Have you ever envied a professional triathlete’s resources to perfect their swimming? With mainstream underwater camera technology, you can film yourself swimming and have your stroke assessed by a professional. I had my stroke video analyzed by biomechanics specialist and performance consultant Alisa Boulanger, owner of IFS Performance. Having a skilled set of eyes look at my data helped to identify the causes of inefficient strokes.
Why should triathletes get a stroke analysis
Most triathletes don’t spend hours in the pool everyday with a coach who knows their stroke and can correct it as they swim. “Stroke analysis sessions are an easy way to get quality advice immediately so you can start working on corrections during your next swim workout. Even small changes will lead to a smoother feel and faster times in the water,” says Boulanger. Visual learners will benefit from being able to see their stroke on camera. It will help to understand past feedback from coaches and apply what you’ve learned next time you’re in the water. A cleaner stroke can prevent injury and results in a longer athletic life.
Ideally, videotaping will include out-of-water and underwater footage. Before the session, coaches should review athletic history including previous sport participation and past injuries. Learning an athlete’s background is essential to understanding their stroke and helping them achieve their goals.
Timeline for improvement
Most athletes need between three and six sessions to see noticeable improvements in performance. These sessions should ideally be a few weeks apart, ensuring there is enough time to practice drills and establish new norms. Changing movements in the water requires building new habits. It takes commitment and will be difficult before it becomes natural. Athletes should focus on slowing down, paying attention to their bodies and practising the drills provided during the sessions repeatedly. A follow-up session will help ensure that progress is being made.
The average rate for a session is about $150 per hour.
How to make a swim video
The out-of-water and underwater videos each provide essential viewpoints of the swimmer’s stroke. While filming on land, Boulanger expresses the importance of getting footage of the athlete swimming from multiple vantage points including towards and away from the camera. This will yield information on the swimmer’s balance and agility in the water. It will also help to pick up on common faults. For example, Boulanger noticed an unnecessary flick of the hand during my stroke recovery phase.
For underwater videos, a side view provides the optimal perspective of body alignment and arm cycle. This view shows the swimmer’s catch strength and distance per stroke range. The underwater front view reveals stability in the water and arm positioning. Specifically, it shows centre-line crossing and tipping in the water.
As for cameras, a regular lens is ideal for pool spaces that are clear and bright. In limited space, use a fish-eye lens. The wider angle range can capture more stroke cycles in the frame.
Common swim adjustments for triathletes
Most triathletes need to improve their balance and agility in the water. To work on this, practice side swimming by keeping the arm and shoulder position stationary for an entire length, especially when taking a breath. To work on balance, practice swimming slowly and maintaining proper co-ordination in the water. Improving your scull will make your catch stronger and this will dramatically improve your swimming speed. Sculling exercises are the best way strengthen your forearm muscles.
Boulanger’s favourite drill
A popular swim drill called “golf” will help measure stroke efficiency. Swim 50 m and count your strokes, noting the time it took to complete the interval. Add the two numbers together. For example, 60 seconds with 60 strokes would give you a score of 120. As your score goes down, your stroke gets more efficient – it’s an effective drill for measuring progress. Top swimmers achieve scores “under par” (72) for this drill.
Breaking it down
Considering the high cost of bikes and other equipment, a stroke analysis session averaging $150 per hour is a reasonable investment and one of the best you can make for your success in the sport.
Video analysis during a training session with Swimming Canada’s High Performance Centre Ontario