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Thoughts on Gliding

November 12, 2012

In response to a blog about the “Fat Part of the Stroke” I got several email comments regarding the whole concept of gliding.  Ultimately, it seems to be a question of semantics: “gliding” versus “streamlining” and/or “drag minimization”.  There are some very successful and knowledgeable swim coaches in my circle of friends who like the concept of “gliding” and find it useful and effective, but to these coaches, it is not so much gliding, as it is the idea of drag minimization, perhaps through the use of gliding, or as I would prefer to call it “coasting”.  That may be semantics to some, but with people who are trying to intellectually approach learning to swim (ex: adults) it is an essential distinction.

For my own very narrow definitions of gliding, that is, acting like an air borne glider, my thoughts are as follows:

  • Gliding in the air occurs much in the way that riding downhill on a bike does – a large amount of work is done to counteract gravity, then that work is released as you travel downhill, transforming some of that vertical core of gravity into horizonta movement.
  • There is no gliding in swimming, only propeling and deccelerating.   Since you are moving on an essentially horizontal plane, there is no storage of vertical work (perhaps a tad in fly or breast or off the wall storing it via bouyancy).
  • “Coasting” can be a very useful activity to TEACH good body position but there is very little coasting when swimming fast – some might display the illusion, but either the other hand or the feet are “filling the gaps”, any actual coasting that might occur with a fast swimmer would be, in my estimation, a “necessary evil” – something that was happening while they got themselves in position for the next propulsive burst.

So, in short, there is no such as gliding.  And one should probably do as little coasting as possible when trying to swim fast.

  1. Mike Servant permalink

    Agreed that while swimming fast can feel like you are “gliding” thought the water, in actuality there should be no glide. Due to the resistance of moving through water, as soon as you stop creating propulsion you will slow down. And drop lower in the water. Both of which require force to restore. Efficient swimmers waste no part of their stroke on a glide. My feeling is that you can generate forward propulsion in all parts of the stroke through effective hand position (sculling drills rule!).
    The “fat part of the stroke” graph illustrates this. The competitive swimmer “catches” the water immediately, though generating little power until the fat part. At no point does the force line bottom out, indicating a glide.

    • robertwb permalink

      Well Swerve, if anyone knows about efficient low effort swimming, it’s you!

      Thanks for the comment,

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