Stroke Length,Stroke Rate,and Tim Martin

Stroke Length,Stroke Rate,and Tim Martin

Post by RunnSw » Fri, 17 Sep 1999 04:00:00

I have cited Harvard's Tim Martin simply because he is
the most extreme example of a high stroke rate
swimmer I (and most coaches I've talked with)
have ever seen.  Certainly at his level of performance
(14:58 1650).

Terry Laughlin has disparaged Tim's style as being
"ugly," "rough," and "exhausting."

But I'd like to offer up the concept that it is none of the
above; rather the word I'd use is "innovative," in the same
sense of a new style of swimming devised by a previous
Harvard swimmer named David Berkoff.

Not everyone who has a high stroke rate is "thrashing."
One high stroke rate swimmer that I do think thrashes a
bit is USC's Jamie Cail.  Another sometimes thrasher
is hero-of-the-year-2000-Olympics-to-be Kaitlyn Sandeno.
But I don't think that Tim thrashes at all.  He is remarkably
fluid and disciplined.  He is just has a _very_ fast, yet
smooth, cadence.  You'd really need to view slow motion
videos to appreciate this (just as you'd need slo-mo to examine
the biomechanics of something else which ostensibly
shouldn't work...the flight of a bumblebee).

Tim doesn't just have a high stroke rate.  He has an
extremely high stroke rate.  He is quoted on the Harvard
Web site as saying that every coach he's ever had has
tried to change his style.  This includes Bud McAllister,
who has happily coached a number of high stroke
rate swimmers (Janet Evans among them), but who found
Tim's stroke rate to be extreme, even by his own tolerant

If you ask Tim about his stroke, he won't say that it's
exhausting at all.  He'll tell you that he "pulls
very little water."  I've used the obvious analogy
of spinning in cycling, as opposed to pulling big
gears.  Nor should it be assumed that Tim's style
of swimming produces more drag than, for example,
the TI style of swimming.  Drag is not necessarily
related to stroke length - not if the swimmer is consciously
trying to maintain a high stroke rate.

There is nothing published which says that drag is invariably related
to stroke length.  Among other things, Dr. Brent Rushall
has noted that an accelerated recovery may reduce
drag for the following reason:  with a long, slow, deliberate
recovery, you've got a whole arm out of the water, pushing
the rest of the body down into the water, increasing frontal
resistance. Reduce the recovery time, and this is reduced,
as is the period of deceleration in the forward velocity versus
time curve (when you are not "pulling" - we all know what this
means - back, and if you are not kicking, you are always
going to be decelerating...this is a physical fact...and the
deceleration is instantaneous and severe, no matter how one's
body is oriented). And these possible hydrodynamic and bio-
mechanical advantages don't even consider the possibility
that it may be more bioenergetically efficient for some
people to "push small gears fast" than to "push big
gears." Or that this style of swimming may be less injurious
by virtue of limiting both impingement and vascular wring-

I would love to be a fly on the wall sometime when Terry
is explaining to his West Point swimmers why it is that
Tim can swim so "wrong" and still swim circles around everyone
else in the Northeast.  Could it be that he's not "wrong," afterall?
That he's really doing something which makes perfect biomechanical,
bioenergetic, and hydrodynamic sense?

As for being "rough" or "ugly," I disagree.  Beauty is,
I suppose, in the eye of the beholder.  I see as
much flowing grace when Tim swims as I see when
I watch any other distance swimmer.  But beauty
has many faces.  We should not dismiss, but rather
try to understand.

- Larry Weisenthal


Stroke Length,Stroke Rate,and Tim Martin

Post by Totalswi » Sat, 18 Sep 1999 04:00:00

>As for being "rough" or "ugly," I disagree.  Beauty is,
>I suppose, in the eye of the beholder.  I see as
>much flowing grace when Tim swims as I see when
>I watch any other distance swimmer.  But beauty
>has many faces.  We should not dismiss, but rather
>try to understand.

Larry is right. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Tim's stroke has not
been described by anyone else as beautiful. Being at West Point, we have as
much opportunity as anyone to see Tim swim and it's not just his high turnover
rate that make most observers think of it as less than elegant, there's also
the matter that his head jerks around as he swims and that his rhythm is
erratic and uneven within any 3 stroke cycles.
Nevertheless, none of that really matters. All that does matter is *does this
style work for Tim* and the answer is yes. I have great regard for Tim's
ability to make this style work well for him. He's a great competitor with a
lot of heart. As I have said several times, it is when Larry postulates this as
a good style for other swimmers that I take issue.
The primary goal of TI is to make swimming an enjoyable and fulfilling activity
for millions of quite average people. We advocate and teach a style of swimming
-- and a learning mode -- that has proven better at making swimming satisfying
for more different types of swimmers than any other approach of which I'm
At the same time, many aspects of this approach -- though not necessarily all
-- have been adopted by coaches and swimmers ranging from novices in HS or
Masters swimming to people who have already enjoyed significant
accomplishments, up to and including a current #1 world-ranked swimmer.
We're pleased and flattered by that development, but it still remains most
important to us to promote fluent, graceful, "fishlike" swimming for the
masses. And in that regard, I have to evaluate whether Tim's style can ever be
workable for the masses. And the simplest answer is an emphatic no. A turnover
rate that high *is* punishing to the average body, even taking into account the
likelihood that one does it like "spinning in higher gears" on a bike. I swam
that way and I also spend many hours a week, spinning in higher gears on a
bike. Water being 1000 times thicker than air and it being true that one's
pedaling motion remains fundamentally the same at all cadences, there's simply
no comparison to the fitness or resilience or skill level required to swim
successfully and effectively with a high SR and that required to pedal in a
light gear at a high rate.
At the same time, it's important to inquire into the reasons why Tim Martin has
been able to swim relatively well with a stroke rate that even Larry describes
as "extreme."
First, one can't ignore the possibility that he's one of those fortunate people
who are aerobically gifted to a rare degree.
Second, you must take into account the fact that Tim has been highly successful
with this style in 25-yd pools but only average in 50-m pools. After having
watched him swim nearly 30 collegiate races in 25-yd pools over the past 3
years, one thing that has become very clear is that he has extraordinarily
strong and long pushoffs. Combining a strong dolphin kick (not a flutter) with
the capacity to remain underwater longer than other swimmers (more evidence of
what are likely superior aerobic gifts -- I've swum many 1650s and know that in
the final third of the race I and most other swimmers are nearly gasping for
air after every flip turn), Tim really *wins* all 65 turns in a short-course
1650. And that distinctly weakens the case that his swimming style is
advantageous. If it was, he'd be just as good in long course pools as he has
been in short course.

And finally, one must question the case Larry makes that high SR is the *best*
way to swim distance. His only evidence is that many successful distance
swimmers have used such a stroke. But that may be no more than evidence that it
has been the custom to swim that way. One could have just as well made the case
in the 1930s that flat swimming (no roll) was the *best* way to swim freestyle
because the Japanese swimmers of the time, who used that style, were ***
in world swimming. Later developments proved body-rolling a superior way to
swim. At this point, only a small number of younger swimmers, who have been
trained from the beginning of their careers to employ long, smooth "fishlike"
strokes, have begun to enter the senior swimming ranks. And they have achieved
as much success in longer races as in short. Time will tell.

And at this point, I've probably exhausted all I have to say on this thread.
Time to think up a new topic.

Terry Laughlin
Total Immersion Swimming


Stroke Length,Stroke Rate,and Tim Martin

Post by RunnSw » Sat, 18 Sep 1999 04:00:00

>>As I have said several times, it is when Larry postulates this as a good

style for other swimmers that I take issue.<<

After first working on a TI stroke, and unfortunately having to abandon it for
anatomic reasons (my type II acromion), and then working on my Chad Carvin
"loping" stroke (which I found to be almost instantly advantageous and which I
further modified into my W 1.0 stroke - more about that in the future), I am
stoked to take up the challenge of the Tim Martin stroke.  Can a 52 yo with bad
shoulders find happiness swimming like Tim?  I shall see and then report back
on a few months.

By the way, I again quarrel with Terry's description of Tim's stroke, although
I did find the insight into Tim's turns to be a fascinating and entirely
plausible explanation for Tim's greater short course success (though Tim has
several top 8 finishes at long course nationals - albeit the less competitive
winter meet).

But I've got a response.  So Tim can stay under water longer in the last third
of the race, when others are gasping for air.  Could this also not be
interpreted in the following way:

The ability to maintain strong breakouts for 65 turns would indeed give a
swimmer a greater advantage in a short course pool than in a long course pool.
If other swimmers cannot do this as well as Tim, perhaps it is because their
technique is more fatiguing and/or promoting of oxygen deficiency than Tim's

Look at what swimmers do in short course miles.  A whole lot of them double
breathe before the turns.  That's because they are only getting a few breaths
each 25, and then they have to go and turn again.

In Tim's case, he's getting lots of breaths (that's why his head appears to be
jerking around so much).  He gets to breathe just as often as a runner, and
much more often than the typical swimmer.  So this, combined with the possibly
greater bioenergetic efficiency of his stroke, keeps him stronger for those

But this is exactly what, I think, swim coaches should be doing, if they want
to advance the sport.  Too often, there is a preconceived bias on how things
ought to be.  Then, you see a swimmer who breaks the mold and you just ignore
it and chalk it off as an anomaly.  Thus, I've never, ever talked to a swim
coach who could tell me how it was that Janet Evans really swam.  No one ever
got beyond the straight arm recovery, which was one of the least remarkable
aspects of her stroke (the pronounced head lift and extreme loping style being
the most remarkable).

Let's look at Tim and figure out why he goes fast.  Suppose that someone had
taught Tim and Janet how to swim "properly".  Would they have been even better?
 I don't think so.

I do see grace and poetry in Tim's stroke, but it's like comparing Swan Lake to

So here I go, on a three month journey to try and swim like Tim.  Let you know
what happens.

- Larry Weisenthal