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home » fact, fiction, and observations

Many a coach has said: "Swimming fast is all about technique." Not true. Swim technique is very important, but I've coached swimmers with excellent technique that don't have enough upper body strength to go fast. At the other extreme I've seen swimmers with mediocre technique who move at elite triathlete speeds because they have a very big motor.

"You don't need to have a good kick to swim fast" is another half truth. True, you can swim very fast in a wetsuit with no kick, but even a small kick with wetsuit will add to propulsion and help keep you going straight. To have no kick without a wetsuit as a big problem, as your kick keeps body position horizontal. If your hips and legs drop it creates drag that slows you down substantially. The biggest difference between elite triathlete swimmers and elite pure swimmers is the power and energy behind their kick.

Most athletes ride too slow in training, and run too fast. Too much cycling time is spent within the comfort zone, just putting-in the miles. Athletes will swim a challenging timed set in the pool, and go to the track for run speedwork without hesitation, but very few will do intensity work on the bike. I advise mid and elite level athletes to do tempo work and even max effort time trials on the bike outside during the season. It works.

There are two distinct factors that create speed: distance per cycle and frequency. Increasing distance per stroke, gear choice, and stride length get most of the emphasis, while stroke rate, cadence, and stride rate don't.

A popular swim coaching service immerses its clients in dogma that focuses on reducing strokes per length for 'effortless' swimming. Sounds great, but when your arms move slowly so do you. And if you see an elite athlete finish their swim with a look on their face that says 'effortless', tell me about it! Once you've perfected your technique by holding the water optimally throughout your stroke, it's all about increasing turnover rate to gain speed.

Watch pro cyclists riding a time trial. You won't find any holding less than a cadence of 90 on a flat road. Even on a long grade they will hold 80rpms. Compare this to what you do and make changes. Your cadence should match your stride rate. More about that next...

Every athlete can benefit from increasing frequency on the run. Count the stride rate of elite level athletes as they run their 10k at the end of the race. You will find all of them hold stride rates in the low to mid 90s. One of the top women conistently holds 97 strides per minute! Even IronMan distance atheletes will hold a stride rate over 90 (unless they're crashing). This creates momentum and speed. Compare this to your run on race day and make changes. It will be worth your effort, and a shorter, quicker stride has less potential for creating injuries.

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