Blinded by Aesthetics: Why You Shouldn't "Pause and Glide" in the Water, Part Two
by Paul Newsome
Ed. Note—On Tuesday we brought part one of Paul Newsome's piece about eliminating the "pause and glide" in your freestyle stroke. Today we finish up with part two, where Paul supplies a host of supporting material
Why You Shouldn't Be Trying To Actively Glide When You Swim
So here’s our top five reasons why you shouldn’t be blinded by aesthetics in the pursuit of a long, gliding stroke when you swim. Doing so isn't smooth; it’s often just plain slow.
1) Water is 800 times more dense than air, meaning that if you pause the cycle of your stroke and chant silently to yourself "Enter, e-x-t-e-n-d, pause and pull” in the hope of reducing your strokes per length to a lower number, you’re simply going to slow down. That’s not us saying that—them’s the laws of physics, my friend! It takes significantly more effort and energy to reaccelerate yourself after each glide than it does to keep the momentum up and keep yourself moving forwards. The godfather of swimming biomechanics, Doc Counsilman warned us about this some 50 years ago in his seminary work, The Science of Swimming, it’s just a shame so many elected to ignore the Doc’s logic as he was perfectly correct.
2) The following three sequential articles by the same author in the popular US magazine Triathlete show why it is important to a) know when an article was written (Google searches are not ranked chronologically); b) know what the current sentiment of that author is; and c) to recognize that while it is fine for us to all improve and evolve our methodology over time, sometimes 180º U-turns just cause plain confusion for the reader.
Sara hits on a really good point here about the semantics of language and how the term “glide” is vastly misinterpreted, hence the reason we’ve stated that “Glide Is a Dirty Word” ever since we started way back in 2004.3) The world’s best swimmers are the least efficient if you use the same SWOLF metric that your swim watch measures for you as your sole measure of efficiency. As we discussed in much greater detail in this article, Katie Ledecky, Gregorio Paltrineiri and Adam Peaty (multiple Olympic gold medallists, world record holders and world champions between them) would actually score the lowest level of efficiency in their respective Olympic Games finals if you applied swim golf to their events—despite coming out on top overall! (this pleases squad swimmer Dave no end). As the very best swimmers in the world at this point, surely we should be sitting up and taking more notice? The data below was collated by the expert team at www.tritonwear.com - it’s hugely insightful as to how the best swimmers really do it from an objective standpoint:
4) Even our seemingly gliding heroes acknowledge that they don’t glide when they swim efficiently. Remember how Sheila Taormina elected to use Ian Thorpe as an example of what people perceive to be a long, gliding stroke worth copying? Well Sheila and Thorpie competed at the same Olympics in Sydney 2000, but notably after she’d made a transition from Olympic Gold medal swimmer in 1996 at 5’3” tall, to brilliant triathlete and 6th place finisher in the world’s inaugural Olympic triathlon event. Sheila was super dominant in the swim discipline as you might expect but she’d be the first to say that her height / build wasn’t to her advantage in the pool compared to the towering Thorpedo.
Still, she made her attributes work well for her and even went on to compete in Modern Pentathlon as her third Olympic discipline in 2008 - crazy cool hey? Back to the point though, there’s no one who loves and appreciates Thorpe’s dominance of the era and his truly smooth stroke more than us, but even we were relieved to read in Thorpie's 2012 memoirs that he was not more efficient than everyone else because he glided more and took fewer strokes, but that he would actively take 50% more strokes (yes 50%!) than he was capable of swimming at in order to be truly efficient and maintain the very same continuous momentum that Doc Counsilman told us about way back in 1968:
5) The best triathlete in the history of the sport gives scant regard to how he looks. When you’ve got two Olympic Gold Medals under your belt and multiple WTS wins to your name, it’s fair to say you know a thing or two about what it takes to be truly effective when you swim in the open water. When we met up with Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee a few years ago we spent a while chewing the fat with them about what makes a truly efficient stroke for triathlon. Alistair has this to say (excerpt from their brilliant book Swim, Bike, Run):
So how do you know if you’ve been blinded by aesthetics and the lure of the longer-is-better cool aid? Simple really - as a really easy starting point, cross reference your number of strokes per minute (get a friend to count each stroke for 15 seconds during a 400m CSS / threshold pace swim and multiply by four) against the average pace of your 400m swim and plot yourself on this chart:
Where do you sit? Massively in the blue zone? You’ve been on the cool aid? Still in the red zone and fighting the water or just spinning like crazy? Or do you sit nicely within that white region? Good job if so!
If you’re in the blue, read this, and then follow this.
If you’re in the read, read this, and then follow this. www.swimsmooth.guru/sequence/xa/taming-the-arnie/
If you're in the white zone, keep drinking our Kool-Aid! It’s proven to be a solid enough foundation for both British Triathlon and the International Triathlon Union to endorse as their swimming curriculum, and that is something of which we’re very proud!