How Fast Were The Fast Suits?

There are a lot of ways that one could compare the textile (i.e. basic) vs non-textile (i.e. fast) suit eras.  For me, and the purposes of this case study, I like to think of there being four eras:

  1. Textile Suits (Pre-2008)
  2. Non-Textile Suit (2008)
  3. Non-Textile Suit (2009)
  4. Textile Suit (2010+)

The reason for the granular distinction is because in 2008 the Non-Textile suits were still ‘new’ but in 2009 the science had improved and more brands (e.g. wetsuits) had entered the market.

There are a lot of ways you could approach this analysis, including taking one particular swimmer and comparing their times over each era (e.g. Paul Biedermann’s LCM 200M & 400M Freestyle), but the approach I chose to take was to compare the world records of each era on a relative percentile basis in an attempt to understand who benefited the most from the non-textile suits.

The full presentation of my analysis can be found here, but for this case study I will walk you through the analysis of two events:

  1. Male LCM 200M Backstroke
  2. Female LCM 200M Breaststroke

My original hypothesis were that non-textile suits give an advantage to:

  1. Short-axis strokes over long-axis strokes: since non-textile suits create less drag by elevating a swimmer closer to the surface of the water, the short-axis strokes serve to benefit the most since they contain more of a glide component (breaststroke more than butterfly)
  2. Women over men: women historically on average have a higher body fat percentage (roughly 15% for women compared to 10% for men)(1),  therefore the non-textile suits have more drag to reduce and elevate

 

Case Study # 1: Analysis of Male LCM 200M Backstroke

World Records

  • Era 1: Ryan Lochte (March 2007): 1:54.32
  • Era 2: Ryan Lochte (August 2008): 1:53.94
  • Era 3: Aaron Peirsol (July 2009): 1:51.92
  • Era 4: Ryan Lochte (July 2011): 1:52.96

 

Comparison Across Eras

Note: a negative number means the time got faster across the era while a positive number means the time got slower

  • Era 1 –> Era 2: (0.332%)
  • Era 2 –> Era 3: (1.773%)
  • Era 3 –> Era 4: 0.929%
  • Era 1 –> Era 3: (2.099%)

 

Analysis

The progression of times shows us that the Male LCM 200M Backstroke definitely benefited from the non-textile suits, most notably in the third Era where Aaron Peirsol’s world record shaved over 2% off the world record he shared with Ryan Lochte at 1:54.32, the largest Era 1 –> Era 3 delta across the Men’s 100 & 200 meter distances (but sixth on the list if you include women’s events).

  

Case Study # 2: Analysis of Female LCM 200M Breaststroke

World Records

  • Era 1: Leisel Jones (February 2006): 2:20.54
  • Era 2: Rebecca Soni (August 2008): 2:20.22
  • Era 3: Annamay Pierse (July 2009): 2:20.12
  • Era 4: Rikke Pedersen (August 2013): 2:19.11

 

Comparison Across Eras

Note: a negative number means the time got faster across the era while a positive number means the time got slower

  • Era 1 –> Era 2: (0.228%)
  • Era 2 –> Era 3: (0.071%)
  • Era 3 –> Era 4: (0.721%)
  • Era 1 –> Era 3: (0.299%)

 

Analysis

While the non-textile suits did benefit the Female LCM 200M Breaststroke, the linear decrease in world records shows us that this particular event benefited more from the swimmer themselves rather than the suit, with four different world record holders and each Era faster than the previous.

 

CONCLUSION

As stated in my opening remarks, there are a lot of variations one could take on this analysis, but after reviewing all the results, which can be found here, the conclusion is that women absolutely benefited more from the non-textile suits than men, but as for long-axis vs. short-axis, the data is split.


(1)    ACE Fitness

Source: Omega Timing, Swimming World

Originally Published: June 15th, 2014 by Elliot Meena

A Tale of Two Milers: Sun Yang & Ryan Cochrane’s LCM 1500 Freestyle

Sun Yang, the reigning Olympic and World Champion in the 1500 LCM Freestyle, arguably has one of the most consistent strokes in all of swimming.  As my friend Casey Barrett stated, Yang’s stroke looks like it is timed to a metronome when watching, particularly in this video, and it translates well into his events has he broke the world record at the 2012 Olympics with a time of 14:31.02 and continued his distance dominance at the 2013 World Championships with a time of 14:41.15

On the other hand, Ryan Cochrane, the runner-up to Yang at both the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships, has a stroke that is quite the opposite, as he relies more on turnover for speed as opposed to power for Yang.  Still, it has worked out well for Cochrane as he swam a 14:39.63 at the 2012 Olympics and 14:42.28 at the 2013 World Championships.

But when I watch the two races (2012 Olympics, 2013 World Championships), I can’t help but wonder who really has the most effective stroke for their body type and style of swim.  In other words, how much does the weight and height of each swimmer affect their stroke count throughout the entire 1500 meters?

 

To answer this question, first I broke down all four races across the two competitions, to develop an average split and stroke count per lap:

EXHIBIT 1: SPLIT AND STROKE COUNT ANALYSIS

Please note that all data is formatted as: Sun Yang Info / Ryan Cochrane Info

2012 OLYMPICS

  • 1500 LCM Freestyle Time: 14:31.02 / 14:39.63
  • Average Split (50M): 29.03 / 29.32
  • Final 100M (50/50): 27.81 + 25.68 = 53.49 / 28.51 + 27.42 = 55.93
  • Total Stroke Count: 813 / 1,047
  • Average Stroke Count (50M): 27 / 35

2013 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

  • 1500 LCM Freestyle Time: 14:41.15 / 14:42.28
  • Average Split (50M): 29.37 / 29.42
  • Final 100M (50/50): 27.37 + 27.11 = 54.48 / 28.40 + 27.51 = 55.91
  • Total Stroke Count: 812 / 1,067
  • Average Stroke Count (50M): 27 / 36

In summary, Ryan Cochrane was less than 1% slower than Yang at the 2012 Olympics, but took 29% more strokes.  Then again in 2013, he was only 0.15% slower than Yang but took 31% more strokes.  Now those numbers are not too surprising if you watched the videos, but in order to really understand their efficiency we need to compare the stroke counts with the individual body weight of the swimmers.

 

On that note, let’s compare their races on a relative basis using their body height and weight:

EXHIBIT 2: BODY WEIGHT AND HEIGHT ANALYSIS

Please note that all data is formatted as: Sun Yang Info / Ryan Cochrane Info

For this analysis, it would be helpful if you understand the following terms:

  • Body Lengths / Lap = (50 Meters) / (Swimmers Height), represents the number of times a swimmer needs to transfer their body across a single lap
    • (Note: 50 Meters = ~1,968 inches)
  • Pounds / Lap = (Body Weight) x (Body Lengths/Lap), represents the amount of weight that a swimmer needs to transfer in a single lap
  • Pounds / Stroke = (Pounds/Lap) / (Average Stroke Count), represents the amount of weight transferred per stroke in a single lap

And I know Google is not always the greatest source, but for simplicity purposes it says that Sun Yang and Ryan Cochrane are:

  • Height (inches): 78 / 76
  • Weight (pounds): 198 / 176

Which means in a 1500 LCM freestyle race, that:

  • Body Lengths / Lap: 25.23 / 25.89
  • Pounds / Lap: 4,996 / 4,557

Therefore, in order to understand exactly how much weight each swimmer pulls per stroke at each competition, we will look at the Pound per Stroke and % of Body Weight pulled by each swimmer:

2012 OLYMPICS

  • Pound / Stroke: 184.3 / 130.6
  • % of Body Weight: 93.1% / 74.2%

2013 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

  • Pound / Stroke: 184.6 / 128.1
  • % of Body Weight: 93.2% / 72.8%

 

CONCLUSION

In summary, not only is Sun Yang a more consistent swimmer, practically swimming the same race in 2012 and 2013 from a stroke count perspective, he is also a much more efficient swimmer capable of pulling 93% of his body weight with each stroke, where Cochrane fluctuates from 74% to 72%.

Without a change in stroke count for Cochrane, it does not appear he will be able to beat Yang at his best.  Yang’s race strategy and stroke count allow him to store more energy in the reserve tank, which is one of the reasons he can bring home his final 100M up to 4.5% faster than Cochrane.  Unless Cochrane can move ahead by at least two seconds, which is on average how much Yang out-split’s him on the final 100M, he will not be able to hold off Yang’s speed for the win.


Source: NBC Olympics, Omega Timing

Originally Published: June 15th, 2014 by Elliot Meena

Building A Relative Race Strategy

What is your race strategy? Out fast and just try to survive? Are you a closer who builds your race the whole way through? Or, better yet, do you even have a strategy?

There is no arguing that records have been broken via a multitude of race strategies, or lack thereof, but one could argue that most swimmers train for races in a similar manner, and that is from an energy conservation standpoint.

One of the most demoralizing things to happen to a swimmer, or any athlete for that matter, is to be caught and ultimately beaten. It tells those watching that the winner was clearly more disciplined and that the loser was inexperienced and let nerves get the best of them. Is this always true? Of course not, however that doesn’t matter in a society that loves to jump to conclusions.

But, I digress.

No swimmer is ever coached to fly and die, at least not at a shave and taper meet, and that makes sense. If executed accordingly, a race that has the proper distribution of energy and tighter split ranges is far more lethal than one that that is put together by nerves with a wider gap in between splits. Our bodies are conditioned to slowly disperse energy over the course of the race, rather than all at once.

For example, at the 2004 Summer Olympics, Ian Thorpe and Klete Keller both anchored their countries 4 x 200 Freestyle Relays the night after they placed 1st and 4th in the individual 200 Freestyle event, respectively.

On the relay, Thorpe dove in 1.48 seconds behind Keller and cut 0.98 seconds off that deficit in the first 50. However, his second 50 was 2.72 seconds slower than his first, and 11% increase, whereas in his individual event his second 50 was only 1.42 seconds slower than his first, a 6% increase.

Keller, on the other hand, split 1.84 seconds slower on his second 50 in the relay, a 7% increase, as opposed to only a 1.27 differential, or 5%, in his individual race.

As a result, Thorpe was never able to finish closing the gap and the American’s went on to pull off the upset.

My point, swimmers have to keep their composure, just like Will Ferrell said.

Now I am not saying that nerves don’t play a large factor in athletics. I am a huge believer in the mental “X” factor that allows for some of the most spectacular races to be performed given special circumstances, but I do believe that you cannot train, prepare, or depend on this “X” factor. Every time you dive in the water you should have the same strategy in mind that you spent the entire season training for, regardless of the circumstances. Come taper time, swimming is far more mental than physical and therefore you should trust that your strategy will produce the best time possible on that day.

Now what should your strategy be you ask? Great question. In keeping with the 200 strategy theme, but shifting focus to yards to correlate with the upcoming NCAA Championships, let’s compare the 200-yard race strategies of a long-axis vs. short-axis stroke.

Back in the day, my best event was the 200 Butterfly, but I also swam the 200 Freestyle occasionally, and the 200 race strategy that I trained for, regardless of stroke, was:

  • 1st 50 = Baseline
  • 2nd 50 = Baseline + 1.5 seconds
  • 3rd 50 = Baseline + 1.0 seconds
  • 4th 50 = Baseline + 0.5 seconds

The math would tell you that this means, regardless of stroke, you were supposed to split your race evenly, front to back. However, diving deeper into the different split breakdown across strokes tells us something different.

Let’s look at, for example, a breakdown of the two following events:

  1. Men’s 200-Yard Freestyle
  2. Men’s 200-Yard Butterfly

For this case study, I analyzed the top five finishers from each of the past four NCAA D1 Championships (2010-2013) which equates to a sample size of 20 unique swims for each event.

Men’s 200-yard Freestyle (Average time of the 20 unique swims)

  • 1st 50 = 21.77
  • 2nd 50 = 23.49 (increase from 1st 50 = 1.72 seconds / 7.9%)
  • 3rd 50 = 23.72 (increase from 1st 50 = 1.95 seconds / 9.0%)
  • 4th 50 = 24.05 (increase from 1st 50 = 2.28 seconds / 10.5%)
  • Final Time = 1:33.03

 

Men’s 200-yard Butterfly (Average time of the 20 unique swims)

  • 1st 50 = 22.90
  • 2nd 50 = 25.96 (increase from 1st 50 = 3.06 seconds / 13.4%)
  • 3rd 50 = 26.13 (increase from 1st 50 = 3.23 seconds / 14.1%)
  • 4th 50 = 26.66 (increase from 1st 50 = 3.76 seconds / 16.4%)
  • Final Time = 1:41.65

 

Conclusion

Even the best swimmers in the country, for both long and short-axis strokes, do not descend their 50’s throughout a 200, and in fact they ascend their 50’s which is pretty interesting considering I have never heard a coach tell their swimmers the last 50 should be their slowest.

Additionally, a 1.5 second increase in the second 50 for a 200 means that for freestyle, the first and second 50’s should be 18.99 and 20.49 seconds (7.8% increase) and for butterfly they should be 11.19 and 12.60 seconds (13.4% increase), respectively.

Now we all know those splits are inconceivable! (’The Princess Bride’ fan in me cannot say that work without exclamation), so the moral of this case study is the importance of establishing a race strategy based on a relative percent basis, and not on absolute seconds.

As my dad use to say to me, “you have to swim in your own lane.” He also used to say that I should “swim like there is a shark in my lane”, but I think in this particular case the former makes a little more sense. Each swimmer is different, each stroke is different, and no two races are the same, so regardless of skill level you should be tailoring your race around your own ability, which is why a race strategy based on relative percent’s make more sense.

At the end of the day the above percentages may not be right for everyone, for example Ricky Berens took his American Record 1:31.31 200 Freestyle out a little bit quicker than average, and ‘descended’ his next three 50’s (0.12 seconds delta between the three) , but then again you are not Ricky Berens. If you want to piece together the perfect race, then I suggest you follow the masses and start with what, on average, some of the best swimmers in the country have been doing over the past four years. This could mean that you need to slow down your first 50 to make sure more is left in the tank at the end, or it could also mean you need to go out faster because if you always close strong then you did not properly distribute your energy to the earlier part of the race.

This baseline race strategy will serve as a platform of confidence for you when you dive in and the race is out of your body’s control and into the control of your mind. Swimmers spend too many hours in the pool, missing out on sleep, to just leave their season up to chance and hope come taper time.


Source: Omega Timing, Swimming World Magazine

Originally Published: April 21st, 2014 by Elliot Meena