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Why Timing Is Everything In Swimming

It can be one of the most frustrating aspects of developing swimmers.

 

I’m sure you’ve seen it. 

 

There are swimmers that are great at pulling and great at kicking.

 

And they’re just not that good at swimming.

 

At the same time, there are swimmers that are pretty average at both kicking and pulling.

 

And they can fly down the pool.

 

It’s not just what they do, but how they do it, and WHEN they do it.

 

It’s all about timing.

 

Understanding timing can be really difficult.

 

Understanding propulsion and understanding alignment can be relatively straight forward.

 

Not so much with timing.

 

There are SO many things happening, and they all happen fast.

 

To make matters worse, timing changes with changes in speed.

 

And what can be really frustrating about timing is that if one piece gets messed up, the whole stroke can fall apart.

 

That’s why we see some swimmers struggle even though they have all the pieces of the puzzle.

 

They do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and they don’t maximize the tools.

 

And other swimmers get the most out of what they do by doing everything at the right time.

 

This was particularly frustrating for me early in my coaching career because while I could understand the concepts of propulsion and resistance, I could not understand timing.

 

And it held my swimmers back.

 

Unfortunately, there were and still are very few resources that are available to try to understand it.

 

I knew it was a problem that I had to solve, so I went digging.

 

While scientific research is not the definitive answer in to swimming speed, sometimes it can be useful.

 

I found a line of research lead by a French scientist named Ludovic Seifert, that was diving deep into coordination and timing.

 

They started to document the timing of the arms in freestyle and backstroke, and the timing of the arms and legs in breaststroke and butterfly.

 

Just as importantly, they started to quantify it.

 

They were able to show predictable patterns as well as differences between faster and slower swimmers.

 

I started to see it, and that changed everything about how I viewed timing.

 

Once I got a feel for how the arms were moving relative to each other in freestyle and backstroke, and how the arms and the legs in breastroke and butterfly, I started to pay attention to what elite swimmers were doing where their undulation and rotation, and how that related to their limbs.

 

With a solid understand of limb timing, this piece clicked into place.

 

I could finally see it.

 

And it was a lot easier to begin to frame what other coaches were describing regarding timing.

 

When it comes down to it, timing is simple (although not easy to do!).

 

In freestyle and backstroke, swimmers have to:

 

  • Effectively time the arms with each other

  • Effectively time the arms with the rotation


In butterfly and breaststroke, swimmers have to:

 

  • Effectively time the arms with the legs

  • Effectively time the arms and legs with the undulation

 

And with a little more detail:

 

  • In freestyle, the rotation needs to happen with the pull

  • In backstroke, the rotation needs to happen before and after the pull

  • In butterfly, the legs need to kick when the arms enter and exit

  • In breaststroke, the arms and the legs need to stay separated

 

And best of all, these key timing points tend to hold up very well in elite swimmers.

 

While the details can get a little more complicated, the overall concepts are very simple.

 

If great timing skills can be described clearly and consistently, and if great skills are simple, then they can be learned.

 

If they can be learned, we can figure out how to help swimmers improve them.

 

And if we can do that, we can avoid situations where swimmers just don’t swim as fast as they otherwise could.

 

Timing can be tricky, but it matters a LOT.

 

Figuring it out can make a HUGE difference.

 

If you’re looking to make this even easier, I lay out the key skills swimmers need to optimize their timing in each of the strokes in Stroke Fundamentals

 

I also show you the exact strategies I use to help swimmers learn these skills. 

 

If you want to improve your swimmers’ skills, consider grabbing a copy here.

 

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