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Reduce Your Drag at Your Next Open Water Swim

Reduce Your Drag at Your Next Open Water Swim


There are two forces you want to conquer in order to get faster in the water:

1. Reduce drag and 2. Increase propulsion (forward movement). In this article I am going to talk to you about the kinds of drag triathletes experience in the water and what you can do to significantly reduce it.


Anything that impedes forward motion in the water is drag. There are 3 kinds of drag a swimmer can experience when in a pool or open water:


1. Frictional drag. This means anything on your physical body or what you are wearing that is slowing you down with drag. This can be a wetsuit that is too big and filling up with water, or your hair coming out of your swim cap. Most athletes go as far to say that shaving your legs and arms will help reduce drag in the water. I don’t have any definite data on this, but I can tell you that most of my athletes both male and female shave their limbs before racing. I also would not recommend swimming with a long beard or hair not tucked in a swim cap. Why not create the optimal environment for water to glide smoothly against your skin and improve forward propulsion?


2. Form drag. This means anything you are doing with your swim stroke and how you glide through the water that is slowing you down. Poor swim form such as not keeping your head down, sinking hips, crossing the midline of the body with your arms, or not rotating your body enough are all examples of form drag. Good swim form will improve your times more than speed. That’s right, an efficient swimmer will glide through the water faster just because of their form when compared to someone who has a fast swim stroke. An efficient swimmer has good swim economy which means they can get from point A to point B in the fastest possible time without much drag. That’s why you need to have me do your SWIM STROKE ANALYSIS so I can pinpoint where you need improvements in your swim form and therefore move more efficiently through the water.


3. Wave drag. This is something totally out of the swimmer’s control, although if it applies to you, then it applies to everyone. You may have a slower swim time if the water is choppy due to high winds, or the current is working against you. However, if you are creating your own wave drag with inefficiencies in your form, that too will slow you down. From what I have seen, too much splashing is usually a good indicator that a swimmer is creating their own wave drag. Swimmers who swim in the wake of another swimmer can also get caught in wave drag unless they stay on the hip of the swimmer in front of them or directly behind them. These two spots can actually give you some draft and potentially reduce your swim time.


I ask you to think about any areas that might be causing drag for you in the water and make an effort to correct them. Sometimes little fixes can have a big impact.


Have you downloaded my Complete Guide to the Iron Distance Swim? It has everything you need to know for your next long course swim and it is dropped right into your inbox! Click HERE to get it!


Have you thought about hiring a coach for your next race? Click HERE to have a free 15 minute chat with me about your race goals!


Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach










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