General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Swim turnover experiment Rss Feed  
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2013-05-30 9:18 AM

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Subject: Swim turnover experiment
I'm big on experimenting, and had a chance to do some yesterday during an open water swim that's beautifully organized by my town on a well measured half mile course in a large pond, complete with buoys, lifeguards, kayaks....amazing. I don't give my swim times in the pool much credit as far as translating to OWS, for a number of reasons, including wetsuit buoyancy and the position changes it creates, sighting, temperature, and the lack of walls, so no pushing off, getting the rest from the following glide, etc. It's just a different animal, I think we all agree on that. I'm a decent swimmer - by no means FOP, but decent. If I'm sighting well I find myself coming on in the front of the middle of the pack. I have swam over 2 miles a few times, and regularly swim 1 mile comfortably.

Even though I hate the pool, it's all I have most of the year, so my benchmark is an average of 17 strokes per 25 yards at 1:40 per 100 yards all day long, roughly equating to 45 strokes per minute. I don't glide after push off very far and have pretty quick turns. I've increased my base fitness significantly over the last year, and now have the ability to increase my stroke rate, but hadn't done so in the pool just because, well, I hate the pool and love OWS, so I wanted to wait until I had this opportunity again to test it out. I haven't been swimming that much in the offseason, as I wasn't unhappy with my splits in the water, so didn't care (yet) to really push for improvement there when the opportunity to improve the run was so glaring. I know coming into this experiment that my interval (ie higher turnover) speed is much faster than my usual cruising speed, and I can likely swim a lot faster than cruising pace, just wanted to do it in open water.

I did two laps of the pond, the first using my 'regular' pace, and unsurprisingly came back in 14:50, exactly what I would expect. If the course measures exactly 800m, the calculated time would be 14:34, so only 16 seconds of sighting loss = not bad at all. Cool, I had my control. The next lap I consciously increased my turnover\stroke rate. I had a sighting issue in that I was pulling right pretty badly for the first ~200m which threw me for lets say 30 seconds off, but I swam pretty straight the rest of the time and stuck to the buoys once I corrected it. Other than focusing on turnover, my stroke was exactly the same in feel - still front quadrant-based, 2 beat kick, high elbows, low head. Hit the shore...13:40. That's not chump change.

Doing the math now, it looks like I increased my turnover to ~50 strokes per minute, factoring in the 30 seconds of sighting. That dropped my pace from 1:40 to 1:30. I had focused on increasing, but not to the point where it changed my oxygen needs. I breath every two strokes, and although I was taking breaths more frequently, I found I was taking slightly shallower breaths, more 'normal' feeling. All in all, I was able to increase turnover without a change in comfort level.

This experiment predicated on base fitness - I've been running significantly more in the last year than previous ones, and my cardiovascular system has improved dramatically as a result. At first blush, I would say the takeaways for others would be that so long as you have 1) decent swim fitness, so you can comfortably swim say a mile, and 2) a decent stroke (let's say this means better than I don't know, 2:00/100?), increasing your turnover is extremely important (duh).

I feel a lot of coaches and programs focus on the words 'smooth' and 'relaxed' or even 'glide' to explain how effective swimming feels, and I want to contest that a bit. It doesn't feel 'smooth' to have a turnover of 50 strokes per minute, that's a lot of movement. According to this: stroke rate should be even faster, closer to 60 (take that for what it's worth). If I equate that running, while it's sustainable for me to run at a 7:00/mile pace for a 10K, that in no way means it's 'comfortable' or 'smooth'. Is my gait solid? Yes. Is there a lot of excess movement? No. Am I breathing fine\HR fine? Yes. Comfortable? Hell no. Drinking a beer in a hammock is comfortable. MAYBE I'd say running at 9:30/mile is comfortable. 'Race pace' or 'tempo pace' in swimming is WORK, and I don't think I've heard enough of that. What I hear sounds more like 'SWOLF' or 'stroke rate' or 'EVF' or etc etc. You gotta move those arms a LOT. Just like in running, I think you get more efficient over time just by doing it. Is there some baseline understanding of how to swim you need first? Sure. But once you get the basics, I think there's less to it than what I've been sold. Somehow I fell into a trap of thinking that I could have this smooth, lazy feeling stroke and rip to the front of the pack if only I could figure out exactly how to hold my hand, time my catch, beat my kick, etc. Nope. I gotta swim harder. Hope my experiment and observations on this helps someone.

2013-05-30 11:09 AM
in reply to: fisherman76

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San Luis Obispo, CA
Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment
Good read and a fun (worthwhile) experiment. Improvement in this sport is what we're all here for.
I have just ordered the Finis Tempo Trainer in hopes of increasing stroke rate and as a way to monitor how much my stroke rate deteriorates over a long workout.
2013-05-30 11:34 AM
in reply to: fisherman76

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Houston, TX
Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment
I've read through the SwimSmooth material and they had me really pegged as an overglider. I also did some experimenting, but I find the pool to be better for that due to the similar conditions and lack of sighting issues. My access to a pool is also much better than any OWS venue.

My endurance pace is 50 spm, which puts me at about 2:12/100m. So my typical 500m sets when I am fresh are 10:45, but slip to about 11:10 if I am doing a 1500m set. One time recently, in a group swim, I was really pushing the cadence on a 500m time trial. I felt like I was going to die, but I was mentally pushed by having other people in the lane. My time was 10:08.

What you are saying about race pace being work is exactly correct. You can't just increase your arm turnover rate without have the cardio to back it up. It is just like running. My run today was at 9:50/mile at a cadence of about 79 rpm. In my tri, my 5K was at 8:31/mile at a cadence of about 83-84 rpm. I've done intervals where I am at 7:00/mile at a cadence of about 90 rpm, but I can't hold that for more than a couple minutes.
2013-05-30 11:50 AM
in reply to: fisherman76

Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment
For me, increasing swim turnover is ALL about increasing swim fitness.

It's also true that once you get stronger and get used to swimming at that faster rate, slowing it down makes you seem smooth and efficient, but it's really an effect of that better swim fitness.
2013-05-30 12:03 PM
in reply to: chris00nj

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Middle River, Maryland
Bronze member
Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment

Fun experiment.

I would definitely agree that these types of results are going to be seen more from semi-advanced swimmers (I'll go even a little faster than your 2:00/100y...maybe 1:50).  Up until then increasing your stroke rate is just thrashing.  Smile


2013-05-30 8:08 PM
in reply to: jmhpsu93

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Extreme Veteran
Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment
Did you by any chance check HR immediately after the two laps? Although I suppose it's possible, I find it hard to believe you increased stroke rate and swim pace without increasing effort. Not taking away from the accomplishment just thinking out loud...

2013-05-30 10:25 PM
in reply to: wbattaile

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Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment
I followed the TI program to improve my swimming which did help. I attempted to have a lower stroke rate while maintaining my already slow speed. It seems that I was not in a comfortable stroke rate for myself. I've since increased my stroke rate to what feels natural for me even though it might be higher. Overall I am swimming faster although as stated, what is my HR now? I don't know but I just feel more comfortable and that to me is what matters.
2013-05-31 6:56 AM
in reply to: wbattaile

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Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment
No, didn't check HR afterwards. Just by feel I can say it wasn't higher than I would expect, but I can't say for certain, really need to measure it.
As an update, I did another lap yesterday focusing on turnover again and had a 14:40 result, which tells me a few things:
1) I'm probably more tired than I give myself credit for
2) the slower lap probably locked me into a much better form, which I lacked yesterday

So the final test in this series will come Sunday, same venue, but race day. I'll be on a full day's rest, and I'll be sure to warm up with some nice, even, focused technique beforehand to get my motions locked in. Wish me luck! If I can execute something with a 13 handle on race day, that would be a huge accomplishment for me.
2013-05-31 7:14 AM
in reply to: fisherman76

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Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment
Hey good luck in your race! Thanks for posting, it was very informative and beneficial.
2013-05-31 10:47 AM
in reply to: fisherman76

Subject: RE: Swim turnover experiment
Sheila Taormina talks about this in her book Swim Speed Secrets. She lays it out pretty simple:

time = (# strokes/distance) x (time/stroke)

If you decrease both, or decrease one and hold the other constant you decrease your time/distance. It sounds like you were able to decrease time/stroke in your first experiment while holding the other constant, but on the second trial your form wasn't as good and you weren't traveling the same distance per stroke that you did initially.

She gives two examples of people who are good at one but not the other:
gliders - they decrease the # strokes/distance but have to increase time/stroke to accomplish this
thrashers - might have a really low time/stroke but they're not going anywhere and have a huge # of strokes/distance

I've found out that while the equation is simple its a lot of work to decrease both and maintain that over an extended period of time.
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