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Thread: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

  1. #1
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    Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    I swim very slow and I need to improve my speed, but despite watching a lot of videos, did some intervals, and even joined a squad, the improvement I've got is not up to my expectation. I still need over 30 minutes for 1.5 km in a long pool in last November, before the pool closed for winter maintenance.

    I've heard that, in order to swim fast, you have to cross the pool in fewer strokes, this indicates the efficiency of your swimming. Therefore, I have worked on my stroke length. My height is 174 cm and I can cross a 25 m pool in 18 strokes, and 50 m pool in 44 strokes, and a few less if I add some excessive glide, when I just entered the pool.

    But the problem is I can only do 50 m with these numbers and can't even keep my good stroke at the second length. If I try do to my longest stroke for 50 m, I cannot even continue to 200 m, and have to stop and rest to recover. If I am swimming long, I need at least 48 strokes for 50 m pool to begin with, and the number eventually goes up to around 55 strokes by the end of 1500 m (in 25 m, 21 strokes at the beginning, and 25 by the end). Furthermore, if I sacrifice some stroke length for faster stroke rate, my time actually improves and I feel less fatigued at the end of the workout.

    I tried to use various toys in order to see if there is a particular flaw in my stroke, but none of my toys helped me to find my problem:
    • pull buoy - there is nearly no difference in time and stroke per length w/ or w/o it
    • snorkel - there is nearly no difference in time and stroke per length w/ or w/o it
    • fins - it is slightly faster with fins on, but the difference is small
    • paddles (small size only, dare not to use anything but the smallest available) - when I use them, my stroke becomes extremely slow, but the stroke per length has only reduced very few, resulting in even a slower time using them


    I have bought an ankle strap and waiting for shipment, and will try it to see if it makes any difference.

    I also tried my favourite fist drill - without the hand, I could even fire my stroke rate higher to what I normally sustain, with shorter strokes, resulting in nearly the same speed when I swim normally.

    Also, I seldom feel lack of breath when I do my workouts unless I am sprinting - my 100 m top speed is faster than my sustainable speed by around 25 seconds!!!!! The perceived effort of me doing 1500 m swimming in 32 minutes is much less than doing 5 km running in 23 minutes (I run 10 km in about 49 minutes on a flat course) - but I simply can't go fast when I am swimming. After running 5 km I have to catch my breath for a few minutes, indicating full use of my aerobic capacity, but after swimming 1.5 km, my breathing returns to normal within half a minute, but my muscles are fatigued.

    Yesterday evening, my coach made me pull using paddles for 400 m, and I got pain in my pec for a night. I find using paddles difficult already for 200 m.

    Furthermore, although my cardio is not bad, I basically don't have strength, for example, even a short slope in a running cause can make me slow, leg fatigue or even cramps, therefore I don't enter running and triathlon races if the course is known to be hilly. I'm also very weak in kick sets, my quadriceps get fatigued if I kick 50 m with fins. In terms of upper body strength, I can't even do any pull-ups.

    Given all the above, I start to worry if it's my muscle strength rather than my technique is the major factor limiting my swimming. Basically, I feel very good if I just swim for 25 or 50 m. My stroke count for sprinting 50 m (around 50) is even less than what I am doing per length for 1500 m (I can't keep 50 unless I artificially slow it down) at a sustainable speed.

    Is it really possible that body strength limits the sustainability of good technique? I'm very worried if I need to add strength training into my routine because I love swimming but hate the gym.
    Last edited by miklcct; January 9th, 2019 at 08:28 AM.

  2. #2
    Very Active Member JPEnge's Avatar
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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    OK, I'm going to say this again, I hope I don't sound too judgy.

    Multiple people have told you this, but nobody can say for sure what may or may not be limiting your swimming without seeing your swimming.

    If you aren't happy with the coaching you are getting with your "squad," take a video, post it here. I guarantee you that will take less time and effort than typing a book chapter every week, or searching for videos of drills and saying your stroke feels kind of like that.

    Also, I know I've said this to you before, but swimming - especially learning how to go fast as an adult - takes time. This is a years-long process, not two months and boom you can swim forever. Have some patience.
    400 IMer/200 backstroker in another life, now sprinter/breaststroker... Yeah, I don't know how that happened either!

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    Very Active Member Redbird Alum's Avatar
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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    Two things:

    1 - What JPEnge had to say about the video and patience, and...

    2 - Sustainability of technique is not a function of muscle strength, rather it is a function of repetition of technique, muscle memory, and the willingness to ALWAYS be thinking through your stroke during EVERY swim.

    Can't wait to see your video!


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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    Quote Originally Posted by Redbird Alum View Post
    Two things:1 - What JPEnge had to say about the video and patience, and...2 - Sustainability of technique is not a function of muscle strength, rather it is a function of repetition of technique, muscle memory, and the willingness to ALWAYS be thinking through your stroke during EVERY swim.Can't wait to see your video!
    Which kinds of pools am I allowed to set up underwater camera and do video recording? Municipal or school pools don't allow this.

    The U.S. standard of having a pool in backyards doesn't apply to elsewhere in the world.
    Last edited by miklcct; January 9th, 2019 at 06:59 PM.

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    Very Active Member JPEnge's Avatar
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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    Quote Originally Posted by miklcct View Post
    Which kinds of pools am I allowed to set up underwater camera and do video recording? Municipal or school pools don't allow this.

    The U.S. standard of having a pool in backyards doesn't apply to elsewhere in the world.
    Literally the only places I have ever videoed myself or had myself videoed swimming have been municipal or school pools. I have never been to a pool that has told me I could not video myself swimming.
    400 IMer/200 backstroker in another life, now sprinter/breaststroker... Yeah, I don't know how that happened either!

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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    Do your local pools have explicit rules forbidding video? The gym I work for prohibits cell phone use/cameras in locker room areas but there's nothing in the pool rules about video. The facility's concern may be largely for privacy of patrons. If you set up at a quieter time, ask your fellow swimmers, or even ask the guard if it's alright I think it'd be fine. (I suspect if the staff has seen you regularly, and they are not too busy, they might even be willing to give you a hand with your video.)

    Many gopro style cameras are quite small and could be attached to the side of the pool pretty easily - I think there's some threads on here with advice on unobtrusive setups and setups for folks who have no one to film them.

    (And the vast majority of backyard pools are much too small for laps, nevermind being rarities in most communities in the US anyway.)

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    Very Active Member __steve__'s Avatar
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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    your muscle fatigue can also be from not being able to produce and buffer lactate. Have you been doing any Lactate production workouts i.e., 5 x 50m near max effort with 3-5 minutes rest?

    Weight lifting may help but not as much for a 1500 than a 100.

    About technique: in swimming, improving form no matter what your skill is something to work on, and video review is the next best thing to a coach

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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    Quote Originally Posted by swim_badger View Post
    Do your local pools have explicit rules forbidding video? The gym I work for prohibits cell phone use/cameras in locker room areas but there's nothing in the pool rules about video. The facility's concern may be largely for privacy of patrons. If you set up at a quieter time, ask your fellow swimmers, or even ask the guard if it's alright I think it'd be fine. (I suspect if the staff has seen you regularly, and they are not too busy, they might even be willing to give you a hand with your video.)

    Many gopro style cameras are quite small and could be attached to the side of the pool pretty easily - I think there's some threads on here with advice on unobtrusive setups and setups for folks who have no one to film them.

    (And the vast majority of backyard pools are much too small for laps, nevermind being rarities in most communities in the US anyway.)
    The "no photography" rule is explicit and is common in swimming pools all over the world, and in the case of the municipal pools in my region, the rule is known to be strictly enforced, whenever the guards see someone taking a camera out, they announce it on speaker telling it is not allowed.

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    Very Active Member JPEnge's Avatar
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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    Quote Originally Posted by miklcct View Post
    The "no photography" rule is explicit and is common in swimming pools all over the world, and in the case of the municipal pools in my region, the rule is known to be strictly enforced, whenever the guards see someone taking a camera out, they announce it on speaker telling it is not allowed.
    Interesting. I'm a member of a few swimming groups on Facebook with people worldwide who post pictures of themselves and their teams at the pool. I guess they're all either really good friends with the people that manage pools or they're all blatantly and very publicly breaking rules and ignoring lifeguards.
    400 IMer/200 backstroker in another life, now sprinter/breaststroker... Yeah, I don't know how that happened either!

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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    Miklcct -

    You don't need to "set up" a camera. If you can arrange a time with the guards, get a friend to do a cellphone video from the side and end of the pool. I believe they would allow this as long as the video is only of you, with your expressed consent.

    The "no camera" rules are privacy-law related.


  11. #11
    Very Active Member __steve__'s Avatar
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    Re: Is my upper body strength limiting my swimming?

    I once paid a lifeguard to film a 50 from the block while walking along side (just gave a $5 tip)

    I canít imagine how it would have been not being able to use a camera, it would have been too discouraging. With the feedback of others I basically taught myself how to swim using video at the pool.
    Last edited by __steve__; January 10th, 2019 at 08:47 PM.

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