Efficiency, not horsepower
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 7th, 2009

A new post on the Total Immersion Discussion Forum asked:

Does anyone know any supplements that will help my 100m freestyle time improve?

These are the supplements i’ve been idvised by the GB swim team are the best supplements for swimmers looking to progress but i don’t know anything about them:

Super Halo
BBS Creatine Ethyl Ester
Waxy Maize Starch
Catalyst
PhD Pharma Blend

Can anyone help shed some light on these products or advise on any other products?

If true, it’s dismaying  to hear that the GB national swim team has advised anyone to take supplements in search of more speed. In the event, here is the advice I would give to anyone asking such a question.

The best way to improve your 100m time is not by ingesting something. The two most dependable and proven ways to improve your time for any distance are:
1) Reduce water resistance. Mindfully reshape your “bodyline” to fit through a smaller hole in the water. When you do, you’ll travel farther, faster, with less effort.
2) Make every stroke count. Improve your stroke so that moving your hand back propels your body forward an equal distance rather than pushing water back.

Most human swimmers convert 5% or less of their “horsepower” into forward propulsion. 95% or more is diverted into creating turbulence or making waves.

You don’t need more horsepower nearly as much as you need to make better use of the horsepower you already have.

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2 Responses to “Efficiency, not horsepower”

  1. How did you calculate the horsepower of a swimmer (i.e., “…most human swimmers convert 5% or less of their horsepower into forward propulsion…”)?

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  2. I got the figures from an article in Nov 2007 issue of Popular Mechanics which related the design work done by a team of engineers from DARPA, the Defense Dept’s technical arm. They’d been tasked with designing a new swim foil for the Navy Seals. They studied human swimmers and compared them with dolphins, calculating the mechanical efficiency (conversion of horsepower into forward motion) of humans at 3% — 40% lower than the conservative figure I put into the blog as compared to an 80% estimate for the efficiency of dolphins. This struck me as credible because I’d seen a previous estimate by the Univ of Buffalo for the efficiency of elite swimmers at 9%.
    They also said the primary difference observed between humans and dolphins was the dolphins far superior capacity for “active streamlining.”

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