Drag refers to the forces that slow us down in the water, as we are moving forward. I consider frontal drag the number one enemy of the swimmer. In the medium of our sport, water, which is about 800 times denser than air, drag forces impact the speed of a swimmer at significantly lower speeds than in air. In addition, drag forces in water are extremely sensitive to minute changes in our shape and are exponentially related to our speed. That simply means that the faster a swimmer becomes, the more critical the technique is.
There are three different types of drag forces that slow swimmers down; pressure (form) drag, surface (wave) drag and friction.
In a study done in 2008, Mollendorf, Termin et al showed that all three types of drag affect the speed of swimmers that were being towed on the surface (1). At slower speeds (less than 1 meter/second), pressure drag was the biggest contributor to slowing, while at higher speed, friction became more important. Adding the motions of the arms and legs of a swimmer doing any stroke complicates the contributions of these drag forces by constantly changing the swimmer’s shape and speed. Nonetheless, coaches and swimmers must be mindful of the details that help reduce these forces in order to attain the best possible performance.
Frontal drag forces are so important in swimming, that they overshadow the importance of propulsive power. Power is still important, but in the world of swimming, frontal drag trumps power.
At The Race Club, we pay attention to the minute details that will impact frontal drag. In freestyle alone, I can think of ten different ways a swimmer can reduce frontal drag. The following is a Race Club video link that highlight a few of these and will help you slip through the water with less resistance, reducing your frontal drag, and increase your swimming speed.
Yours in Swimming,
Gary Hall Sr.
1. Mollendorf Joseph C.: Termin Alber C.; Oppenheim Eric; Pendergrast David (2008) Effect of swim suit design on passive drag, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise ISSN 0195-9131 CODEn MSPEDA
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