Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Swim video commentary

I hadn't known Michelle brought her phone onto the pool deck. Here's one of the resulting videos. There's another, done in slo-mo for 50 m, and that's much longer, but you can actually see what's happening. If there is sufficient demand I'll post that one too.

So you've watched. If you want to see it on youtube direct, go here. I must admit it doesn't look as clear there, as it does on my own screen. There's some good and not so good. Lets begin at the beginning.

First 3 or 4 seconds, note that I was looking at the clock. You can't see it, but when you're trying to improve, the clock is your friend. When you swim faster you will know, and then you can think about what you were doing right, or what you've stopped doing wrong.

I slide down into the water and tuck onto my feet against the wall. As I push off I'm well below the surface. Many people push off by leaving their head out of the water, bring their feet up to the surface, and poke their butt out. This makes a horrible wake and slows you down right from the start.

At 5 seconds I'm nice and streamlined off the wall, already beginning to kick.

At 6 seconds I've just about completed my first stroke with my right arm. I could push off stronger and glide further with a dolphin kick. I think I'm about under the flags, but can't tell. Note that my head is still completely underwater. When your head is down, your hips and feet can be higher.

At 7 seconds, my right arm has recovered and my left is just beginning to stroke. My shoulder is still slightly out of the water because I haven't completely rolled more onto my right side. My upper arm is still slightly out of the water, but my hand has speared into the water. There is a complete lack of bubbles around my hand. My butt is right up at water level.

At 7 seconds and a bit, my left elbow is pointed at the ceiling. My right is just beginning to start the catch, you can see there is still a complete lack of bubbles. My head is tilted ever so slightly up, and should be flat in the water.

At 8 seconds, you can see my left hand is just about to enter the water, and my right has just begun the stroke. No bubbles, but my elbow is not as high as it could be. My head is flatter in the water, and I've just finished sucking in air. My left hip is at the surface.

At 8 and a bit seconds you can see my left hand has entered the water and my elbow is still out. No bubbles. I sound like I'm harping on it, but until you are swimming clean, every bubble is evidence of a sloppy stroke.

At 8 and a fraction more seconds I'm wincing at where my right elbow is. Way too low, and looks like it's leading my hand. I know better. You can see a little splash where my left elbow is in the water.

Still not quite 9 seconds, my right elbow is emerging from the water. My left hand is still out in front, reaching forward, preparing to catch. It might be hard to tell, but I'm looking straight down at the bottom of the pool.

Still not quite 9 seconds, right hand is just coming out of the water, although my wrist is bent too much. Left hand still hasn't started the catch, I'm looking straight down, hips at the surface.

Still (STILL!) not 9 seconds my right elbow is up and I'm bring my hand forward. My forearm is relaxed. Left hand still out in front, still looking down.

Still pre-9 seconds, I've rolled onto my left side a bit, and my right hand is preparing to spear the water. The left is just begun the catch. My hips are at the surface.

At 9 seconds (at last!) my right hand is straight out in front, no bubbles, and my left has disappeared. I'm looking straight down, you can see a tiny bow wave over my head. My shoulders are out of the water.

At 9 and a bit you can see my left elbow most of the way through the stroke, but not quite emerging. You can see a bit of a bow wave around my right hand, so it's just below the surface. The higher it is in the water, and the further forward when you start your catch, the more water you'll anchor yourself onto.

At 9 seconds and a bit more you can see the left elbow straight up and my right hand just starting the catch. There's a subtle shoulder thing happening here. As I've been stretched out, reaching forward with the one hand, I'm starting to recover with the other. As the recovering shoulder starts to catch up to the arm, the catch happens, and your shoulders swap positions one forward the other back. This helps drive power to the stroke, in conjunction with the roll.

You'd need a fast finger on the stop watch to time how long a stroke takes from say, entry around to entry again, but it's under 2 seconds.  When I time the strokes on my right hand, it's 16 seconds from the time the first right stroke starts, to the end of the 9th, is 15.5 seconds or so. You don't have time to think about it.

Skipping forward to about 10 seconds you can see me breathing to my right side. My elbow is just out of the water, my hand still in. My left eye is in the water, and my head is flat this time. The bow wave creates a bit of a dip in the water where my mouth is. This is one of the great challenges of swimming, in that you have to breath at very specific times, and for a very brief time. You need to power those lungs to SUCK IN air. The flatter you are in the water, with your shoulders back, the more your lungs can expand. I'm told good swimmer breath out slightly between breathing in, but I'm still working on that.

At about 13 seconds you can see my feet, and it looks like a big kick, but my left heel is up near the surface. An underwater shot would be better, but you can see I'm pretty flat in the water.

At 21 seconds I'm getting ready for a flip turn. At 22 seconds my head is curling down, and all you can see is my butt, just barely, then it is up and out of the water. Fast now, my heels come up out of the water, and I reach around with my toes, looking for the wall. This happens with my hips flipping open so I'm flat on my back in the water, just under the surface. If you stay turtled up it takes longer to get around and you'll sink like a stone, and your feet will end up on the wall much too high and you're likely to push off pointing down. At just on 24 seconds you see between the ripples that I've pushed off the wall, and I'm just beginning to roll onto my right side.

At about 24 seconds you can see me just breaking out of streamline. I'm on my right side, and I'm just about to stroke with my left hand. It's almost a sideways stroke, with my entire upper arm out of the water, and my forearm pointed straight down. My head is under water, and my hips are just coming to the surface.

By 27 seconds I'm back in the groove, left hand finishing another stroke. I'm breathing, one eye in the water, head point forward, not up, with my mouth in the little depression from the bow wave.

28 seconds the right arm is recovering, but look at my head, you see the back of my head is almost under water. Remember head down means hips up, means flatter and faster in the water. Michelle sometimes visualizes being pulled along by her hair in a pony tail.

During the mid 30 seconds, look at my feet. The kick is much tighter, and it's up near the surface.

At the very end I cruise it into the wall, where a competitive swimmer would take another stroke. You  might not notice, but I looked at the clock. Then I did a lot of heavy breathing.

19 strokes on the way out, 21 on the way back if I've counted right, for a golf score of 79. Not bad, but not terribly good either. I was getting sloppy.

My learnings from this, and especially from the slo-mo version? I need to work on keeping my elbows up. Always. A competitive swim coach would talk about my weak and feeble kick, and they'd be right. Being a triathlete swimmer gives me slightly different priorities. The biggest piece there is that my stroke is not smooth in the water. It jerks around, partly because I'm pulling hard, but also I'm not doing it as well as I could be. Really, you don't grab a handful of water, and throw it backwards. You anchor your forearm and hand vertically in the water, and slide your body past it. Think of it as a Jedi mind trick. I need to work on this. I already know when I slow my stroke down slightly and really focus on anchoring it, I swim faster. But then when I try to swim faster I get sloppy.

Just to put my time (39 seconds for 50 m) into perspective, that is 78 seconds for 100 m (my best time for that ever is 83 seconds and best recently is 87 seconds), and 780 seconds (13 minutes) for a Km. (My best recent 1K time is 18:04 or so) For a real fantasy trip, that's 2964 seconds for Ironman distance, 3.8 K. That's 49.4 minutes. That's Ironman male pro territory! Then they get on their bikes for 180 K, and then run a marathon. That just shows you how good they are at what they do.

The swim club kids will routinely go sub 60 seconds for 100 m freestyle in a 25 m pool, and the Olympian men will do it in about 45 seconds.

Back to the swim video. Watch what my head does throughout. It rolls side to side, but stays pointed straight down the pool. My body follows my head, and stays straight, or mostly straight in the water. Twisting and turning will slow you down. I think I can be more rhythmical, and that will help my stroke.

So, there you go. If you want the slo-mo, you have to ask. You can see exactly what my hands are doing, and see better what my stroke is doing underwater. Questions? Comments? Any pro swimmers have any suggestions?


  1. I'm now processing this information: play>pause>read>play>pause>read... repeat. I'll be back with an informed comment. This is what I absolutely admire and appreciate: Your ability to break things down in swimming to minute details Keith!

  2. OK, from the beginning.
    3-4 sec > That must be a Jedi mind trick too to get all body parts below the water and then push off. Mine is comically pokey and wakey.

    7 sec > Nice hand, wrist, elbow alignment in the spear. No bear claw. How can this look poweful and relaxed at the same time?

    9 sec > You mention a bent wrist. This is when your hand exits the water by your hip? Why is that bad? If you keep it straight, doesn't it push you down in the water while you pull up with your palm toward the ceiling?

    9 sec > High with a reach. Got it. Is there a fine balance between a high stroke rate with short choppy strokes and a longer reach which (might) take longer to turn over (as a person reaches for their cup of tea...)? ;)

    10 sec > Breathing with one eye in the water. Mr. Crocodile you shall be called. Holy doodle! That's hard to go fast enough to create a bow wave and not lift the head too much to compensate for the lack of bow wave.

    13 sec > In real time, your kick seems tight and streamlined but it's odd in the video that it seems larger than life.

    21 sec > replay replay replay. I understand what you are describing about flipping your feet over and have yet to try that. Due to the reflection on the water I couldn't see the part about you being flat on your back in the water after flipping. This is explained in the dryland video you did a while back though.

    28 sec > head under water. Hmmm. I never though of it like that. Is that the same thing as chin tucked, looking slightly behind straight down?

    I wonder if it takes more strength than I have to experience the Jedi mind trick of anchoring your forearm and pulling yourself past it. That sounds fun!

    Thanks for pointing out how your shoulders and hips move in one plane like a cookie sheet. More than anything, I need to work on not swimming like a wiggle waggle slinky dog pull toy with separate shoulder movement twisting away from hips.

    PS: I can't wait to see your comments on the slo-mo version. It will be easier to follow along & process the information.

    1. Everybody will have slightly different turnover rates. It depends on you things you can't change, like the length of your arms or the size of your hands, things you can change a bit like how flexible your shoulders and ankles are, and things you can change a lot like your muscular strength and endurance and your cardio capacity. It's similar to walking, your exact stride length and turnover depends on some of those same factors. We've all walked so much we don't even think about it anymore; we've found the sweet spot for us, and it's only when we have to walk faster than usual that we notice what we're doing. We don't swim as much as we walk, so it takes longer to find the sweet spot.


Looking forward to reading your comment!