As a cyclist I’m a big fan of measuring power during my training sessions. When possible, I like to translate this training knowledge to other sports as well. I succeeded to do so in running using Stryd. Only recently I read more about a new piece of technology that (finally) made it possible to measure power in swimming. How cool!
But wait. Swimming is not only about producing high wattages, right? As stated in a 2013 research: “Nowhere in sport is performance so dependent on the interaction of the athlete with the surrounding medium than in swimming.” To go fast, we need to push against the water. But pushing harder does not always equal going faster. “Swimming comes down to high stroke efficiency at a high rate while simultaneously minimizing drag.”
In other words, if you want to go fast, power alone does not tell us the whole story. This is exactly what former engineer at Nokia, Riku Rimpelä thought. The Finnish CEO of Trainesense created Smartpaddle, the first force measuring wearable for swimmers.
Smartpaddle is not the typical power meter we cyclists now. It is actually way smarter. It does not only give insight into the absolute forces produced in the water, it also shows whether you push at the right time and in the right direction. Not producing continuous power means losing pressure against the water. Not producing power in the right direction lowers stroke efficiency.
Step 1 collecting data
Using Smartpaddle is easy. You simply put it on your fingers with rubber bands and start swimming. Once you are interested in your data, you can transfer it to your mobile app within a couple of seconds via Bluetooth. The data is shown on your mobile device or laptop. That is where the next step starts: understanding the data. This can be a challenge, but let’s give it a go. Stick with me and let’s look at three example graphs.
Step 2 understanding data
You are looking at the force (y axis) produced by your hands over time (x axis). The green line shows horizontal produced force which moves us forward. The red line shows vertical force that lifts the (upper)body up. The yellow line is force produced to push water sideways. To quickly summarize: “green force” is the force we want and “red force” should be minimized for an efficient stroke.
So far so good. Once you manage to minimize your red force and maximize your green force, the challenge is to keep up the good work when getting fatigued. That’s when a stroke comparison comes in handy.
You are now looking at stroke to stroke variations in a stacked bar chart. This graph does not only show a difference in stroke efficiency (green vs red), but also in total force (bar height). We want a high stroke efficiency, even when getting tired at the end. We also want to minimize variation in total force between strokes to keep the speed as constant as possible, because acceleration costs extra energy.
On to the third and last graph. The Smartpaddle measures acceleration, pressure and position. Therefore, it is possible to plot a graph in which you can see the movement of your hand through the water. At the top left the hand enters the water. Then clockwise it goes to the front into the glide phase, and then drops in depth when getting into the pull phase.
This graph can tell us a little bit more about a possible cause for “red forces”. You can see the hand first getting deeper into the water after entering the water. Than at 80 cm (x axis 0.80) after the entry point the hand is going up. This will not only result in sinking legs and therefore increased drag. It will also be more difficult to transfer from glide phase to pull phase without first creating “vertical red force”.
Step 3 using data to swim faster
Although the amount of data can be overwhelming, I think with a little help and patience you should be able to understand the data Smartpaddle provides in the app. Understanding the data does not immediately mean you also know how to fix certain numbers. You will need some experience for that. This is when a trainer or coach comes in handy. Only when adding step 3 to step 1 and 2, Smartpaddle can become a way to improve your results instead of being just a cool gadget. That is why I would recommend using this piece of technology only when your trainer is interested as well. If not, you can of course become an expert yourself as well by doing one of Smartpaddle’s courses.
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