By Gary Hall, Sr. | Photo Courtesy of The Race Club

Watching a group of triathletes churning through the water with incredibly varied swimming strokes and techniques, one could easily surmise that this sport offers a wide margin of error. But it doesn’t—at least not for fast swimmers.

Admittedly, there are two very different techniques of swimming freestyle: hip-driven and shoulder-driven; and a third that combines using one arm of each technique, which I call the hybrid freestyle. However, regardless of the technique used, when you examine what is happening under water with elite swimmers, where it really counts, there is surprisingly little variation.

Because it takes place in water, which is some 800 times denser than air, swimming is arguably the most technique-sensitive sport on the planet. I call it the sport of millimeters, tenths of seconds and degrees. Lower the elbow on the pulling motion underwater by just a few millimeters and you significantly increase frontal drag. Initiate your pull or rotate your body a few tenths of second late and you lessen the power you can generate. The same problem occurs with a slight change in the pitch of the hand or the dorsiflexion of the foot during the kick. The truth is, in order to swim fast, you have to get it all right. But what is right?

It’s virtually impossible for any coach to analyze these complex movements without technological help.

That is where the technology comes in. Even the most experienced coach standing on deck can’t see the minute changes that occur from one stroke to the next, particularly underwater. Between the propulsive forces created mostly by the hands and feet, augmented by the body’s coupling motions and the frontal drag forces created by an ever-changing shape of a freestyler moving through the water, it’s virtually impossible for any coach to analyze these complex movements without technological help.

At the Race Club, we currently use three important technologies to help us understand how to help you swim faster: video analysis, a power meter and a velocity meter. Each gives us valuable and different information about your stroke.

Video analysis.

The Race Club video analysis is performed with high-speed cameras that enable us to slow your stroke down to see every detailed movement. Race Club Swimisodes, featured on our website, are shot with a RED Epic ultra-high-resolution camera, and our analyses are also done with high-quality cameras. We not only analyze in super slow motion, but also from every possible angle— side, below, front, rear and above. In the end, you are provided with an edited 10- to 12-minute video of your stroke with commentary. If you’re struggling to make a big breakthrough in the water and you’ve never had your stroke analyzed on video, we highly recommend seeking out a certified professional to do so. Swim video analysis is often something that needs to be repeated every few months as you progress to having a faster and more efficient stroke.

Power meter.

The swim power meter enables us to test the propulsive forces generated from your kick and pull. They can be tested separately or together. The test is done by tethering you to a starting block with a 10-foot stretch cord. A strain gauge linked to the cord and connected to our computer then measures your propulsion over 30 seconds of freestyle. We can then compare your maximum propulsion and your rate of power decay with some of our elite athletes. That is, how much and how quickly does your power drop in 30 seconds? The power meter measures the maximum propulsion you can generate from your hands, feet and your body’s coupling motions, such as body rotation and arm recovery.

Velocity Meter.

The velocity meter is one of the most advanced technologies available in swimming. It measures your body’s velocity, acceleration and deceleration at all points in the stroke cycle. A swimmer’s speed is the net result of the propulsive forces minus the frontal drag forces. At a moderately slow stroke rate of 60 strokes per minute (30 right arm pulls and 30 left arm pulls), a six-beat kick provides 360 kicks per minute (180 down kicks and 180 up kicks). Even though the kicks are not all at the same intensity or force, combined with the arm pulls, there are many propulsive efforts going on every second. When the propulsion is greater than the frontal drag forces, the body accelerates, and when the frontal drag forces are greater, the body decelerates. By viewing the stroke one frame at a time through a few cycles, we can analyze what motions are contributing to unnecessarily high frontal drag and what motions are actually making your faster. The combination of video analysis and a velocity meter is invaluable for finding out what specific parts of your stroke are helping you go faster and what might be holding you back.

Swimming is a complex sport. Unfortunately, water shows no mercy. Make a mistake, and you pay dearly for it. When you make the same mistake over and over again, well, you finish minutes behind your competitors. At the Race Club, we take pride in helping you get it right, but to do that, we need all the help we can get. For that reason, we try to use all of the latest and best technology available.

For more information about the technologies we use or to schedule an analysis session, visit http://www.

october-november-2015-coverThis first appeared in the October/November 2015 issue of LAVA. Get your issue here.

© 2016 LAVA, Serious Triathlon Magazine. All Rights Reserved.