Monthly Archives: May 2014

Swimming By the Numbers: How Elite Women Swim the 200 Butterfly


This is the next instalment in a series that looks at how the elite swim the 200 by looking at their race splits. This time we’re analyzing the 200 butterfly for women.

In the 200 freestyle and backstroke analyses (here, here and here) we found a number of surprises, or at least things that surprised me. While the top 24 swimmers generally displayed all three race profiles (Sprinter, Distance and Hybrid – see below), the individual races were won by either fast sprinters who got out ahead and couldn’t be caught (women’s freestyle and backstroke), or by more distance-oriented swimmers who ground out an incredible last 100 (men’s freestyle and backstroke).

Now that we’re starting to analyze the short axes strokes, it will be interesting to see if this pattern changes.

The Data

The data set consists of 24 elite swimmers at the time of the 2012 Olympics. I used the fastest 24 times from the Olympics and the US Olympic Trials. For each swimmer, I used the fastest time they swam during the competition, and not just their last swim. I also knew that I would have to look at more than just raw splits, in order to compare sprinters to more distance-oriented swimmers, and to provide value to non-elite swimmers. As a result, I used their 50 m Personal Bests [PBs] as well. For a few swimmers for which the 50 PB was unavailable or absurdly old, I either had to infer their 50 PB from their split on a 100, or else exclude them from the analysis.

I introduce the term “offset” to mean a split minus that swimmer’s PB.

Offset 50 = 50 Split minus 50 PB

The Analysis

The analysis is divided into 3 sections.

1) What are the different ways in which the elite 24 swimmers swim the 200 backstroke? …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Swimming By the Numbers: How Elite Swimmers Swim the 200 Free


I’ve long wondered about the strategies elite swimmers use for the 200s. It is perhaps the toughest distance to swim, as it involves a good mix of sprint speed and endurance. I’ve wondered as to how hard they take it out, or how hard the middle 100 should be? Are there appreciable differences between how elite men swim it compared to elite women? Or differences between the different strokes? And how can I use this information to help my own swimmers? Finally, my curiousity got the better of me, and I started doing the analysis myself.

I have to warn you though, I thought I could fit the analysis of all 200s for both men and women in one blog post. But the analysis took me down some interesting paths, and the bottom line is that it will take one post for each stroke.

The Data

I knew from the start that merely looking at splits, without any additional context, wouldn’t help me. Ridiculously fast swimmers will swim ridiculously fast. And so I needed to know the 50 m and 100 m Personal Bests for each swimmer at the time they swam the 200, and then compare their splits to these PBs. This should give me information which is relatable to slower swimmers. However, for both men and women, there were a few swimmers for whom there were either NO personal bests available for that time (using as many international databases as I could find), or for whom the 50 PB was unrealistically slow (as in slower than half of their 100 PB). Either these swimmers rarely swam shorter races, or for some reason their times were not recorded. As a result, the data sets for the 50 m analyses and the 100 m analyses are very slightly different.

I need a name for …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

How Has Swimming Changed? Swimming in the 70s


One of the nice things about being a both a swim coach and former swimmer is that I have a perspective on swimming that was not available to me when I was a just a swimmer. Two things stand out for me as significantly different back in the 1970s as compared to now.

Swimmer Longevity

Back then, swimmers just didn’t survive nearly as long as now. With very few exceptions, you were done swimming when you finished university, assuming you even lasted that long. It was almost unheard of to still be swimming in your mid-20s And this wasn’t because you had to work for a living and had no time for swimming; it was because of the training excesses of the time. At my peak I swam 13 practices a week, totalling 30 hours in the water. I can remember my longest practice being 15,000 m, and weekly totals were regularly over 100 km. But in addition to our swimming workouts we had up to 10 hours of dryland a week, including a daily requirement to do 500 “pulleys” (the equivalent of cords today). Our coach used to tell us that we had a day off, because we finished our 3-hour Sunday practice at noon, and didn’t swim again until 5:30 Monday morning. According to him, that’s a day!

For those whose bodies were magically resilient enough to withstand this rigour, we improved at a tremendous rate. But this improvement came at a cost, and that cost was that our bodies gave out far earlier than today. Shoulder tendonitis was rampant, as was chronic over training and knee problems (breaststroke). Thankfully, our training regimes today are more scientific and balanced, but I still cringe when I hear of some clubs ramping up the distance.

Elite Canadians

We had a fundamental understanding that Canada was …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Swimming By the Numbers: The Unfairness of Short Course – Long Course Conversion Rates, especially for Backstrokers!


I’ll start off with the teaser. Existing one-size-fits-all course conversion rates are not remotely accurate, especially for backstroke, and there exists a sizable difference in accurate conversion rates between men and women. Finally, any swim governing body that uses a single, artificially low conversion rate is doing a great disservice to its members.

Now, on to the analysis.

A course conversion rate is used to take a time done in either a short course (25 m) pool or a long course (50 m) pool, and change it into a reasonably accurate time for the other pool. It looks like this:

Long Course Time = Short Course Time x (1 + Conversion Rate%)

Using course conversion rates is often necessary for qualifying or seeding in meets. As most North American teams do not have ready access to a 50m pool, most meets are SC, but championship meets are usually LC. Unless the governing body is willing to publish separate LC and SC time standards for individual meets to use, a conversion rate becomes necessary to allow swimmers with only SC times into a LC meet. But the process is frustrating when an inaccurate conversion rate makes a LC qualifying time so much harder to achieve than the SC time. Or when a swimmer has a great race, but doesn’t meet their converted time and thinks they did poorly.

Before the discovery of underwater kicking, conversion rates were typically 2.5%, and once the swimmer’s body adjusted to long course season it was reasonably accurate. The discovery that underwater kicking was the fastest form of swimming changed all of that. With 2 underwater phases for every 50 m instead of one, SC swimming is all about the underwater kicking. So its not surprising that different swimmers often excel at one or the other. In fact, a look at …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Faster, Better, Stronger Swimmers?


In March 2014, David Epstein, a sports science reporter, gave a brilliant TED talk, “Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?”, in which he explores some of the principal reasons behind the assault on the record books.

I strongly advise you watch it. It’s just under 15 minutes, and you can find it here .

In the course of this talk he covers a lot of sports, and describes why we can boil down the differences to two major factors: 1) More specialized athletes; and 2) Technology.

With the idea of focusing his ideas solely on swimming, I’m going to add two more factors: 3) Knowledge, and 4) Rule Changes.

But first, let’s address the underlying issue. Are swimmer really getting faster, better, stronger? I think we all intuitively know this is the case, but let’s look at some numbers. Below is a chart showing the number of long course world records set by year from 1970 onwards. You can immediately see that other than dry spells in the mid-1990s, and in our post-shiny suit era, world records are set at a staggering pace.

Note: For the purpose of this analysis, I only include Long Course [LC] World Records, as Short Course World Records don’t extend back far enough to allow for long term analysis.

OK, so there is no question that swimming has a lot of world records. But how does that compare with other big sports, such as track and field?

To determine this I looked at how old each world record is in both sports, and then averaged them. Since you could argue that the shiny suits skewed our results, I also did an average totally ignoring any records set during 2008 and 2009. (I kept 2007 as the chart shows it had a typical number of world records for the year.)

Average …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog