Beyond the Pancakes: Jonty Skinner Defines Velocity for Swimming

In Practice + Pancakes, SwimSwam takes you across the country and through a practice day in the life of swimming’s best athletes. It breaks down training sessions, sub sets, and what every team is doing to be at their best. But why are they doing things that way? In Beyond the Pancakes, we dive inside the minds of coaches and athletes, getting a first hand look at why they do the things they do, and where their minds are pointed on the compass of evolution as a swimmer.

Jonty Skinner is always concocting some new formula to think differently about gaining speed in swimming. If you haven’t heard his talk on “Hydro Freestyle”, check it out here. In this video, he talked with SwimSwam on his new equation he’s been trying to solve, which is velocity = propelling energy/drag.

Skinner goes on to explain a way he thinks you can increase propelling efficiency to ultimately increase your velocity. I won’t try to explain it though… just watch the video.

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Alexander Popov followed a similar philosophy of 2 speeds – slow n perfect, fast n perfect.


I thought the same thing when I watched it… Is this really new? Popov trained like this 25 years ago.

Ol’ Longhorn

On the other hand, maybe it’s how Jonty trained, and he was Popov before Popov.


Sure, maybe.
It’d be interesting to hear what Touretski has to say about this. I think I read somewhere that he’s got degrees in sports physiology, biochemistry, biomechanics, and fluid mechanics. Does anyone know whether he’s published anything on the topic and whether it’s available in English?


is that you Bob ? lol


Loved it – great science & understanding there


Very little science in there. Just because you write an algebra equation on a whiteboard doesnt make you scientist. Agreed on the understanding. But to call that science is absurd. I also strongly disagree with his assessment that drag has somehow become a non factor. With wave drag, induced drag, and parasitic drag all having a V^2 component to them it is absurd to say that they are not the most important factor in swimming speed. Strength is linear and humans will always lose to water. If your’e not familiar with the fluid dynamics behind this; as a thought experiment ask yourself why do you get little 14 year old kids who can drop a 2:00 lcm 2back these days,… Read more »


I don’t think Jonty was explicitly saying that drag is a non factor now. I think he was saying that we’ve pretty much figured out all there is to know about drag, but still have a lot left unexplored within propulsion effectiveness. Also, would you care to help me point out how the 2:00 14yo kid’s backstroke was good? I tried to watch the video and see what was so special about his stroke that he was able to achieve such a fast time, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Thanks


Sure. At the time I posted yesterday I had not watched the race video but I took a brief look at it just now, assuming of course we are both talking about Keaton Jones breaking the 13-14 NAG. He manages to keep a very steady spine the entire stroke and also manages to keep his chest nearly dry the entire stroke even with what I will call full rotations. He is doing a pretty solid job of riding that wave. In my opinion fast backstroke can really be defined as the body’s ability to control the spine during the rotation. Back has a lot of different components in how the body rotates about the longtitudinal axis, with both the arms… Read more »


Correct. The equation for freestyle efficiency is Pe = ((SL^3 * D * SF^2) / w) ya know, from academic literature, by actual scientists. Drag, D, = K * v^2, where K is the coefficient of drag and the Power required to overcome Drag is K * v^3.

In his equation the faster you go the more efficient you are to infinity, which is nonsensical. And while we are fact-checking the coach, motor neurons don’t work that way either.


how do they work?


They grow and shrink due to specific training like many other cells. This happens over time so saying the brain can tell motor neurons to fire differently in a swim session is incorrect. Simply


Actual scientists. Virtual swimmers.


A great study on the efficiency of swimmers conducted by Tiago Barbosa used national team swimmers. Rushall was at SDSU and worked with the AUS National Team. Counsilman was the head coach of Indiana. Some of the Japanese studies use virtual swimmers for drag calculations but all the Western studies use actual humans. And of course, these are PHD-level scientists, some of the smartest people on the planet in the 21st century. So a virtual swimmer is probably modeled pretty closely to an actual human.

About Coleman Hodges

Coleman Hodges

Coleman started his journey in the water at age 1, and although he actually has no memory of that, something must have stuck. A Missouri native, he joined the Columbia Swim Club at age 9, where he is still remembered for his stylish dragon swim trunks. After giving up on …

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