Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Twin Power of Tempo and Distance Per Stroke

All swimmers know the power and speed that comes from a combination of turnover - tempo - and efficient stroke technique - measured as distance per stroke. A recent article in the SF Chronicle captured this perfectly, as applied to track. We underlined a couple of key points for emphasis.

What's next for Bolt - the 400? the 800?
John Crumpacker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009

(08-22) 16:56 PDT -- What kind of numbers are these? Nine and five-eighths? Wasn't that O.J. Simpson's helmet size, 95/8? Nineteen nineteen? My dear, departed mother was born in 1919.

What's next, 430? That's my credit score if I don't get these bills in the snail mail.

Until a flash of lightning named Usain Bolt came along, times of 9.58 for the 100 meters and 19.19 for the 200 just did not compute. Even the fastest of men did not, could not, dream of running such times.

Then along came this Lightning Bolt from Jamaica jouncing down the track wearing a suit of green and yellow ebullience and all of a sudden, world sprinting has been redefined.

I sat in awe of the man a year ago at the Beijing Olympics, and this past week in Berlin at the World Championships he obliterated those jaw-dropping 2008 records.

At 6-foot-5, Bolt represents a paradigm shift in sprinting. What makes him unbeatable is the length of his stride combined with his turnover, the time it takes him to put one foot down and then the other.

Bolt's turnover is just as quick as his shorter competitors, but with his longer stride pattern, he takes fewer steps to get from the start to the finish. Can't beat it.

A year ago, Michael Johnson took in the measure of Bolt at the Beijing Olympics and had this scouting report: "He has an incredibly long stride, which affords him the ability to cover more ground. He has been able to take that long stride that he has and combine it with technique and with his high turnover he can destroy the field."

Our sport of swimming is not unique in that every now and then an athlete comes along who re-writes the record book combining technique and speed from the body type they were given genetically. Everyone in 2008 was talking about Michael Phelps. A few years back it was Ian Thorpe from Australia that had everyone buzzing (remember his suit by the way? Completely form fitted in case you forgot...).

In golf 10 years or so ago Tiger Woods came on the scene. He completely altered the way pro golfers train. Why? Simply put: pro golf is competitive (probably all golf - we wouldn't know!) and if you want to beat the person in front of you, you had better do what he/she is doing and then do something more and or different.

Usain Bolt is "unbelievable" and yet we are willing to wager that there are more than one or two track sprinters out there who are already working on how to beat him. This is the nature of competitive sports (or business or education - don't think for a moment that colleges and universities are not aware of what the "competition" is doing) - either you are improving or the competition is getting further ahead. It is really quite simple; not complex at all.

The trick is to figure out what to work on and in our sport most, if indeed not all of it gets reduced to the twin concepts of keeping your tempo up while keeping your distance per stroke rate at the maximum you can achieve.
For starters, next time you swim a lap count your strokes. If you can somehow reduce that number by one while keeping your stroke rate - tempo - the same, you will swim the lap faster.

Good luck and let us know how we can help!

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