Cadence is a term that swimmers use to summarize balance, tempo, turnover, breathing rate and propulsion. Basically cadence is to swimming, what concentration is to meditation, and perfecting it is just as personal, and illusive. Many people think that reducing turnover rate and creating glide increases cadence, on the other hand, increasing turnover rate attempting to gain speed can lead to inconsistency in the stoke and little accumulative strength. There are so many variables that there is no simple way to explain it but I'm going to attempt to provide you real world advice that can help. Keep in mind everyone is going to have a different stroke, and much of this depends on the individual's strength. If this does not apply to you just yet, get into the pool and put in more laps while consistently testing your core, kick and keeping pressure on your hands, the strength will come.
It’s my belief that cadence is achieved through the combination of efficiency, strength, and balance. A byproduct of the combination of these is speed. Efficiency can be pursued with the use of the efficiency calculator that is included in this website. This tool may also assist in building strength and as a result of the factors that the calculator encourages to achieve a maximum point value. Balance is built by turning your hips, timing your stroke, kick and breathing rates so that it remains fluid and in sync. This may also be pursued in dryland training by working on an instable surface. The theory in dryland training is that training on an imbalanced surface, causes the bodies reaction / correction and this increases balance related strength. Strength comes in time, resistance, and laps focusing on the core. I don’t personally, but many swimmers engage in lifting. Be careful here, because being too bulky or locking up your fascia may harm your cadence and decrease your stretch / swimming strength. In short, muscle sinks. With that said, while avoiding a swim injury weight lifting can be a great asset.
Now let’s highlight the cadence stroke for the distance swimmer. Body position should be settled over the core, keeping a long line in the water, clean stroke, head down, feet up. This allows you to create propulsion through resistance, and cut resistance through a long frame. Propulsion is necessary to create cadence, in fact the more propulsion you create the easier it is to create cadence. Play with stroke depth, paddles, refer to previous articles within this board that focus on stroke “Kayak”. The basic idea is to use your hand, wrist, and forearm to create maximum pull resistance that moves you forward.
Now the counterpart, cadence for sprint. A high stroke rate while keeping consistent pull pressure on the paddle (hand through elbow), consistent high body position, with a rise and fall in your hips along with an aggressive six beat kick to create additional kick propulsion and glide “Motorboat”.
Concerning turnover rate, yes more strokes can create speed but if you are not creating resistance with those strokes you will not reach your potential. Likewise less strokes creating more pull with little for turnover rate will result in greater length, but may glide too much to create speed. It's about balance, think of these terms in Yin / Yang, and getting the most out of your body’s current ability in effort to build future ability. Again think of the importance of concentration to meditation.
My three primary tips - 1) Bilateral breathing, breathing on threes is great but if this is too tough try doubling up, for example Right, Right, 123, Left, Left, 123, Right, Right, etc... I've made this my standard because you can feel the pull within the 123, and you are always practicing bilateral breathing which keeps you balanced. Once balanced and efficient, If your stroke breaks down, you have a wind wave, or boat wake to deal with you can choose your breath side and remain comfortable without panic.
2) A 25 meter or yard pool is not ideal to learn cadence because you have to stop or flip often. Break out of the pool, get into open water where you can stretch out and find your comfort zone. Try to find calm water that is wind sheltered and put in a straight 300 before changing direction. Feel your turnover rate, kick, turn your hips and find that balance, then churn for more power in your arm paddle while maintaining rhythm. Hold that for an extended period of time and you have found cadence.
3) Hand position, I once had a student that increased their turnover rate, but rotated their hand open to slice the water, cutting resistance to manage the energy necessary. The result: they moved slower. We actually slowed this individuals turnover rate, rotated the hand back to create pull and they quickened up. Once their strength profile could accommodate the resistance, and a higher turnover rate: we let the shoulders fly while being cognizant of hand position and resistance, and that’s when the magic happened.
There is one last piece to cadence, and the rhythm of a stroke. Every once in a while you’ll see someone talk about a cadence / tempo trainer, which is basically a metronome for a swim stroke. I use the comparison to a metronome purposefully because they are used to regulate the beat of music. My point is, if music is regulated and through a variety of waterproof MPS players readily available, then why not use music as a tempo trainer. I personally like songs in 4 / 4 time. On a side note, Finis makes a cadence trainer which is good so if you need extra help try that. My preference remains strength training through laps, and if tempo is a concern find your beat through music, it works.
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