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The TBN #51-How to Adapt Your Technique for a Given Distance and Speed

Read time: 4min.

By Coach Yan Busset

Many swimmers don't realize that effective swimming requires adapting techniques to match different speeds and distances. Imagine swimming with the ease of adapting your style to perfectly suit your pace and distance, whether you're enjoying a leisurely glide or hammering through a sprint. I will walk you through three main techniques and matching these with the speed and distance they are most adapted for.

1-Easy Pace: When Gliding is Still Okay

At a relaxed "leisure" pace, you can adopt an almost full front catch-up stroke*, allowing for extended glides. This relaxed approach is less about speed and more about cruising without using too much energy. It’s not the most efficient swim style as it induces a significant dead spot* in the stroke cycle*, but it feels effortless.

- Arm Recovery: Relaxed and delayed to facilitate longer glides.

- Stroke Pattern: Full front catch-up, emphasizing a relaxed rhythm.

- Underwater: Gentle, shallow and extended to maximize glide and minimize effort.

- Breathing: Breathing frequency is not too important because you effort level is low.

- Kicks: No much kicks required, but if you try to go faster and keep that stroke pattern you may end up kicking more that usual to compensate the dead spot of the catch-up.

- Ratings:

- Speed: ★★☆☆☆

- Efficiency: ★★☆☆☆

- Durability*: ★★★★★

-Visulization/ Reference swimmers: Ocean Walker style or Total Immersion technique.

2-Tempo Moderate to Long Race Pace: Finding the sweet spot:

When you need to increase the speed in a efficient manner you need to switch from a full front catch-up to a semi-catch-up stroke*, this technique keep the benefit of shifting the buoyancy center*, helping the legs to stay up more organically, while reducing the dead spot. The stroke rate* increases but remains controlled, balancing between efficiency and speed. It allows you to not use your legs much at all, but just for balance. Breathing is more frequent compared to sprinting, with a breath taken every two strokes to avoid oxygen depletion, enabling longer distances without fatigue. The underwater stroke will be shallower, bended between 90 to 120°, a biomechanical compromise between leverage and stroke efficiency. Ideally with a early vertical forearm (EVF)*.

- Arm Recovery: Smooth, elbow driven arm recovery

- Stroke Pattern: The stroke rate increase with a semi catch-up, reducing dead spot.

- Underwater: Moderate depth, "high elbow" EVF to optimize forward motion and leverage.

- Breathing: More frequent, every two strokes, to sustain energy and oxygen levels.

- Kicks: Moderate, used primarily for balance rather than propulsion.

- Ratings:

- Speed: ★★★★☆

- Efficiency: ★★★★★

- Durability: ★★★★☆

-Visulization/ Reference swimmers: Daniel Wiffen, Léon Marchand, Sun Yang.

3-Fast Sprint Pace: Maximizing Propulsion:

For sprinting, continuous propulsion is key, with a focus on minimizing any pause in the stroke cycle. One way to reduce the stroke rate is to throw your hand forward as fast as possible with straight arm recovery. In sprinting, the stroke rate is at its highest, and breathing frequency is minimized to maximize speed and reduce drag.

A notable difference between more moderate pace and sprint pace technique is how the underwater stroke is performed; it’s usually done with a more straight arm. This approach offers greater leverage, similar to using a bigger chain ring on a bike, providing a strong propulsive force. However, unlike the early vertical form ( EVF)* technique used in more efficient swimming styles, a straight arm creates more force directed from up to down, making it effective but not efficient. This method requires a lot of force, which is why it is typically reserved for short sprint events where maximum speed is crucial over a brief distance.

- Arm Recovery: Straight and fast, minimizing time out of the water.

- Stroke Pattern: Rapid and continuous, focusing on quick cycles, more " windmill type" .

- Underwater: Deep and powerful strokes to maximize push and speed.

- Breathing: Minimized, as less as possible, to reduce drag and maintain speed.

- Kicks: Strong and fast to enhance propulsion.

- Ratings:

- Speed: ★★★★★

- Efficiency: ★★☆☆☆

- Durability: ★★☆☆☆

-Visulization/ Reference swimmers: Florent Manaudou, Caeleb Dressel, and Fred Bousquet

Universal Techniques:

Regardless of the speed, certain principals of the technique should remain constant. The stroke length should always be maximized, and the initial catch should direct force efficiently towards the feet without too much downward pressing. And you should always aim to be as streamline as possible.

Having a wider set of techniques will allow you to progress by increasing your feel for water and motor skills.

Here is a great example of versatility and adaptation of style by pro swimmer Daniel Wiffen

Notice the technique change when he swims a short sprint (top screen) VS a 800m (bottom screen):

Note: Ideal Technique vs. Open Water/Triathlon Race:

When swimming in open water, in choppy conditions, or in a group, you can't necessarily "place your technique" as ideally as in a pool swim or alone in a calm lake. Adapting your swim technique to open water for a bulletproof technique that will be repeatable in rough conditions is another story and will be the topic of one of my next blog articles. So remember to stay tuned and subscribe to this blog/Newsletter to make sure you won’t miss it (HERE).

Meanwhile, try incorporating these techniques into your next swim session and observe the differences in your performance across various speeds. Share your experiences in the comments below or on social media to discuss your progress and insights with fellow swimming enthusiasts.

*Swimming Vocabulary Explained:

Full Front Catch-Up: This technique involves one arm waiting for the other to touch it in front before starting its stroke. It’s like each arm takes its turn.

Semi Catch-Up: variation of the catch-up, but the hands don't have to fully meet at the front. In this technique, the cue to start the stroke is when the hand in the air reaches the level of the head. This allows for a slightly faster stroke rate while still maintaining some aspects of the shifting the Buoyancy center.

Dead Spot: I A dead spot is a moment during your stroke when your movement doesn't help you move forward. It’s like pausing mid-action, which can slow you down. This often occurs if you stop your arms in motion too long.

Early Vertical Forearm (often abbreviated as EVF): This term describes a technique where the swimmer bends the elbow early in the underwater phase of the stroke, allowing the forearm and hand to push in the right direction, effectively increasing propulsion.

Buoyancy Center: This refers to the center of buoyancy in the swimmer's body, which is the point where buoyancy is balanced. Adjusting the stroke to shift this center can help the swimmer maintain a better horizontal body position in the water, avoiding sinking legs.

Stroke Cycle: The stroke cycle includes all the parts of a single complete stroke: starting when your hand enters the water, followed by pulling down and pushing back against the water, and finally lifting your arm out of the water to start again.

Stroke Rate: The speed at which a swimmer completes each stroke cycle, usually counted as the number of strokes taken over a set distance or time. Higher stroke rates can lead to faster swimming but may decrease efficiency if not executed properly.

Stroke Efficiency: This measures how effectively a swimmer converts each stroke into forward motion. Higher efficiency means better technique and energy use, resulting in less fatigue and faster swimming over longer distances.

Durability: In the context of swimming techniques, durability refers to how sustainable a technique is over extended periods or distances. A durable technique allows a swimmer to maintain efficiency and speed without leading to excessive fatigue.


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