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How to Swim Far

To go a long distance in swimming one will eventually have to use their stored fat reserves which are contained all throughout the body and muscles.  Under the extreme conditions of survival - and nearing the point of starvation - the body can make use of proteins for a final source of energy.  But such is not the case for recreational, nor even competitive, swimming. 

Long distances in swimming are typically those that are longer than pool competitions, over 1500m and upto 10 km which is considered a swimming marathon in the Olympic games.  Beyond this, long distances are famously swum to make the record books, such as crossing the English Channel (21 miles) or ocean swims of nearing 100 miles or more.  The Guinness world record for the longest distance ever swum in the open sea is 225 km (139.8 miles) by Veljko Rogosic of Croatia across the Adriatic Sea in 2006.

The technique to swim long distances will differ from sprint swimming.  It is done with a crawl stroke resembling the freestyle but with the swimmer stroking a minimum output of energy yet maintaining an effective speed.  The trunk is slightly flatter and takes on a stretched appearance, the arm action less strenuous, and the strokes are longer and more deliberate.  The body will ride slightly lower in the water compared to a sprint swimmer since the speed is less.  The eyes are directed forward with the waterline at or near the hairline.  Relaxation is emphasized and the whole action is smooth.  A six-beat kick can be interrupted or paused, but may also be continuous.  Some distance swimmers experiment with a two-beat kick who have a more durable upper build.  The flutter kick will tend to have a wider amplitude in the distance swim because it is attempting to obtain traction in the water at a slower speed.  The slightly slower arm action will allow it to glide forward upon entry before engaging the catch.  The entire body will roll nearly on each side with every stroke, allowing the swimmer to inhale, usually every two to three strokes.

How to Swim Fast

Other than someone’s favorite competition event, the benefit of swimming fast applies to life saving situations where one must swim quickly to the aid of another who is drowning.  Any of the four medley strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, or freestyle) can be used to swim fast, with the front crawl or freestyle being the fastest of the four. 

The modern crawl is the fastest and most efficient stroke known to swimming, the essential difference from the distance crawl is that of duration of the arm and leg cycles.  In the sprint crawl, the glide is reduced to a minimum and the arm is pressed downward into a driving position as soon as it enters the water.  The sprint swimmer will be using his glycolic energy system, which is glycogen in the muscles broken down into glucose.  Since this is an anaerobic process, the sprint swimmer will not need to take in as much air.  In the 50m competition swim, not a single breath may be taken until the end of the race.  Other sprints such as 100m may incur only a few breaths on the first 50m and perhaps twice as many on the return lap.  Those incorporating the roll technique will have more opportunity or choice of breathing.

The flutter kick is more compact, or lower amplitude, and is driven rather quickly all throughout the swim.  It is more of a forced oscillation rather than a “kick”, achieving propulsion from both the upward and downward beat. Since conservation of energy is less of a consideration in sprinting, today’s swimmers may experiment with more faster or powerful leg kicking.  The sprint swimmer will be raised higher in the water when at full speed which reduces the water resistance to his advantage, explaining the “high gear” effect in fast swimming.  The world records for the 50m and 100m sprint are 20.91s and 46.91s, respectively, both held by Cielo of Brazil.  In all instances of swimming, positioning for the best streamlining will yield the best result. 

How to Swim Far and Fast

Swimming fast at a specified distance that is less than a mile but greater than a sprint distance of say 200m is called a middle distance.  As you would probably expect, it combines the features of both long distance and sprint swimming such that you will need to use both aerobic and glycolic energy systems and practice some of the training of each.  It could be considered the best distance in providing the best overall swimming conditioning.  Timing is more of a consideration such that the amount of glide is reduced from that of a long distance swim but considerably increased from the sprint technique.  Streamlining and efficiency will be important with understanding how two energy systems will be phasing in and out and overlapping each other. 

What may not be obvious, however, is that although a two-beat kick is practiced in a long-distance swim, and a six-beat kick in a sprint, it will not be sufficient to use a four-beat kick for middle distance.  In fact, it may cause extra resistance and slow you down.  This involves relative tractive forces in the physics of propulsion, and it has been found it is best to utilize a six-beat kick, or in some instances even resort to a two-beat kick. The flutter kick can be interrupted, or paused, much like in the long distance swim but at a relative rate commensurate to the middle distance being swum. 

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