Most triathletes understand why swim videotaping is important but not many triathletes actually take the time to seek out an experienced coach to complete a video analysis. Most triathletes, however, read and talk about how to improve their swim technique. To help triathletes put their words into action, this article reviews why video analysis is important, and what to expect from a quality analysis – the most important part of making real improvements in swim technique.
It is important to have your swim technique videotaped and analyzed for several reasons. Seeing is believing: most triathletes benefit from being able to see their swim stroke and observe what elements in their technique are being done well and what elements need improving. It also gives athletes something tangible to focus on during swim sets, and the ability to visualize themselves swimming with good form to make the ongoing mental corrections needed to make real changes.
Videotaping can also provide instant feedback. It is critical to view yourself when you perform remedial drills to ensure you are performing them correctly so they translate into changes. In addition, viewing your technique after completing corrective drills is necessary to see if those changes are actually making a difference in your technique. Although there is no perfect swim technique, only perfect practice creates change, so it is critical to be practicing good technique and drills precisely to make the correct changes in your form.
Lastly, videotaping provides you the ability to analyze your swim stroke and form in depth, and to have a greater understanding of stroke mechanics and swim technique. When you have the ability to analyze your stroke, you become a more educated triathlete. Education is important because swimming is such a biomechanically complex sport, and understating the mechanics of your technique helps you to prioritize the areas you need to improve in order to make the most productive changes.
Understanding the importance of videotaping is one element to improving your technique, but knowing the key aspects of a good swim videotaping session and analysis is also critical to success. These key aspects include several elements which are outlined below:
To begin, it is important that the person you are seeking to complete a video analysis has good experience as a triathlete so they can understand and relate to the technique required to be successful, both in the pool and in open water. It is also very important this person has several years of experience coaching triathletes, especially pool side. Having seen hundreds of athletes complete thousands of laps over the course of several years gives this person direct insight and perspective for swimming technique.
In addition, it is vital that this person has experience videotaping and analyzing triathletes swim technique. Being able to utilize the necessary equipment, shoot from the best angles, coach the athlete through the videotaping process, analyze the videos and provide instructional cues and form corrections during and after the taping session are all important elements that only a coach with videotaping experience can provide you.
Videotaping should ideally be done in a pool with minimal activity and without distraction. The pool setting is a more controlled environment where you can easily get clips from multiple angles, including underwater. Analyzing the videos and going through the review process is also more productive at a pool. Videotaping in open water can also be useful, but more likely for race specific adjustments, and you are limited in scope and versatility.
Another venue to consider is a swim flume or Endless Pool. This setting can be very useful since it is a very controlled environment and the process is easily managed. It is time efficient, and provides a lot of versatility in filming. In addition, some athletes feel like it replicates open water swimming.
However, costs may be an issue and not everyone is comfortable in a flume setting. Swim techniques that can be affected when using a flume system include: staying centered in the flow of water, snaking, balance, hip drop, and stroke alterations. Many of these issues improve the longer you use and train in a flume system, but if you are using it for the first time, you may not find that your experience is worth the convenience.
The following elements should be part of any good videotaping session:
Warm up: there should be a 10-15 min warm-up set that includes easy, moderate and hard effort swimming. Your true form will surface (no pun intended) when you are warmed up, and even slightly fatigued. Getting videotaped when fatigued represents a more realistic view of what your form looks like well into a race. In addition, it is important not to focus on being filmed and try to swim with what you feel is correct form. The goal is to swim your natural stroke to get honest and accurate feedback.
Videotaping: during your filming session you should get videotaped from at least three different angles that focus on your stroke and kick. I recommend, at a minimum, a top view hovering over your body, a front view underwater and a side view underwater. The side view underwater is the most telling and useful of all angles, so it is critical this be part of the videotaping process. These angles should be shot as you progress down the length of the pool and not from a stationary point on the deck. Other optional angles are front and back views above water, a bottom view underwater and a side view above water.
Corrective instruction: the primary reason for videotaping is to receive corrective feedback and/or drills to improve your technique, so it is important that the session include instant visual feedback and verbal feedback with cues and corrective form instruction, creating a strong, positive feedback loop. Seeing yourself swim correctly and with improved form at the session is also critical, so when you are swimming on your own, you will have had the visual and kinesthetic feedback necessary to swim with improved technique.
Equipment: at the very least a GoPro Camera that can be linked to the GoPro App (for a smart phone or tablet), should be used to record and review the videos on deck. This basic system offers the ability to get high resolution videos from a variety of angles. Using this system makes it is easy to create feedback video clips and still images for hard copy handouts as well. There are more sophisticated videotaping systems such as Dartfish and SwimPro, but they are very expensive and will likely drive up the cost of the videotaping session. On the other hand, the videotaping session should not just be done with a smart phone or hand-held camera that cannot tape underwater.
Takeaway and Sharing – there are many takeaways you should have during or shortly after the videotaping session. You should receive some type of summary with a complete breakdown of the key aspect of your technique, both positive and negative. This document should include references to the formatted videos. It should also include ways to improve your technique, including the key aspects of what was discussed during the session and how to incorporate the drills and corrective instructions into 'normal' training sessions. A high quality summary should include pics of your form that correspond to the verbiage in the summary. Furthermore, you should also receive the raw video footage from the session via a thumb drive or cloud option. You should also receive formatted videos that include descriptors, corrective prompts and parts shown in slow motion to extenuate both the positive and negative elements of your technique. A high-quality session will also include on deck assessments of core strength and flexibility which will also be included in the summary.
Re-assessment: one of the key elements of videotaping is also to have the option of having follow-up sessions to analyze your progress.
Reasonable cost: it is necessary that all these videotaping elements be provided at a reasonable cost. Videotaping varies greatly in price from $75 up to $300+, so know what you are willing to spend before reviewing your options.
The bottom line is that videotaping is the most impactful way to make improvements in your swim technique. Even the smallest change in your technique can make a big difference in your performance. What you gain in one 90 minute videotaping session translates into hundreds of hours of reading articles and swimming laps to make corrections on your own.
John Hansen, USAT, and USA Swimming Level 1 Coach and USA Cycling Level 3 Certified coach, Folsom California. Hansen has an MS in Exercise Physiology and previously worked at the UC Davis Sports performance lab for five years. Hansen currently coaches the UC Davis Collegiate Club Triathlon team. Hansen also has his own coaching business, primarily coaching long course athletes, 70.3 and 140.6. Visit HansenMultisport.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.