Video: Secrets of Swimming Faster Part 5 of 9
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on April 24th, 2011

Three Speed Problems: Why A Better Brain – not Bigger Lungs and Muscles – is the Solution

The “Speed Problem” is actually three distinct problems — all as inevitable as death-and-taxes: an Energy problem, a Resistance problem and an Age problem. The best solutions to all three lie in training your brain and nervous system, not your heart, lungs and muscles.

Speaking bluntly, human swimmers are Energy. Wasting. Machines.

In 2005  DARPA (Defense Dept. agency responsible for developing military technology)  was asked to design a swim foil to help Navy Seals move much faster and easier while carrying ‘ordnance.’ DARPA engineers began by comparing the efficiency of humans with dolphins. They discovered that dolphins convert 80 percent of energy (or horsepower) into forward motion. Humans? Three percent!

This simply reflects what I noted earlier: As terrestrial mammals, we’re fish-out-of-water. What allows us to survive at all is that, unlike fish, we possess a brain that’s ‘wired’ for problem-solving.

Conclusion: Training for ‘Bigger Lungs’ aims at solving the wrong problem. We have virtually limitless opportunity to waste less. Only Neural training can accomplish that!

Drag goes up exponentially as we swim faster. Considering this, two studies of swimming speed should cause anyone who thinks ‘bigger muscles’ is the way to swim faster, to think again.
• Those DARPA engineers also discovered that dolphins manage to swim at speeds that exceed what is theoretically possible, based on their ‘horsepower’. The engineers theorized that dolphins accomplish this through what they called “active streamlining.”
• In a study of all competitors at the 1992 Olympics in the Mens 100-Meter Free — considered swimming’s ultimate ‘power event’ — USA Swimming biomechanist Jane Cappaert found that the 8 finalists (the eight fastest swimmers) produced an average of 16% less propulsive power than 30-odd swimmers who failed to advance from prelims. I.E. The more powerful the swimmer, the slower they swam! Cappaert’s conclusion? What sets apart the fastest swimmers is “superior whole-body streamlining.”

Conclusion: Training for ‘Bigger Muscles’ aims at solving the wrong problem. Reducing resistance has been proven the best way to swim faster. Only Neural training can accomplish that!

The final speed-limiter we face is that from our mid-30s on, each passing year reduces our aerobic capacity and muscular power. Assiduous training can reduce, but not stop, those losses. If we focus exclusively — or even primarily — on working hard, all we have to look forward to is steadily losing speed.

In contrast, recent research has shown that we can continue optimizing the brain and nervous system through at least our 70s – four extra decades of potential improvement.

Conclusion: Neural training can’t guarantee swimming faster as we age, but it gives us a far better chance of at least minimizing age-related declines.

And, if you began swimming between your 30s and 60s, you absolutely should be able to continue improving for up to 10 years.


3 Responses to “Video: Secrets of Swimming Faster Part 5 of 9”

  1. Tad Sayce says:

    Great post Mr. Laughlin. well stated.

    I could not find that specific study by Jane C. I was curious as to what the quantitative measurement of power was. Not an easy thing to measure inside of a swimming stroke. None the less, the top swimmers were telling us something. I did find this study that supports your position by concluding that sucessful swimmers have longer stroke lengths (and are taller)

    I agree firmly with you that effecient stroke mechanics are the biggest key to sustained velocity and energy. It is a critical concept for a novice athlete. It would be interesing to see a study like that (1992 Oly. 100M) done again today. Even with the recent ban of Technical Suits, the sprint records still continue to fall. Resistance training is often a major part of the traning of Elite Sprinters.

    I would also add that once proper mechanics are established – the progressive addition of correct resistance can aid in “cementing” in the desired nueral patters.

    Stronger muscles (not Bigger) inconjunction with the improved nueral motor crontrol yeilds favorable results.

  2. Tad
    You’re exactly right. Understanding that minimizing drag brings far greater benefit than maximizing power is not necessarily an argument against resistance training. Improving strength-to-weight ratio should increase one’s speed potential and is part of the reason why I’m doing strength training, and trying to reduce body fat. (The more important reason is general health.)
    Where that knowledge becomes more valuable is while swimming – both in training and races – allowing you to put more emphasis on one aspect of your stroke than another. I.E. To emphasize using your arms to lengthen your bodyline and trying to minimize bubbles or splash in your stroke, rather than emphasizing a powerful push back.

  3. […] Part 5 – Why a Better Brain is the Solution […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.