"Swim Speed Strokes for Swimmers and Triathletes" (Book Review)
Swimming is one of the more difficult sports to learn as an adult. The two biggest disadvantages for most are:
- You’re not in an upright posture when you swim.
- You are moving through a medium substantially different to air.
Great swimmers are usually created from an early age, as they spend countless hours developing a feel for both of these differences. But what happens if you want to get into swimming as an adult or you’re looking to improve your swimming for triathlon? Well, you might want to read this book.
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Illustrating Different Swim Strokes
Sheila Taormina should be no stranger to experienced endurance athletes. As a relay medal winner at the 1996 Olympic Games and triathlon ITU World Champion in 2004, she has been dominant in both swimming and triathlon (and actually made the Olympics in modern pentathlon, too). She clearly knows how to swim at very high levels.
"If you’re looking to get into swimming as an adult or to improve your triathlon times, I would recommend you read this book and give Taormina’s suggestions a try."
Growing up swimming, I was exposed to the four strokes but never had an appreciation for them until reading Swim Speed Strokes for Swimmers and Triathletes, Taormina’s latest book. Right from the start, she breaks down and explains why you should be doing all four strokes even if you have no plans to swim competitively.
The reason is brought sharply into focus with an illustration of the hand positions of four swimmers, taken so you can only see their lower arm and hand in each photo and with no explanation of which hand is for which stroke. What makes this photo such a graphic example of why you should be training all strokes is that the hand and arm positions are identical. (Although backstroke is flipped as otherwise the arm would be upside down.)
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Any swimmers who has been to a squad knows that there are myriad drills and exercises coaches give you to enhance the feel of the water. The problem with “feeling” the water is that it takes a long time to develop – hence, the development of these drills to try to speed up the process. But as Taormina demonstrates, simply adding in the other three strokes is equally effective in terms of teaching you better feel for the water as all four strokes require the same hand and arm action.
The Physics of Swimming
The early sections of the book break down not just correct hand and arm placement, but also describe the forces of lift and drag that act on a swimmer and the best way to use them to your advantage. This is another advantage in utilizing all four strokes as they each rely on a slightly different action, yet all are powered the same.
"While many make swimming (and running, for that matter) overly technical, there is also a great benefit to breaking down various parts of the stroke with specific drills."
Sheila breaks the strokes down into four sections. Each section shows the correct body position through the use of many underwater camera angles. If you’re like me and are used to trying to watch Olympic swimmers underwater on film, having high-resolution still photos is fantastic. Watching elite swimmers at high speeds makes seeing small technical details challenging.
Swim Speed Strokes does an amazing job of showing the strokes broken down into minute detail using world-class swimmers as models. Each stroke is pictured from all angles in big, clear pictures so there are no mistakes made in interpreting both the information presented or the desirable body position. For me, these pictures excellently broke down the central theme of the book - that every stroke feeds the other strokes and that all should be practiced to make you a better swimmer.
Trialatholon Training Applications
While the book is geared predominantly towards pool swimming, it does include a great section on open-water technique and sighting - skills that are quite different. The broken nature of open-water swimming can take great pool swimmers and make them look mediocre once they need to deal with an imperfect environment and lifting their heads to sight.
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The book is an excellent read overall and thoroughly recommended to swimmers of all levels and abilities. The only downfall is that it focuses only on the strokes as a whole and not on developing particular elements of each part. While many make swimming (and running, for that matter) overly technical, there is also a great benefit to breaking down various parts of the stroke with specific drills.
Improving Swimming Technique
At Taormina’s urging, I’ve been replacing drill sets with work in the other strokes. As a result, I’ve found that not only have I enjoyed swimming more - because I’ve been swimming more - but that the extra feel developed during the other main strokes has carried over well to freestyle. So, if you’re looking to get into swimming as an adult or to improve your triathlon times, I would recommend you read this book and give Taormina’s suggestions a try.
“Swim Speed Strokes for Swimmers and Triathletes” is available for $16.37 at Amazon.com.