WHY MAXIMUM EFFORT MAY NOT EQUATE TO MAXIMUM SPEED

There’s this saying that always gets brought up in swimming…

              “Spinning the wheels”

What does this mean?

Well it is usually referring to someone who is sprinting, without really holding water. Their limbs are moving quickly, and it is obvious that they are putting in a lot of effort, but it isn’t resulting in a faster speed. I guess this can be equated to flooring the accelerator in a car while on mud, or for a water specific metaphor, gunning a speed boat from a static start.

This is something I have become quite familiar with recently, and am grappling with the perpetual question of ‘why’?

At the recent Brisbane and Queensland Sprint Championships, I made a conscious effort to make the heat swim what I refer to as ‘easy speed’, and the final swum at ‘maximum speed’. Easy speed I have mentioned in other pieces, is achieved by swimming fast without losing stroke length and maintaining perfect technique. The ‘easy’ part comes to fruition where swimmers often feel that at the end they haven’t put much effort in, and that in doing so, it was easy.

Anyways, the results of this mini trial were quite interesting. Across these two meets, I swam heats and finals for 50 Freestyle and 50 Butterfly, and in all four races, my heat swim was 0.1 to 0.3 quicker than my final.

Once the initial frustration passed, this appeared to be an interesting learning experience. The answer is still a riddle, but I have a couple of thoughts on the issue that I figure I might share.

So, it is common knowledge that as a strong male, I have the ability to exceed the maximum force I can pull through the water. Therefore, in turn, I also have the ability to waste a significant amount of energy if I go past this point, as it does not result in me obtaining extra speed.

My hypothesis is that by turning the focus to swimming the best possible easy speed, instead of outputting the maximum effort, that maximum speed will increase.

Now this is easier said than done, and I must admit, the answer is somewhat elusive. One would think that it lies somewhere between the other elusive concepts of ‘feel’ and ‘relaxed effort’ which may be of no help at all.

The paradox here is that it is highly likely that we can improve in this area by becoming even stronger, which at the surface makes little sense considering the above revelation. However, by becoming stronger and more powerful through the water, it can also be said that swimming at this limit requires less effort.

Less effort = less energy output = faster easy speed.

The session I have included below, is focused on stroke rate and strokes per 50, which is heavily associated with efficiency and ease of stroke. The goal is to increase speed, while maintaining a similar stroke count per 50 and keeping a check on effort so it is repeatable for sets of four 50s. To get all those elements working well at the same time is a tricky task.

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