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  • Jul

    How to Swim a Faster Freestyle without Swimming More

    by Abigail Fish, Technique Coach, Ritter Sports Performance

    With more coaches going against the grind and challenging the traditional training methods of “more is better”, we are seeing faster age-group swimmers than there's ever been, more world records being broken (including the records from the suit era that no one thought would ever be touched), and success on top of the podiums from all different kinds of programs.

    This last decade (starting with Michael Phelps in 2008) has been a very exciting time in our sport. But aside from all of those changes, one data point is often overlooked when it comes down to what’s happening with our swimmers— the 15m mark rule.

    Let’s take you back briefly in swimming history for a second...

    Back in 1998, FINA updated the 15m mark rule—applying it to ALL strokes. The original ruling was passed in 1988 and restricted underwater kicking only in Backstroke events to the 10m mark. Then in 1991, the distance was changed from 10m to 15m.

    What prompted FINA to pass the rule was the final of the Men’s 100m Backstroke in the 1988 Olympic Games. Go ahead and take 2 minutes to watch this. I promise you won’t regret it!

    As you saw in the video above, out of the 100 meters in the Backstroke final, 5 out of 8 Finalists stayed underwater for more than 25 meters off the start. Most of the finalists only swam a total of 60-65 meters and underwater kicked the rest of the way! Keep in mind this was in an Olympic final—crazy!

    Now what isn’t as shocking is that even in 1988, those men understood the benefits of underwater kicking. But, they definitely didn’t have the technology that we do now to measure how much faster underwater kicking is compared to swimming!

    In an analysis I did of Caeleb Dressel’s 100 yard Freestyle from the 2017 NCAA championships, I calculated that Caeleb spent over 55% of his race underwater. Why?

    Feel free to watch my analysis here.

    Let’s dive into the metrics!

    Caeleb’s average underwater velocity was 2.84 m/s, while his average surface velocity was 1.84 m/s—an entire METER per second difference! There is no doubt that his capability to produce and sustain a higher speed happens under the surface of the water! Obviously, he needs to be conditioned to do so and have the aerobic capacity to maintain a high speed, while restricting his breath. But, this whole conversation goes back to my original statement—why are our current swimmers so fast right now?

    Look at the year FINA passed the 15m mark rule—1998.

    Most of our current, everyday swimmers have grown up training their “5th stroke”, or underwater dolphin kicks. It has been 19 years since FINA passed the 15m rule and every one of your club team swimmers started swimming with an understanding of what underwater dolphin kicking is and how to streamline!

    On the flip side, it is definitely a good thing that FINA passed a distance restriction on underwater kicking, because swimming (over the past 19 years) could have turned into a complete hypoxic sport. That being said, swimmers still don’t utilize the entire 15 meters available (off each wall) to underwater kicking.

    If you are that much faster underwater kicking versus swimming on the surface, an easy way to drop time in your freestyle races is to underwater kick more!

    Don’t you want to swim a faster Freestyle time without swimming more? 

    Get a FREE Freestyle Stroke Technique Lesson from Abbie here.

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