Physics Precision and Swimming Success

Precision in physics makes cool things happen: Especially in the pool!

“Physics Can Be Incredibly Satisfying.” That’s the title of a science video that is, indeed, quite true to its name. Best watched with the sound turned on, the 9-minute and 44-second video captivates from the start with balls, bars, and bezels rolling and sliding on objects reminiscent of cake table decorations at a wedding reception.

But the real fascination starts with the more machinery-oriented physics that starts just over a minute into the video. A hammer strikes the end of one cylindrical peg after another, sending each flying through the air only to land perfectly in the awaiting hole a foot or so away as it slides by on a conveyor. A revolving bar passes intricately through curved cutouts in a moving panel. Automated blades slice, marbles perform skateboard-park type tricks, and lasers carve out exactly identical cutouts, all backed with a satisfying sound.

When “good enough” isn’t good enough

What those amazing physics demonstrations all had in common was precision. If even one of those cylinders had an imperfection as tiny as a dot of extra metal, or the timing was off of the recipient holes varied by a thousandth of a second, or if those holes were off in size by even a fraction of a millimeter —we’d be witnessing the cylinder, dropping, clanging and rolling off. Not to mention marbles flying off their precarious arc tracks and general hit-or-miss chaos.

Swimming physics matter

The same holds true in swimming. Even a tiny correction can make a big difference. Each miniscule change in hand position, head position, body position, etc. either creates or eliminates water resistance. The less of this drag on your body, the more effective each stroke becomes, and the more effortlessly you’ll move through the water. You’ll find yourself able to swim faster, since you’re pushing yourself through the water in the most effective way, not pushing extra water along with yourself. 

This is apparent time and again as SRPC Head Coach, Sean Emery works with swimmers during sets to make seemingly tiny corrections in their stroke with always-surprising big results. In one recent Saturday set, a swimmer who had plateaued in 200 freestyle training was able to swim each 50-meter rep a minimum of four seconds faster with no failed reps in the set, just by continuing to focus on three small corrections throughout.

Technique is so important that it’s a primary focus of every workout at Sedona Race Pace Club. A weekly focus on one aspect of the strokes — such as head position, hand entry, etc. — is common. Drills can help swimmers get the “feel” for the correction, but it’s only by performing the correction at race pace that the neurological system “wires in” the change for use during competition. 

Improving precision at race pace

The body has a way of wanting to go back to its old pattern once it starts to become fatigued. That’s why it’s crucial to train it at maximum effort to make the change permanent and available when your body is going all-out at a meet.

Race pace sets are designed for a swimmer to go “all-out” to the point where it can no longer maintain the pace. A rest after a failed rep lets the neurology adapt — kind of like calibrating one of the machines on the physics video —and it’s common to swim faster after the rest until the body again tires out. 

Falling back into an old stroke pattern when you’re fatigued just reinforces the bad technique. It’s oh-so-natural to want to use that old stroke where you “know” you can make the goal time. It’s not unusual for a swimmer to do this completely unconsciously as the improper way is usually comfortable like an old pair of worn-out slippers.

This is when it’s more vital than ever to focus on swimming with the new correction to your stroke, even if it means you might fail out of the set sooner than you would with your old technique. New positions mean using your muscles differently, which can tire them sooner than they would in the old pattern. It feels weird. And it should! But the only way to build and strengthen those new muscle patterns is by using them.

Think about it — then act on it!

You can watch Hashem Al-Ghaili’s Science/Nature Page video here. When you do, think about what would happen if even one of the aspects of those precise physics were off. Marbles would be flying everywhere. Cylindrical pegs would be bouncing around instead of landing securely in place. And lasers might just destroy the place. 

Be the machine. Be the precise machine. Your body — and swim times — will thank you for it.

To level up in your swim game, find out more about swimming with Sedona Race Pace Club / Race Pace Club Arizona. Check out our website or call Head Coach Sean Emery at 928.254.7762.`