Our recent blogs and discussions about Total Body Force (TBF) swim techniques have highlighted the need to find a stroke that we can replicate over and over, that withstands fatigue so we don’t ‘fade’ in the second half of the race day swim; a stroke that enables rhythm and balance and which is determined on an individual basis.
Whilst we do take a very individual approach to defining a swim stroke, those who have attended our Trisutto Camps would be aware that generally we tend to encourage a different level of cadence between women and men. We have added a Part 3 to our TBF Swim Series to specifically highlight the need for a fast cadence for our female swimmers. We also introduce an alternative TBF swim stroke exclusively for women.
Most men tend to already have sufficient power, however my most common observation is that they are applying it in the wrong places. We see so many guys thrashing through the ‘Place’ and ‘Press’ phases of their swim stroke that by the time they reach the ‘Push’ there is no acceleration at all. For many it is often just an adjustment in timing that can lead to very quick improvements. We use our TBF swim methodology to adjust the swim stroke, and more often than not, the timing of the stroke falls into place.
When discussing female swimming we differentiate into three categories:
- Those that have come from a swim background; we try to change as little as possible. Most trained swimmers will have executed their technique over many years. The motor patterns are well and truely laid and digging them up to follow the Trisutto TBF technique is not advised.
- Those that have come from a swim background but use an extensive six beat or leg dominated kick. Again we don’t change without a thorough studying time to try to assert a) if the stroke they have is natural to them, or b) if their stroke is causing them problems over longer distance swimming (i.e. those coming from a short swim background can really struggle over longer distances, not because of cardio capacity or lack of it but because their stroke is far too energy sapping to replicate over the longer distances).
- Non swimmers. By this we mean athletes who have started to swim seriously since taking up triathlon. Our next chapter is devoted to these athletes who struggle to attain the desired biomechanics of conventional swim dogma.
Non swimming background
Our approach for women coming from a non-swim background is a little different to the men, in that we generally encourage a high frequency of stroke. Whilst the majority of women have less muscle mass then men, more significant is that they have a huge deficit in testosterone. Therefore a lesser likelihood that they will be able to hold the power required for a longer stroke when compared to their male counterparts. However women can compensate for this with a faster cadence. Just like pushing gears in cycling, if we use a smaller gear with a higher cadence and less amount of power, we can still maintain a fast overall pace.
Paddle Boarders competing in Surf Life Saving Events; my inspiration for developing a suitable stroke for female athletes in Triathlon. Whilst in a flat position lying on the board on their bellies, the athletes are able to maintain a terrific arm turnover with a flatter stroke, without an over emphasis on power. I want to emphasize how short the strokes are but because of the fluid dynamics of the board, how fast these athletes are traveling. Also look at how wide their arms are during the stroke, supporting our TBF methodology that getting your arms under your body or down the centre line is not a fundamental to swimming fast. Video Footage: Round 1 NutriGrain IronWoman Series
Using TBF technique with butterfly hip motion
After observing the positions, cadence and fantastic speeds of Surf Lifesaving paddle boarders through the water, it seemed plausible to me that these techniques could be transferred to freestyle swimming also. A very fast arm turnover that can be repeated continuously over distance.
Combining the paddle boarders arm motion with a a butterfly hip movement, is a combination I have experimented with extensively and have found these two together can in fact provide a more natural and effective freestyle stroke for many women. We still apply TBF, generating force from the hips, but instead of turning the hips sideways, we encourage an ‘up and down’ dolphin’ing / movement, vertical to the bottom of the pool. Thus is very similar to the movement of the hips seen in the butterfly swim stroke.
This stroke also allows us to focus on the finish and the explosive acceleration at the end of the stroke, rather than the extension at the front. The stroke is thus short at the front and long at the back, using the vertical motion of the hips and a higher stroke rate to create the power.
To be able to accomplish this we advocate less body roll for the women than men. To maintain a higher cadence a flatter body position is required with less overall roll. The amount of roll naturally occurring when turning to breath is sufficient with this stroke technique.
The male paddle boarders demonstrating the same concept; fantastic speed generated by fast arm turnover and a wide stoke. Video Footage: 2003 Australia Ironman Final
Distance per stroke
Focusing on a maximum distance per stroke is a notion held by many age group athletes which is a great inhibitor to their progress. The general impression that less strokes is better is a complete misnomer when training for triathlon swimming. Remember the swim leg of a triathlon takes place in open, moving water with currents and swells, while also fighting for space with other competitors. A long slow stroke is counterproductive to swimming in these conditions. The stroke needs to be suited to the environment you will compete in.
Gender, physique, natural body position, swim background, race distance and even mentality of the athlete are all important considerations when advising on best stroke for each individual athlete. With so many of us from a non-swimming background there is also one other important consideration – to enjoy, or learn to enjoy swimming! Technique, workout structure and correct use of ‘toys’ all contribute to improving, as well as to enjoyment – and if you enjoy your training, then you will enjoy the results too!