The Art of Swipping

By Gary Hall Sr. | Nov. 14, 2016, 6 a.m. (ET)

swim school

Go back to school! Erase the smelly, crowded hallways of your high school from your mind and imagine yourself under the Islamorada sun in a clear pool ready to absorb knowledge that will enable you to swim faster. Swim School from Gary Hall Sr. of The Race Club is about lifelong enjoyment of the sport. It’s always more fun to swim to your potential.

Swipping is a conjoining of the words swimming and slipping. Swipping is a new word that I invented to describe swimming with the least amount of frontal drag possible.

In each passing year that I teach swimming technique at The Race Club, I gain more appreciation for the importance and the sensitivity of frontal drag to the swimmer. Because a large part of our sport takes place in water, which is some 800-times denser than air, the forces of drag come into play at much lower speeds. Further, minute changes in body or arm or leg position can lead to significant increases or decreases in frontal drag. Swimming is indeed a sport of minute details.

the race clubFor the most part, elite athletes, competing at the highest levels of the sport, have learned how to swip rather than swim through the water. Either through a process of trial and error, good coaching, a better feel for the water, or some combination of all three, these athletes have learned how to get through the water with a lower amount of frontal drag. While they are also quite powerful, it is the former quality, rather than the latter, that may have led to their ability to win races.

The real challenge of learning to swip, rather than swim, is that swimmers don’t feel the frontal drag forces as they are moving through the water. Typically, they feel the propulsive or lift forces on their hands, or if they really concentrate, they may feel forces against their feet as they are kicking. That is about it. Unfortunately, the positions of maximum propulsive power are not the same as those of minimal frontal drag. Consequently, most swimmers fall into the power trap. That is, they swim, instead of swip.

The high elbow pull in freestyle is a good example of learning to swip. While the deeper arm pull produces more propulsive power, the speed of the swimmer, which is determined by the propulsive forces minus the drag forces, ends up being slower (over the longer distances) than while using the high elbow pull. The high elbow pull is like the skate boarder cruising down the street who keeps tapping the asphalt backward with his foot to maintain his speed. He goes a lot faster and with less effort than the skateboarder who slows down nearly to a stop and has to push really hard with his foot to regain the speed over and over again. The tapping skateboarder is not only using less energy but is also taking advantage of the law of inertia to stay in a more constant motion.

There are many other examples of swipping through the water, but the important point is that it doesn’t take much to change from a swip to a swim. Swimming is a sport of millimeters, tenths of seconds and degrees. Drop the elbow a few millimeters and the drag jumps way up. Begin the breaststroke pull a few tenths of a second too early and the drag during the kick goes way up. Reduce the external rotation of the hip by a few degrees so the knees must be wider on the breaststroke kick and the drag goes way up
 

Yours in swimming,
Gary Hall Sr.

gary hall srWe don’t expect coaches to have the time or ability to spot every detail of stroke technique during a crowded workout. It is hard enough just to keep swimmers on the right intervals. That is what we do at The Race Club. We pay attention to the details above water and below water. We turn swimmers into swippers. With a proven philosophy in and out of the lanes, a passion for perfection, and in demand around the world, The Race Club can help you swim better, and swim faster. Triathlon Swimming Camp, Feb. 17-20, 2017, Islamorada, FL. theraceclub.com, swimfaster@theraceclub.com, 310-936-1888.

Gary Hall Sr., M.D. is a three-time Olympic swimmer (‘68, ‘72, ‘76) who earned a medal in each of the three Olympic Games. At one time he held 10 world records in all strokes except breaststroke and was the World Swimmer of the year in 1969 and 1970.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.