The Art of Swipping

Swipping is a conjoining of the words Swimming and Slipping. Swipping is a new word that I invented to describe swimming with the least amount of frontal drag possible.

In each passing year that I teach swimming technique at The Race Club, I gain more appreciation for the importance and the sensitivity of frontal drag to the swimmer. Because our sport takes place mostly in water, which is some 800 times denser than air, the forces of drag come into play at much lower speeds. Further, minute changes in body or arm or leg position can lead to significant increases or decreases in frontal drag. Swimming is indeed a sport of minute details.

For the most part, elite athletes, competing at the highest levels of our sport, have learned how to swip rather than swim through the water. Either through a process of trial and error, good coaching, a better feel for the water, or some combination of all three, these athletes have learned how to get through the water with a lower amount of frontal drag. While they are also quite powerful, it is the former quality, rather than the latter, that may have led to their ability to win races.

The real challenge of learning to swip, rather than swim, is that swimmers don’t feel the frontal drag forces as they are moving through the water. Typically, they feel the propulsive or lift forces on their hands, or if they really concentrate, they may feel forces against their feet as they are kicking. That is about it. Unfortunately, the positions of maximum propulsive power are not the same as those of minimal frontal drag. Consequently, most swimmers fall into the power trap. That is, they swim, instead of swip.

The high elbow pull in freestyle is a good example of learning to swip. While the deeper arm pull produces more propulsive power, the speed of the swimmer, which is determined by the propulsive forces minus the drag forces, ends up being slower (over the longer distances) than while using the high elbow pull. The high elbow pull is like the skate boarder cruising down the street who keeps tapping the asphalt backward with his foot to maintain his speed. He goes a lot faster and with less effort than the skateboarder who slows down nearly to a stop and has to push really hard with his foot to regain the speed over and over again. The tapping skateboarder is not only using less energy but is also taking advantage of the law inertia to stay in a more constant motion.

There are many other examples of swipping through the water, but the important point is that it doesn’t take much to change from a swip to a swim. Swimming is a sport of millimeters, tenths of seconds and degrees. Drop the elbow a few millimeters and the drag jumps way up. Begin the breaststroke pull a few tenths of a second too early and the drag during the kick goes way up. Reduce the external rotation of the hip by a few degrees so the knees must be wider on the breaststroke kick and the drag goes way up.

We don’t expect coaches to have the time or ability to spot every detail of stroke technique during a crowded workout. It is hard enough just to keep swimmers on the right intervals. That is what we do at The Race Club. We pay attention to the details above water and below water. We turn swimmers into Swippers.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

14 Responses to The Art of Swipping

  1. Christopher Farr

    A simple but powerful concept…
    ‘Speed of a swimmer is determined by the propulsive forces minus the drag forces.’

    Thanks for this, Gary.

     
  2. Al Kubeluis

    Hi Gary
    … “Because our sport takes place mostly in water, which is some 800 times denser than air, the forces of drag come into play at much lower speeds.”
    … Great observation. And great article.
    … I’m a 73 year old competitive swimmer (high school, college, masters). Since my muscle and cardio strengths are declining with age, your article shows where I should put my attention.
    … Do you have advice and products that are geared for masters swimmers?
    ………….. Al

     
    • Gary Hall Sr.

      Al,

      We are not tied to any company but have found favor with several training devices….some used for drills..others for sets. You can find all of these on our website store: 1. DMC fins (I like the newest Repellor model) 2. Tempo Trainer (Finis) 3. Alignment board (Finis) 3. Yellow elastic band (Finis) 4. Snorkel (Race Club brand) 5. Sculling paddles (Finis instinct). all of these are geared for all swimmers..young or old.

       
  3. Dylan Julio

    I find this article very interesting. I have been swimming for a while and I feel like my game is power. I have a stronger kick than many on my team and I can actually destroy any set that has parachutes. But I was never really able to match any of our top guys when it came to longer and more endurance based sets. Or even sets that contained a great deal of short sprints I seem to fade off as the other guys just keep going. My work ethic is good and I actually have a pretty decent aerobic base. Another thing I’ve noticed is that it seems as though my body takes an extremely long time to recover even when bringing down the volume of training. So I was just curious if you guys had put any thought into the ways training with an innefective stroke may result in a more tired body and difficulty recovering. My coach has always put that on diet but I’ve tried a bunch of different things. Even going to my universities sports nutritionist but the results have tended to be the same and I’ve basically been stuck with the same times for about 3 years.

     
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  7. heltan

    i stopped my 1500 m free race at 500 m yesterday after recognizing that i`m in the swim (“against water”) mode instead of the trained swipping flow, the warm up swim has missed and i cant react during the race.back tpo practice…

     
    • Gary Hall Sr.

      At times, when racing, we get overzealous about trying to pull for power, rather than relaxing and pointing the elbows forward, keeping a low drag coefficient. It is a less powerful, yet faster way to swim.

       
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  9. Kdre

    DearMr. Hall,
    I appreciate many of your articles and share in your passiOn for this lifetime sport. I grew up learning from extremely knowledgeable coaches here in northern cali, and as very fortune to be taught by the best. I respectfully disagree with your statement that coaches lack the ability to break down technical details during practice, and your claim of inventing the term “swipping” is false. It is possible to give technical feedback and correct send offs at the same time. It’s called being a good coach. Your “invented” term has been used by Dora the Exporer for over a decade. My colleague and I Refer to it as having a “reationship with the water.” You are more than welcome to use that title also.

    Thanks,
    Kim

     
    • garyhallsr

      Kim,

      You are absolutely right. Coaches can and should correct technique throughout training. My coach at IU, Doc Counsilman, would correct my technique every practice. However, it is impossible for any coach, including me, to detect all of the technical errors from the deck…even while looking at one swimmer at a time.
      Swimming is a detailed sport that not only requires the skilled eye of a coach, but certain other technologies in order to recognize and quantify the mistakes being made. Without using those tools effectively, I can assure you that all coaches are missing them.
      With Dora, you may be referring to ‘Swiper’…close but not the same as a Swipper.

       
  10. garyhallsr

    Kim,

    You are absolutely right. Coaches can and should correct technique throughout training. My coach at IU, Doc Counsilman, would correct my technique every practice. However, it is impossible for any coach, including me, to detect all of the technical errors from the deck…even while looking at one swimmer at a time.
    Swimming is a detailed sport that not only requires the skilled eye of a coach, but certain other technologies in order to recognize and quantify the mistakes being made. Without using those tools effectively, I can assure you that all coaches are missing them.
    With Dora, you may be referring to ‘Swiper’…close but not the same as a Swipper.

     
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