During my undergraduate degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering I became extremely comfortable solving complex problems by simplifying them as much as possible. The anecdotal description of this process of simplification is to “consider a spherical horse”. The reason being is that solving for a sphere no matter the problem is much less complicated than solving for the real world shape of a horse. Some engineers or physicists call it a spherical cow, but I like using horses. It makes it the problem easier.
All three sports of triathlon contain a cadence element. The experts within their respective sports have gravitated within the past 15 years towards a cadence sweet spot. Differently said, there is believed to be an optimized rhythm for each sport which will produce the highest efficiency, lowest possibility for injury, and faster split times concurrently. I follow and read as much of the out-coming literature as possible for all three sports and get a large dose of the prevailing theories with each new blog post, published article, or book excerpt. I agree with or better said try to follow the prevailing theories from the experts in each sport with one caveat. I like to call this caveat: optimized personalization. I will discuss this exception once I have given succinct comments on the cadence of each sport. Because I am somewhat of a lazy perfectionist, this process will require three Posts (one for each sport). After discussing the cadence elements of each sport, I will give you my spherical horse solutions to back the prevailing theory.
Diving into the cadence research for swimming is produces somewhat murky waters (two puns in one sentence woot woot). Many people talk up the total immersion method of swimming developed by Terry Laughlin, and I did as well during my first season of adult onset swim training. I found it beneficial and was capable of swimming a length of the pool with as little as 7 strokes. This method teaches you about inefficiency in your stroke, and forces you to hold a true body position or suffer dead spots and ultimately lose to drag. However, for me I found that such a low cadence on race day was utterly impossible regardless how I tried. I would always get amped up and my cadence would jump up to something I wasn’t used to. I also noticed that those individuals that were first out of the water churned even faster than I did when I was amped up. Hmmm, so then I started counting strokes of Olympic swimmers like Phelps and Lochte. It jsut so happened to be the year of the London Olympics. Yep, for freestyle they were in the range of 60-90 strokes per minute (yes, I counted). The deeper into the Internet Research I went the more I found that higher stroke rates were wanted. And here I was spinning like a lazy windmill that could never be confused with a dragon. One interesting study I saw showed an inflection Point with an individual’s stroke rate. Under and over that rate range showed decreases in ifficiency and VO2 numbers. The document (which I can’t find right now for the life of me) stated that according to the skill Level of the athlete this most efficient stroke rate was above 60 for average swimmers, and between 90 and 100 for world class swimmers.
The spherical horse for this and the other three sports are based on a similar principle. I won’t get too technical, because first I don’t want to be wrong, and second, I don’t want to have to back up any calculations, but simplistically when someones arm is in the water, pulling backward, the resultant force produces forward movement (at least hopefully that is the case otherwise you are doing it wrong). The overall movement results in speed for a swimmer and can be categorized as the instantaneous summation of the forces at that point in time. Yes, there is much more than this that plays into the equation to determine forward movement for a swimmer (drag, surface area, temperature, density, etc..), but once again this is my spherical horse. Thus, the resulting forward velocity of a horse (or human) is only dependent upon how often a stroke is applied. This is because when you are not applying force to go forward the drag of the water is slowing you down. Thus the more you can apply that force over the course of a minute, the less you will be affected by drag. That of course to those of you that have even an elementary education should cause you to say, well duh, but sometimes we make our hobbies more difficult than they need to be. the secret to swimming faster is simply to swim faster. Applying this spherical horse to real life is harder to do, and something at which I am mediocre at best. Now back to the pool.