Did you know that water is 800 times more resistant than air? Or when you move through water, the number grows to 1600 times greater than air? Fire a bullet from the most powerful handgun in the world while submerged, and it will be brought to a stop within eight feet! The drag forces in water are that powerful. Countless athletes attempt to overcome that resistance using strength, power, and sheer will. The problem with that approach is that, unlike people, water doesn’t get tired. The water’s resistance will be just as strong for you first stroke, your last stroke, and every stroke in between.
At 41 years old, with four back surgeries to my name, it’s a safe bet I’m not stronger than any current players in the National Football League. However, I’ll bet I could outswim 95-99 percent of those same men. What would make that possible? The answer is simple: Technique. I know how to minimize drag and maximize propulsion better than most, if not all, of them do. You see, speed in swimming works similarly to profitability in business. To determine a business’s profit or loss, you take total revenue and deduct total expenses. If the number that remains is positive, you have a profit. If it is negative, you have a loss. Swimming operates the same way, but instead of profits, speed is the objective, and instead of income and expense, propulsion and drag are the “currency”.
I’ve spent most of my life in the world of small business. In that time, it’s been my observation that most successful companies focus first on keeping expenses down, and then on increasing revenues. This way, market conditions pose a much smaller risk to the business’s survival. When revenue is the sole focus, with little or no control on expenses, a ton of income can still yield minimal profits, and if those revenues should fall, runaway expenses can be a death-blow to the business.
Let’s apply that idea to swimming, particularly as part of a triathlon. By making it your first priority to learn proper technique in order to reduce drag and resistance, you’ll end up needing far less propulsive force (and the energy expenditure that goes with it) to move you forward. It is at that point where, as you learn to maximize propulsion while maintaining good technique, you will see how similar increases in effort will deliver dramatically greater improvements in speed and endurance. In other words, you’ll be able to use a lot less energy yet swim a whole lot faster.
Triathletes, right now is the off-season for most of you. There’s no better time to shift your focus and really work to improve your swim technique. Reducing volume and pure aerobic conditioning work, and committing yourself to the deliberate work necessary for improved mechanics may not feel as difficult or rewarding in the moment, but it really is the best investment you can make now for the best results next season. Imagine exiting the water next spring/summer with a better split while at the same time feeling less fatigued and more energetic. How would that impact the rest of your race? A quicker T1. More energy and intensity available for the bike. Better rhythm and flow throughout your race. It may not guarantee a faster overall time, but it certainly will make it a lot more likely.
So what are you waiting for? Get moving, dive in, and make your profit and loss statement the best it can be!
(As always, should you have any questions about this article or anything else swim related, please don’t hesitate to contact me. David@AquaticRhino.com or @AquaticRhino on Twitter)