Courtesy of SwimSwam contributor Chris O'Linger, an assistant coach at the University of the Incarnate Word.
Anyone who swims, or has swum, in my program knows that I choose to focus on research-driven methods pertaining to my training program and performance tactics. One of the most intriguing topics I have run across in my research has been freestyle stroke pulling indices (tempo, stroke length, cycle count), and its ability to predict the average pace and closing speed of eilte 800 and 1500 meter swimmers. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find such a consistent formula for short course swimming just yet, as there will be a much higher concern for control of VO2 max levels, and hypoxic exhaustion when flipturns and underwaters play at least twice the role in the events.
For the purpose of this study, I am using a formula to determine stroke cycles for each swimmer encompassing the amount of cycles taken with a few control factors concerning tempo and distance from the wall during the final stroke extension. At an elite level, these variables can be controlled at a much better rate due to the sheer fact that these swimmers have rehearsed these indices for numerous years, and, for the most part, have settled into a constant rhythm at this point in their career. I believe that stroke cycle, with these minor adjustments, can account for all indices to a degree of confidence high enough (a = <.02).
I analyzed the top 16 male and female miles swam at the 2013 FINA World Championship meet in Barcelona, and came up with an descriptive statistic model which would allow me to find correlational trends and regressional predictive factors for a swimmer’s closing speed based off of their projected stroke cycle counts. Below are the average statistics for each variable to get a feel for what each individual’s data would comparable with:
|N = 32||N = 32||N = 32||N = 32|
|M = 62.2819||M = 63.0316||M = 18.5122||M = 1.2491|
|SD = 2.433||SD = 3.450||SD = 2.399||SD = 1.331|
|Min = 58.68||Min = 54.48||Min = 13.79||Min = -1.16|
|Max = 66.34||Max = 66.83||Max = 21.83||Max = 4.20|
*AP = Average 100m pace
CS = Closing 100m split
D = Difference between average 100m pace and closing 100m split
SC = Projected stroke cycle count
After finding many significant correlations and coefficients high enough to run regressional analyses to determine prediction rates, I found that swimmers with a lower cycle count throughout distance races results in a faster closing speed than swimmers with higher cycle counts. The effect sizes and R-squared values determined that this was a strong enough correlation to predict an elite swimmers closing speed based purely off of their stroke indices.
The regressional line-fit analysis is shown below:
Simply put, at an elite level where training and technique have been practiced with great emphasis, we are noticing that the ultimately technical swimmers are the ones who are still prevailing. Remember, this data is for the top swimmers in the world, and not anyone can take 15 cycles per lap and swim at this speed, but the trends do show that drill work and awareness of the stroke can lead to vast improvements across all events.
Swimming fast and trying hard is not enough. Technical integration needs to be established in a foundational manner before the workload is unmanageable at proper form.
O’Linger is an assistant coach for the Incarnate Word swimming and diving program. He swam collegiately at both the University of Florida and University of Tampa. He earned a degree in social psychology from Tampa. He is studying kinesiology.