Adding Power AND Efficiency to your Swim


Posted by Coach John Murray

For many triathletes there is a weak return on their swim energy investment. For all the work put into the first leg of the race you would think you'd be nearer to the front of the pack. Instead, a fatigued athlete that gave it their all is walking up from the beach trying to get their heart rate under control.

We have two ways that we can generate our arm propulsion, either by a shoulder-driven movement or a hip-driven movement. Both of these are accepted ways to perform freestyle but the hip-driven method is more suited for our triathlon swimming.

Shoulder-driven freestyle
Higher arm turnover/tempo
Great for shorter distances (100 m or less)
Higher energy output
Hips stay still
Force comes from shoulder rotation

Hip-driven freestyle
Lower arm turnover/tempo
Better suited for longer swims
Lower energy output
Hip movement is connected to the arm
Force comes more from the core

When a triathlete is able to convert from a shoulder-driven freestyle to a hip-driven freestyle, they add power to their pull with less effort, thereby becoming more efficient.

I encourage athletes to allow a knowledgeable and experienced swim coach to analyze their swim mechanics and recommend modifications. Through the use of swim videos, swim drills, and continuing feedback, swim technique can go from frantic and breathless to powerful and efficient. Be patient as you make the changes as you may have some solidly ingrained muscle memory.

The end of the triathlon season is a perfect time to begin to morph from the shoulder-driven swimming to the efficiency of hip-driven. Allow several months to learn, memorize and strengthen the movements necessary for your modifications. It will be worth it when you emerge from the race swim with more energy for the bike!

~ Coach John Murray

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