Improving from three percent efficiency

July 30, 2009

The zen master of swim coaches, Terry Laughlin at Total Immersion, has just released a video of his presentation at the New England Multisport Expo.

swim-crystal-lake
After a lifetime of swimming just well enough to save myself from drowning, I decided a few years back to make an effort to improve. With a sense of trepidation, I committed to suffering through the necessary laps to accomplish this. But, before embarking on this painful course I came across Terry and his refreshing approach. His coaching philosophy, stressing efficiency gains over struggle, has revolutionized my relationship to the water and has made swimming one of my favorite activities.

Introducing this lecture, Terry notes:

The average human swimmer converts only 3% of energy and "horsepower" into forward motion. The other 97% gets diverted into our struggles with sinking, instability, drag, our inability to "grip" the water, etc. For comparison, elite swimmers are just 10% efficient -- that's right, even Michael Phelps wastes 90% -- whereas dolphins are 80% energy efficient.

This means that the overwhelming opportunity for improving your endurance or speed is to reduce energy waste, not increase power or fitness -- since 97% of what you add will go to waste anyway if you don't address the waste.

In a series of six video clips, Terry covers:

1) Introduces his talk and makes the point that every session swimming should have the goal of improvement [embedded above];

2) Expands on the efficiency argument and explores the balance between propulsive and resistive forces acting on a swimmer;

3) Considers the difference between land (where performance comes from "building the engine") and water (where "shaping the vessel" is the key).

4) Notes how mid-line stabilization enables you to gain propulsion through hip drive (gee -- shades of CrossFit);

5) Emphasizes how the hand must extend the body line to split the water; and

6) Finally, Terry takes questions from the audience.



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