The Science of Improving Lap Times

Have you ever felt like the faster you tried to go, the harder it was to go fast? Improving lap times is the goal of most lap swimmers. They can work on this by competing with others or themselves. In some cases though, they might just be making it harder on themselves.
Don’t Drag Me Down
The biggest speed obstacle to overcome in swimming is drag. And drag isn’t just one thing, it’s a combination of different forces that get clumped together under the title of drag. If the effects of drag can be reduced, a swimmer’s speed can increase.
How do you decrease drag? First it’s important to know what drag is. As Sun Tzu said in his The Art of War, “Know your enemy.” And you are fighting a war.
There are 3 main types of drag that slow a swimmer down. These are:
– Frictional drag
– Wave drag and
– Form drag
Now, it’s never possible to completely eliminate drag. One article even points out the resistance a swimmer goes against is also in part pushing them forward. This means a swimmer needs to learn how to work with the drag. Below are a few ways to bring the different types of drag under control.
No More Friction
The first type of drag is frictional drag. This is created when water gets stuck moving across your body because you’re not completely smooth. The main thing that causes frictional drag is hair. Whether it’s on your head or else where, it will cause resistance against the water.
Frictional drag happens to be the most straightforward drag to deal with. All you have to do is eliminate the hair.
This doesn’t mean you have to shave your head. The simplest thing to do is invest in a good swim cap. This will imitate a shaved head while allowing you to keep your luscious locks. The smoother it fits, the better.
While your head may escape the razor, your legs won’t.  Even for guys, it’s a good idea to shave the excess hair if you really don’t want drag.
Another simple change is making sure you have a good swimsuit. Men’s baggy trunks are out of the question. Again, you want a tight fit that leaves as little to drag against the water as possible. If you don’t want a tiny Speedo, knee length jammers have grown in popularity and are easy to find.
‘High tech’ suits like Speedo’s LZR are also available. These full body suits provide high coverage with their smooth material that’s been tested in wind tunnels for maximum benefit. They are also built to provide support to key muscles that hold the body in the proper swimming form.
While these suits are top of the line, they are built to help shave off 1000ths of seconds and there are some other techniques to build before you can take full advantage.
Goodbye Wave
The next type of drag is Wave drag. You create this drag as you move through the water. As you move yourself forward, you push the water in front of you away, creating a wave wall that is constantly before you. It’s the same idea as the wake created by a boat.
Additionally, the lower you float, the bigger the wave because you’re pushing more water. Logically then, to combat this you should try to float higher in the water. The key to doing this is strengthening the muscles that keep you in streamline-form.
The abdominal muscles are the main muscles that do this. By keeping strong abdominals, you are able to keep your legs up and stay as straight as possible. This allows you to float higher on the water and create a smaller wave. It is when these muscles tire that your legs begin to droop and drag effects increase. The only way to negate wave drag is to swim completely submerged, where you don’t create a wave at all.
Increasing your stroke length can also help here; in lengthening your overall body, you reduce the wave’s effect. Pilates has been put forward as a good method for this as it not only helps improve length through looser muscles, but it also helps to build core strength.
Kick your Form
The final type of drag is Form drag. This is the drag created by the resistance of the water pushing back at you. The streamlined form developed for wave drag is also useful here. The straighter your body is in the water, the fewer places there are for the water to push back at you. This means less work for you to push through it.
The other technique to apply here is the dolphin kick. Used right off the diving block and after flip-turns, this form keeps the swimmer as streamlined as possible. The fact that the swimmer is underwater the entire time also helps eliminate wave drag. This greatly increases a swimmer’s energy efficiency. You can’t do this the entire lap, but take advantage of it as long as possible.
Now that you know, it’s time to grab your iPod, get out there, and show that drag who’s boss!
Your Thoughts
What tricks do you use to increase your speed?
Have you seen improvements after doing any of these things?

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