More Than You Want to Know About Shaving and Swim Performance

shaving

If you’ve been involved in swimming for any period of time, you know about the shaving tradition. This is where swimmer at big meets often shave virtually all available skin not covered by a bathing suit, with the exception of the eyebrows. Normally this includes arms, legs, torso, and sometimes even the head. The loss of the hair should result in some amount of improved hydrodynamics.

But one of the realities of shaving is the incredible feeling in the water. And this comes from the fact that shaving doesn’t just get rid of just the hair. It also gets rid of a layer or 2 of dead skin cells from the epidermis. The exposes newer and far more sensitive skin cells, and this is responsible for that incredible sensation and feeling of speed when racing. The added sensitivity literally has the swimmer feeling like they are moving much faster through the water.

Of course, non-swimmers don’t understand any of this, and male swimmers usually take some ribbing from their non-swimming friends. But with performance improvements of However, shaving has been reported to improve swimming performance by up to 3-4%. That’s a huge amount.

A Little History

Although historical records about swimmers shaving are sketchy, the first mention I could find was of Jon Henricks of Australia at a meet in 1955.

At the Melbourne Olympics the next year, at least one other Aussie, Murray Rose, also shaved. At those games they not only gained a lot of attention with their shaved bodies, but the Australians also won 5 of the 7 events.

Murray Rose

Interestingly, the Americans didn’t think the shaving had anything to do with the Australian success, believing they were just being strange.

The two Australian Olympic stars, Rose and Henricks, then brought the practice of shaving with them when …read more

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The Team Philosophy / Coaching Mismatch

team philosophy

If you haven’t been on many swim teams, it may be hard to imagine that every swim team is fundamentally different. And this largely comes from two aspects of the team: team philosophy, and the coaches. Ideally, the team philosophy guides everything that the team does, how its members interact with each other, and it sets the expectations for each person involved with the team, including the coaches.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of swim clubs:

  • Community teams typically serve the widest range of swimmers, and include developing swimmers, those interested only in fitness or the social aspect, and right up to the most serious swimmers who can compete at the highest levels. Team philosophies usually include something along the line of providing swim teaching, training and competition opportunities for all.
  • Serious Swim Clubs are more competition oriented, and include from developing swimmers to the most serious swimmers. Team philosophies usually include a goal to let every swimmer reach their competitive potential.
  • University type teams typically expect their swimmers to already have good strokes and a solid base. These teams expect that their swimmers will do whatever it takes to reach the top. Team philosophies are usually pretty sparse, and generally limit themselves to a drive for excellence as a person and as a swimmer

Team philosophies always sound great. Swimming must be an incredible sport where young kids are nurtured and they all eventually reach their potential as older swimmers……

Obviously, that’s not happening. But why?

Let’s look at a typical Serious Swim Club as an example. If the club is really serious about allowing each swimmer to reach their potential, then the younger swimmers should be nurtured, given the fundamentals, and developed carefully in order to ensure that they are still improving, and still passionate about swimming when they are 20 and older. In …read more

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Our Unhealthy Obsession with Race Times

Pace Clock

Last year I wrote about how the swimming world has an unhealthy obsession with Personal Bests [PBs]. And since then I’ve seen countless more examples of swimmers treating non-personal bests as if it meant they were a failure. But I’ve also seen swimmers get unhealthily obsessed with their race times in general.

The problem is simple. The vast majority of swimmers, and virtually all parents, believe that the time is the only measure of a race. A good time means a good race. A bad time means a bad race. We’ve all heard swimmers come back from a race, upset at the time, and promptly declare that the race was crap. It was all crap. But racing is never that simple.

Race Conditions

Somehow swimmers never remember the conditions of the race. You can’t really compare a race held roughly one hour after warmups in a fast pool with lots of competition in other lanes, with a race in a slow pool held 15 minutes after you just did a 200, and where you are half a length ahead of, or behind, everyone else in the heat. Drastically different conditions will lead to drastically different times, and yet that becomes ancient history in the hunt for a PB in every race.

Remember that not all meets are about times. Most clubs use the idea that swimmers should compete once every 3-4 weeks in order to fine tune their racing skills.

Meet Preparation

There are training meets, and there are big meets. And the key here is that times done at big meets, where the swimmer is tapered and sometimes shaved down, are VERY hard to replicate at training meets.

Here’s an example. In December we had a fully tapered, shaved down meet. One of our older swimmers did a big PB in a very close race in …read more

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The Troubled Life of a Drop-Dead Sprinter

drop dead sprinter 2

If you’ve spent any time in swimming, you’ve probably known a drop-dead sprinter or two.

Now, I’m not talking about a normal sprinter who can do a fast 50 or 100, but trains pretty much like everyone else. I’m talking about a sprinter who can do a blazing fast 50 or 100 in a meet or in a practice, and that’s about it. They can’t do main sets properly because there are just too many lengths involved, and their muscles just can’t keep on working like that. (Gary Hall Jr. springs to mind.)

The issue is that drop-dead sprinters are not physically like the rest of us, and the difference occurs within the muscles. The average person typically has a little less than 50% fast-twitch and the rest slow-twitch muscle fibres. Fast-twitch fibres [FT] can contract in less than half the time of slow-twitch muscle fibres [ST], allowing for far more explosive strength. The problem is that this also means that athletes with a high FT percentage go through energy far faster than other athletes. Meanwhile ST contract slowly, require little energy, and drop-dead sprinters don’t have a lot of that.

Not surprisingly, different sports attract athletes with extremes in FT. Elite running sprinters have up 85% FT, which makes sense as they have purely anaerobic races, while elite marathon runners typically have about 25% FT. Swimmers, with no purely anaerobic events and lots of very aerobic events, tend to have a range of FT from just over 50% to down to 33% according to one study.

marathon_sprinter

And this brings us back to swimming’s drop-dead sprinters. Their FT will probably be 60%-75% FT, meaning they can go fast, but don’t have a lot of ST to enable them to go slow. Basically, in a typical swim practice, they …read more

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