Improving 50 Meter Freestyle Average Time

My last update, about 6 months ago, was about improving my average freestyle crawl time by measuring my breathing carefully. It is well known that breathing less increases your time. Since that time I have been trying various drills to improve my 50 meter freestyle average time. I’ve dropped it to around 49 seconds still taking about 30 strokes (15 cycles).

I’ve done this in two ways. The first drill is what I call fist paddles. I don’t know the official name, but probably something like closed fist crawl. Generally you just keep your hand closed in a fist. I covered this in February in an article about catching the water in your crawl stroke. I’ve forced myself to only swim like this, where before I was only doing a few drills with it. The results have been great.

First off, once you stop relying on your hand position and learn how to use your arms to anchor your stroke your average time on 50 meters should be the same with or without your hand. Mine was only about two seconds better, but it depended on the lap.

So where did I get my huge gain? By re-trying something I’d pretty much given up on almost a year ago: staying high in the water. Back in October I had a post about my work on trying to get my shoulders higher in the water. It’s interesting to look back at the technique review I’d done using images of Olympic swimmers, but after working on this for a couple weeks I didn’t have any improvement.

So what changed in my swim technique? I figured this out back in July, but didn’t keep it clearly enough in mind (meaning I didn’t use it enough before taking a two week break). When I got back in the pool I couldn’t remember what had made such an increase. I was really upset, but I just kept on doing my fist paddles. The interesting this is when your hands are in a fist you realize how much you focus on them. My theory is that because hands have so many nerves in them your brain focus on the response without realizing. Once I made a fist I suddenly became very aware of my arms, especially my forearms.

I started to feel that I wasn’t getting a great catch in the water and my push was slipping through the water, rather than pushing. As I tried different crawl techniques I tried arching my back more which brought my torso high in the water. This felt a lot better on my arms and I was thrilled to see that taking the same number of strokes and using about the same effort I did my 50 meters freestyle average decreased to 49 seconds. I tested it some more and found it to be consistent.

The impact trickled down to my other drills, which all increased. The most interesting part was when I opened my hand I didn’t swim significantly better. I am going to see how my 50 meter sprints go using this technique, the 25 meter sprints were the best I’d had all year.

Improving Average Crawl/Freestyle Swimming Time on 50 Meters

My average time on 50 meters is around 56 seconds and I take an average of 30 strokes (15 cycles). I was experimenting a bit today and I was able to knock 6 seconds off my time by being more careful about my breathing.

I usually breath on every cycle. Meaning every time my right arm recovers I breathe. I was working on a pattern today that seemed to help quite a bit.

First, I pushed off the wall and did two strokes (one cycle, right then left) without breathing. On the beginning of my third stroke I took a breath. I made sure to breathe until my arm collapsed on my face. Normally I breathe really quickly. I take my breath with the beginning of my recovery and my turn my head back before I begin my entry. This time I waited until the entry and turned my head just as my arm was coming down.

I took my third, fourth, and fifth strokes and took a breath on my left-hand side on my sixth stroke. Of course, alternating left to right in breathing isn’t anything new and is recommended, it is the first time I have tried to time it so carefully with my turn.

I continued down the lane breathing on my third, sixth, ninth, twelfth, and fifteenth strokes. This put me in a good position because my arm extended on the fifteenth stroke and I held my left arm on my side and pulled hard on my right to begin my turn. This left me with a fresh breath of air to allow to turn and to take my first two strokes without immediately going for air after the turn.

Overall I was happy to see the reduction on my time, but I was not happy with my stroke count. My goal is to stay at 14 strokes and still get a breath right before.

Ideally my lap would be:

R1, L2 inhale, R3, L4 exhale, R5 inhale, L6, R7 exhale, L8 inhale, R9, L10 exhale, R11 inhale, L12, R13 exhale, L14 inhale pull hard left into turn. Three hard dolphin beats R1 exhale, L2 inhale etc.

Given that I am only 1.80 m and I don’t have large hands or feet I think this would be ideal (meaning that I don’t want to try and get 24 strokes per 50, 28 is fine).

My velocity (m/sec) is 1.047 (PB is 1.082 during 2008). My DPC (m/cyc) is 3.3, but my DPC in 2008 was around 2.78. That means I go 22 cm further on each cycle. My target for 2009 is 3.57. Also, I am pretty close to swimming one meter per second, but would like to swim, on average 1.25 m per second. One last figure would be now with 30 strokes it takes 1.745 per stroke and if I can reduce my stroke count while increasing my time it would be 2.232 s/stroke.

New Personal Best on Freestyle Crawl: 15.97 seconds on 25 meters

Ever feel a bit sick, a bit tired, and a bit unmotivated and then really tear shit up? That is the perfect sentiment for today swim. I can tell a cold is sneaking up on my nose and my motivation seemed to be heading in the other direction. Getting into the pool I felt like I wanted to take it easy and see if I could swim in a non-aggressive way. After a while of that I started to work on my keeping my stroke rate as low as possible. After swimming for about 20 minutes I tried to push myself a little faster and saw that my lap time was around 17 seconds.

When I saw that time I knew with a block start I could knock a couple seconds off my time. In addition to beating my previous fastest time I broke 16 seconds, which was a mental hurdle for me. To make the sprint more difficult because when I hit the water my goggles folded back and I couldn’t see a thing. It felt really good, but a bit like I was really lacking any kind of technique, but I guess all the meters of focusing on technique must have some effect, right?

Anchoring In The Water: 38.69 seconds on 50 meters

Coaches often toss around the concept of getting a feel for the water, which, they say, means to learn to hold on to the water.  Both of these concepts are interesting, but without further explanation leave a lot to be understood of what they actually mean.

The drill I have been working on to develop the idea of anchoring in the water is what I call fist paddles. The drill is very simple: Swim normally, but keep your hand in a relaxed fist. That’s actually all there is to it.

You should learn a great deal about your feel for the water when doing this drill. If you find yourself feeling like you are completely standing still in the water (or going backwards for that matter) you’ll have discovered that your stroke has serious issues. Swimming the crawl stroke really well is largely about how you position your arms and the fist paddle drill proves this. Your hands act as paddles when you swim and most swimmers rely on this exclusively to propel them through the water. The giveaway is a high stroke rate, lots of motion in the water, and low elbows.

The real trick to improving how you anchor is a combination of arm angle and shoulder movement. Here are some stills that illustrate this well:

Alexander Popov freestyle crawl swimming  technique Alexander Popov freestyle crawl swimming  technique Alexander Popov freestyle crawl swimming  technique

 Ian Thorpe freestyle crawl swimming  technique Ian Thorpe freestyle crawl swimming  technique Ian Thorpe freestyle crawl swimming  technique

Stephan Nystrand freestyle crawl swimming  technique Stephan Nystrand freestyle crawl swimming  technique Stephan Nystrand freestyle crawl swimming  technique

Most swimmers I see have never learned how to access the most efficient muscles when swimming. They tend to rely on their triceps and shoulders to move through the water. This is often sufficient if you want to swim only for your fitness, but if you have read this far in the hopes of finding drills to improve your stroke technique then the fist paddle drill can do wonders for you.

As you think about the arm position of the images above and keep your hands relaxed, but in a fist you will start to feel which position moves you through the water the best. Here is a set of Ian Thorpe from the front to give you an idea of how high is elbows actually are.

Ian Thorpe front freestyle crawl swimming  technique Ian Thorpe front freestyle crawl swimming  technique Ian Thorpe front freestyle crawl swimming  technique

The danger I personally run into when swimming the fist paddle drill is that of pushing up with my arms instead of back. You can see above with all of the strokes that they have a way to bring the lever of their arms to apply force back. I often find that as start to move my arm into the high elbow position that I am pushing down with my catch, rather than back.

Overall, it is a good drill and should allow you to easily spot issues with your anchors,er, your arms.

Stefan Nystrand Swimming Slowly

First a few stats about Stefan Nystrand

  • Birth Date: October 20, 1981
  • Birth Place: Haninge, Sweden
  • Height: 193 cm (6′ 3")
  • weight: 85 kg (187 lbs)

Stefan Nystrand is the current world record holder in the short course 50 meter freestyle and the short course 100 meter freestyle. There are some fantastic videos of his swimming style. The first video is of him swimming while focusing on his technique rather than speed. The second video is him swimming at top speed. After some comments and videos I have taken both sets and done a frame by frame comparison.

One note about Nystrand’s stroke is that many people don’t like his arm recovery in races, as it looks really brutish, because he has very little elbow flex as he brings his arm over, but there is no mistake that he is extremely fast.

The first video allows you to see him swimming at a slow pace (the video is 30 seconds and he swims 50 meters). For me it is striking to see how he moves his body. Some of the things that really stand out to me are how much body rotation he gets on each stroke, how much he looks forward, how he turns his head to breath, how long he keeps his head back to breath, and how well his kick is timed with his stroke. 



The images on the right are from the clip where Nystrand is swimming at top speed and the images on the right are from the technique oriented clip.


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Differences in Swimming Pool Speed

This is a very interesting post I found. I think it is from a coach of a swim team and discusses the differences that water can have on swim times. I’d certainly like to see some more research on this issue and will try to put some together.

Someone told me yesterday that the Lacombe swimming pool was a slower pool. Meaning swimmer times can be off a little. What is a Fast pool or a Slow pool? I have no idea so I looked it up. When in doubt “Google it” . Water temperature makes a difference. A cold pool is slower and a hot pool is slower. 26 degree temperature is the standard. So water TEMPERATURE makes a difference. Further reading says POOL SANITATION makes a difference. A murky pool affects the swimmer as they have difficulty judging the distance of the wall when making turns or touching the wall. Pool LIGHTING can also make a difference allowing swimmer to judge distances and see other competitors. Water TURBULANCE, waves caused by swimmer, can make a difference. Lane Ropes are designed to kill waves caused by swimmers. And there are others so as you can see there are a number of technical items that make a fast pool and a pool slow. Interesting.

Message Board

2007 Looking At My Progress Over The Year

At some point it is important to look back and enjoy the gains you have made. I often forget how far I have come and I really enjoy thinking back to one year ago, thrashing around, the water fighting me on every stroke. My first blog post on swimming came on June 27th and I have posted 34 times since then. That works out to about 5 per month, although I haven’t been consistent each week.

June 27th also corresponds to when I started keeping detailed records of my swimming. I have been swimming pretty seriously now (at least twice a week and often five days a week) since October of 2006. I have no idea what my sprint time was back then, but I guess more than 25 seconds on 25 meters.

When I started keeping track of my times I was swimming 20.90 on 25 meters, but I had made a lot of progress over the previous six months.

By August I had whittled four seconds off my time and reached my personal best of 16.37 on 25 meters and 37.79 on 50 meters. For the last two months I have been working to improve my technique and although my personal best doesn’t show it I feel like I am preparing for being able to swim much faster.

Another big factor of my personal best probably has to do with the amount of swimming I was doing. During September and October I was swimming over 7,000 meters per month, while in November I swam around 4,500. I don’t know exactly how much I swam in December because I lost my SportCount timer and so I wasn’t keeping track of my swimming, but I guess it was around 4,500.

It works out that when I am swimming over 7,000 I am swimming about nine days per month. Another interesting fact is that during October my regular crawl time was about two seconds faster than my other months. My average crawl time on 25 meters is 29.62 per lap, but in October it was 27.95. While two seconds isn’t much because I was swimming quite a bit during that month then it means that I was pushing myself on almost every lap. When I had set my personal best on the 16th of October the two sessions before my average was just above 24 seconds.

That analysis tells me pretty clearly what I need to do if I want to reach a new personal best in 2008: Swim FAST all the time.

Here are my goals for 2008:

  1. Swim 10,000 meters per month
  2. Keep an average regular crawl of 25 seconds or less
  3. Break 30 seconds on 50 meters

To accomplish this I will need to make sure I swim 10 times per month, which is at least three times per week. When I am at the pool I need to make sure that my workout includes 1,000 meters, which is about 40 laps of swimming. I’ll post my workout in a while that will hopefully get me to my goals.

In the end, I feel that I have made a lot of progress, but over the last two months I have stopped doing the things that helped me reach my personal best. So it’s time to get back into gear and push myself harder and harder during every workout.

Quick Stats on the World’s Greatest Swimmers

Here is some biographical information on some of the world’s greatest swimmers.

Ian Thorpe

  • Birth Date: October 13, 1982
  • Birth Place: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Birth Name: Ian James Thorpe
  • Height: 6’5" (195.58 cm)
  • Foot Size: 17
  • Arm Span: 192 cm
  • coach: Doug Frost, Tracey Menzies

Alexander Popov

  • Birth Date: November 16, 1971
  • Birth Place: Sverdlovsk, Russia
  • Birth Name: Aleksandr Popov
  • Height: 6’7" (200.66)

Pieter VD Hoogenband

  • Birth Date: March 14 1978
  • Birth Place: Maastricht (Netherlands)
  • Height: 193cm
  • Weight: 71kg

Grant Hackett

  • Birth Date: 9 May 1980
  • Birth Place: Gold Coast (Queensland)
  • Height: 198cm
  • Weight: 90kg

Michael Phelps

  • Birth Date: June 30, 1985
  • Birth Place: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  • Height: 6 ft. 3in. (193 cm)
  • Weight: 165 (88 kg)
  • Shoe size: 14
  • Arm Span: 200 cm
  • parents: Fred and Debbie Phelps

Cullen Jones (21.84 on 50 meters)

  • Birth Date: 29 February 1984
  • Birth Place: The Bronx, New York, United States
  • Height: 195.6 cm
  • Weight: 88.5 kg
  • Coach: Brooks Teal

Getting Back on the Horse With the Right Workout: 41.77 seconds on 50 meters

It is immensely frustrating to not see any progress on my personal best times. Ten weeks ago I had dropped below 17 seconds on 25 meters and below 38 seconds on my 50, but as the time has passed my times have gotten worse and worse. The funny thing is that I feel like I am improving my technique.

The disconnect between feeling more comfortable in the water and improving my swim time is connected the way I practice. When I practice by sprinting almost as fast as I can on every lap I saw a constant decrease of my swim time. What I notice is that when I swim around 24 seconds per lap (in 25 meter pool) my technique is, what I feel, quite correct. However, when I sprint I revert back to the technique that I had six months ago.

The ideal situation is where you swim very slowly to work the kinks out of your stroke, but then sprint enough to apply those to your sprint stroke. Within a workout I’d advise swimming a few 100s quite slowly, a few 50s slowly, and 2x25s on a Dolphin kicks and Sharks. Then once you are really focused begin swimming 25s and 50s as fast as you can. No need to use the blocks, just push yourself to swim your max, then rest.

If you feel your technique is slipping then do a couple of Superman drills (usually called side kick drills). Then go back to your sprints. Finish up with some sprints off the blocks and see where you end up.