Video: The Secrets of Speed Part 3 of 9
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on April 19th, 2011

Terrestrial Mammals: In their element on land. Out to sea in water.

In Part 2 I cited Amby Burfoot who came to recognize how easy, even natural, it is to waste energy when we try to swim faster, and how radically that differed from his running experience.

Also how, despite experience swimming in hundreds of races — and a lifetime total of over 10,000 hours of practice trying to hone my skill at swimming faster — it still takes unblinking focus and extraordinary mental discipline to avoid moving the water around, rather than moving my body forward, when I try for a fast final stretch (say the last 50 in a 200) in a race. In the handful of road races I’ve done, it was almost ridiculously easy to run faster at the end. Not that I didn’t need to increase my effort, but I found it easy to avoid struggling with form.

This is an essential understanding to anyone who both runs and swims for speed, as triathletes do. Not only is the environment during the running portion of a triathlon calm orderly, and even social, running is an entirely natural activity for man — the world’s foremost ‘endurance predator’ according to evolutionary biologists.

When we want to run faster, our brain translates that thought into action in a highly effective way. When biomechanists shot video of a wide range of terrestrial mammals noted for their foot speed – race horses, greyhounds, lions and gazelles, as well as humans — they have observed that all increase running speed in exactly the same way. There’s relatively little change in Stride Rate. Instead all run faster by increasing Stride Length. It’s simply wired into our brains.

In TriSwimming, not only are we in a congested and chaotic environment – as terrestrial mammals, we’re also in an alien environment, where our brains translate the thought “Swim faster” into far less efficient actions. Not just inexperienced swimmers, it’s true even for Olympians.

Humans behave exactly the opposite in water as on land. When we try to swim faster, we increase Stroke Rate, while — almost inevitably — decreasing Stroke Length. In analysis of video from hundreds of races over many Olympiads, swim researchers have found that at the decisive point in races, where the eventual medal winners pull away from also-rans, a consistent pattern emerges.

All are increasing Stroke Rate. The eventual winners are those who maintain, or give up less, Stroke Length. The decisive factor in winning races — including the race you constantly wage with your own ‘speed limits’ – is never how fast you stroke. It’s always how long.

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4 Responses to “Video: The Secrets of Speed Part 3 of 9”

  1. kueli says:

    “It is never how fast you stroke. It is always how long you stay.” Thanks, Terry! What a great quote for my desktop :-)

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  2. kueli says:

    The more I think about it, the more I like it. Your quote is the perfect focal point. It tells you what to do, and what not to do. It is all I am going to need to chase Cristina in Las Canteras –one of the top three urban beaches in the planet– when we go for a swim this afternoon.

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  3. […] extensively about our instinct in water compared to our instinct on land as terrestrial mammals (see some of that here), so I don’t want to go into detail here as this is just a little introduction and not an […]

  4. […] Part 3 – Biology IS Destiny: Terrestrial Mammals on Land and Water […]

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