Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (2)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #2: The only time you need to worry about reducing frontal drag is on the start and turns.

Getting into a tight streamline is extremely important for the dive and turns. Your body speed is about 15 miles per hour when you first dive into the water and about 8 miles an hour when your toes leave the wall on each turn. At those speeds, you need to be in a great streamline, and then hold that streamline all the way through the breakout.


Starts and turns are not the only time we need to worry about frontal drag, however. In fact, the only time you can stop worrying about frontal drag is when you touch the wall at the finish of your race. As long as you are moving in the water, frontal drag is imposing its nasty forces upon you.


Aside from shaving your body, wearing a tight cap and racing goggles, and squeezing into the tightest tech suit you can afford, there are a number of ways you can help reduce drag on every stroke you take. Here are some examples.


Keep your head down. Lifting the head to look forward is a common mistake made by many swimmers and causes two problems. First, it causes the hips to drop in the water, taking the body out of alignment. The straighter the body is, the less the drag coefficient. Second, it creates a small but significant bow wave as the water strikes the forehead of the swimmer in motion. Believe it or not, this bow wave or surface wave is largely responsible for frontal drag.


Solution: Practice keeping the head down using the FINIS Swimmer’s Snorkel. Also, try to kick with the snorkel while using the FINIS Alignment Kickboard. This will get your head down more effectively and improve your streamline through the starts and turns.


Pull through the water with a high elbow, which is sometimes referred to as early vertical forearm (EVF). How you set up your arm for the underwater pull makes a big difference in the amount of frontal drag you will experience during the pulling motion. It is the upper arm, from elbow to shoulder that causes most of the frontal drag during the underwater pulling motion. By using the high elbow position, the body speed will slow by about 25 to 30 % from the time the hand enters the water (fastest point in the cycle) until it is one foot in front of the shoulder (slowest point). This happens in just a few tenths of a second. If you decide to pull with the hand much deeper in the water, while dropping the upper arm, body speed will slow by 40-50% during the same time period.


Solution: Practice the high elbow drills described on The Race Club website ( and in the DVD, The Fundamentals of Fast Swimming. Incorporate the FINIS Forearm Fulcrum into some of your sets. Set up the pull using the FINIS Sculling Paddles, which provide just enough force to feel the correct arm position.


Keep your kicks tighter and faster. Bending your knee too much to try to create a powerful kick will cause a tremendous increase in your drag coefficient. The tradeoff is not justified. By kicking narrower but with faster kicks and in both directions you will maintain your speed.


Solution: Kick with the Snorkel and Alignment Board so you get used to kicking in the correct body position. Use small fins occasionally, such as Zoomers, to get the idea of kicking in both directions, making sure to maintain pressure on the water. You should practice kicking more than you normally do, because your legs work much harder and faster than your arms do during the swim. Unlike the arms, the legs have no recovery time, until the race is over.


Yours in Swimming,


Gary Hall Sr.

The Race Club