster.

  5. High Elbows / Early Vertical Forearm: We saw earlier aiming to keep a higher elbow is crucial. But It's not just about stroke orientation; it also determines which muscles you engage. If you can't keep your elbow up, you'll rely solely on your shoulder and arm. Maintaining a high elbow allows you to use your lats and lower back muscles, offering more strength. Keep in mind that where you need to tend toward to but depending on your natural range of motion this might be hard to achieve, and compromise have to be done with stiffer age groupers.

It takes experience and practice to feel that your grip is steady and that it’s your body moving forward past it. This is kind of the swim Jedi mastery trick – when you get there, you'll have an "aha" moment. It’s not easy, but that's where you need to aim for long-term improvement. And hey, if triathlon was easy, they would call it football, right? ;)

Looking for More Tips?

Check out some of my past articles that are in connection with this article:

Thank you for reading and see you next week!


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1. If you are in the Helsinki area and looking for the best training group check here

2. If you are looking for an online coaching service check here.

3. If you are looking for support for your triathlon journey, I recommend you book a 30min 1on1 video consultation with me here.


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