Better results faster and with less effort

Fast learning with SmartPaddle

SmartPaddle boosts the efficiency of improving swimming technique. The main enabler for that is easy access to details of stroke mechanics. In hundreds of coaching situations we have witnessed how SmartPaddle data improves the efficiency of co-operation between the coach and swimmer. Biggest reward for us has been hearing swimmer’s comment: “I think I got it, can I try one more time”. The experience has been similar with the best of the world and 10 year old juniors. We want each of you the enjoy the same feeling.
It is easy to get started with SmartPaddle and find the most appropriate methods for your training environment. The examples below are based on cumulative experience working with the SmartPaddle users. And the background work done in helping them to become better. The viewpoints for coach and swimmer are listed separately. Both of them have different view on the common work that they do. Easily accessible common data enables both of them learning on their own way and, yet, be able to share the learnings.

SmartPaddle simplifies swimming performance analysis by making visible the rootcause of movement: forward directing force.

In SmartPaddle force profile diplayes the overall force during the underwater part of the stroke split into three components forward (green), lateral (yellow) and vertical (red).

Why to measure only hands ?

In stroke analysis it is important to look at the operation of the whole kinetic chain. In floating environment there is no solid surface that would provide the support for the force production. Instead swimmer creates the support by own muscle work. In most of the cases, the rootcauses for the observations are actually not in the hands but in the support muscles.

The selected approach with SmartPaddle is to measure the movement accurately in the end of the kinetic chain. This makes visible the summary effect and it is possible to identify the leakages in the kinetic chain. Instead of trying to isolate the parts of the kinetic chain with measurements, it has turned out to be more efficient for the swimmer to play active role in the analysis itself. When they use their own body to simulate the observations in data, they feel the difference and understand how to apply force more optimally.

Basics of SmartPaddle Stroke Analysis

The main challenge in swimming is the fact that water is 800 times more dense than air. In practice this means that as soon as the forward directing force level drops, the body speed drops and extra effort is needed to accelerate again.

Human body is not built to create constant force output throughout the stroke cycle: the amount of forward directing force varies and therefore also the swimming speed varies. Getting visibility to force variation enables focused actions on improving the efficiency and speed. The basic rules for analysing the force profile are

  • gaps in the forward directing force have the biggest impact on the swimming speed
  • consistently increasing force in forward direction maximises the swimming speed in the end of the stroke cycle
  • further optimisation can be done by minimising the lateral and vertical components

Even with the help of these basic guidelines it is possible to make a list of changes to be tried out. By overlaying the strokes before and after the change, it is possible to learn about the impact of the change..

Each of the swimmer is a different. Same solution for the same problem does never generate the same result. Teaching a new movement requires eye for the specific needs of each swimmer. SmartPaddle provides the coach and swimmer an "extra eye" that helps on concentrating to the essential.


Find the limiting factor

Each swimmer has a capability limitation that makes them execute the stroke in the way they do. It can be either flexibility, coordination, muscle balance or endurance. This limitation needs to be removed before they are able to execute the movement differently.

SmartPaddle force profile accompanied with velocity and trajectory infromation enables pinpointing the improvement area. This information can be utilised to simulate the correct movement. Experience has shown that in most of the cases swimmer is not able to activate the correct muscles and are compensating the movement with the stronger muscles. When this is the case, they cannot fix the movement just by swimming more. SmartPaddle information enables identifying the dryland drills which will enable activating the correct muscles.


Let the swimmer discover the movement

When the limiting factor is removed the focus shifts to controlling a group of muscles as part of the whole kinetic chain. These movement pattern are recorded to the long term memory in human memory system. The only way to reprogram those is to have a controlled environment in which the swimmer himself can re-discover the movement. Discovery happens most efficiently on dryland where it is possible to setup the environment in the way that it is obvious for the swimmer when they execute the movement correctly. This enables  self-discovery.

Integrate to swimming

During the process of re-programming the movement pattern it is important to maintain the feeling on how the new skill impacts on the overall dynamics of the swimming. 

SmartPaddle comparison capability enables ensuring the changes are where they are supposed to be and how the overall dynamics changed. Observations of modified stroke in water enables adapting  the cues on the dryland.

Create controlled variation

When the movement pattern starts to stabilise, it is still necessary to automate the movement. This can be done by variating the environment & stimulus both on dryland and in water.

SmartPaddle enables recording swimming  in different conditions and identifying the level of variation. For example, it is possible to record whole training set and see the impact of not focusing on the technique. Recording a race simulation makes visible the impact of fatique.

Maintaining the efficiency of movement during the season is a major contributor to motivation and competition results. The challenge is that movement is controlled by the unconscious part of our mind and we automatically adopt the movement according to the feelings. Alertness, flexibility, tiredness and strength balance variate during the season. These create new limiting factors and human movement control automatically adapts to those limitations. This easily develops the movement into unwanted direction. Therefore it is essential to have concrete measurable targets for the efficiency and regularly monitor the progress during the season.

Regular finetuning of focus

Human performance is too complicated to be planned. However, it is possible to set targets and regularly measure the progress against the targets. This enables continous learning on what is possible and how it is enabled. 

SmartPaddle enables detailed measurements in the normal training conditions. The best practice has been to measure regularly a test set after the warmup. This enables continuous visibility to the progress and finetuning the focus. Additional benefit is that the more there is consistent data on the swimmer, the more detailed and reliable analysis on the swimming dynamics can be done.

Time to stabilize a skill

The time to make a change in execution technique should not be underestimated. It takes time to teach the new muscles to get activated, build endurance and control into them. Regular data collection enables having visibility to speed of adapting a change. This helps on balancing the level and methods of technique changes during the season.

The experience has shown that with the help of SmartPaddle information, the swimmers have become faster and more autonomous in making changing to their swimming technique. The background for this is that each analysis session will improve awareness of their body and muscle action. 

Human movement is dependent on the environment and situation. Therefore it is not enough to have visibility to performance only in laboratory environment. Monitoring should happen in three levels:

  • fresh -> what can be done when focused and fresh
  • test series -> controlled environment for loading a specific limitation
  • normal practice sessions -> the real skill level !!!

Real merit of progress is the capability to maintain the skill level in normal practices. Each of the swimmers do have their specific survival technique: when they hit their limiting factor, they modify the stroke to meet the targets that have been defined. It is important to appreciate this and ensure that the selection of the survival technique is such that optimizes the learning.

SmartPaddle enables monitoring the progress in different conditions. Depending on the need, it is also possible to view the data in different levels of granularity:

  • Stroke level monitoring
    Makes visible the stroke level details and enables comparing to the selected reference stroke for each of the strokes.
  • Development over time
    makes visible how the parameters have developed over time
  • Power parameter monitoring
    makes visible the swimming dynamics, i.e., changes and differences over the different swimming speed

The end goal of performance development is to be faster in the competitions. The regular use of SmartPaddle system develops swimmer's capability to control the dynamics of their swimming. Additionally the understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the swimmer are on better level when defining the race strategy. 

SmartPaddle can be used to record a race simulation. Stroke level visibility enables analysing how the race was started&finished, how laps were executed etc. The fact based discussion between the coach&swimmer builds the confidence towards the competitions.

Many of the athletes have commented this when they have for the first time seen their swimming measured with SmartPaddle. 

The main contributor to the comments is the fact that they have never seen their movement exactly how it happens.  Swimmer moves himself in 3D space and controls the movement in the level of tens of milliseconds. All of this goes through their system, but afterwards they have only wake feelings on what just happened. The others have seen the movement as it happened, but they can never explain the things on the level that would enable re-constructing the whole picture. Even video is a 2D presentation of 3D reality, and it is dependent on the shooting angle etc. what the swimmer sees in the picture.

SmartPaddle records the movement as it happes: movement and resulting force in 3D space. This enables the swimmer to pick the details that they want confirmation on.

One good sign of them understanding their movement better with the information is the fact that when we ask them "what happens in this phase of the stroke", they very often give a precise answer. Their body is full of unattended messages of their execution and when attention is paid to them, they are able to pick those sensations that support the observation.

This comment is often heard in SmartPaddle feedback sessions. The fact is that the swimmers have been told many times, but there is a difference in hearing and understanding. Not to talk about believing.

The difference on the SmartPaddle information is that there is no explanation needed. The force gaps are immediately visible and with the available information it is possible to simulate the correct movement.  This enables getting directly to the real discussion on what to do about the observation.

Many times swimmers use terms "feel for the water", "feels powerful",  "feels weird". And coaches use terms "high elbow", "fast", "strong". And often they do not understand each other in the same way.  Good thing on measurement in general, and SmartPaddle in specific, is that it provides concrete things to discuss about. And the fact that those are measured facts on the actual human movement make them unambiguous.  The result of the common terminology is that in 10seconds it is possible to exchange more information than in an hour with plenty of explanation. And 10sec is the luxury that the coach and athlete has in between the sets. These short moments make a big difference on the speed and direction of development.

Movement is controlled by movement patterns and finetuned by sensations during the execution. Those happen inside the swimmer's system, and can only be modified by the swimmer themselves. Therefore it is essential to make the swimmer feel the difference between the correct and incorrect movement.

It is seldom that the first trial on changing the movement would be optimal, and it never remains the same after a few repetitions. The only way to optimize the movement is to continue trying and get good quality feedback on the trial. The main thing on the feedback is that it is actionable: helps making the next trial in a more optimal way. Actionable feedback requires that:

  • It is available immediately
    Human memory system flushes 97% of the memories on the movement in 3 minutes. If the feedback is available before this happens, it is possible to bring unattended information to the acknowledged memory and in this way speed-up the learning process.
  • It is easy to understand
    Feedback in practice always means discussion. Therefore it is essential that it is displayed in a format that enables unambiguous interpretation and provides terminology for high quality interaction.
  • It is easy to identify with
    The displayed data needs to correlate with the feelings of the athlete. If they change something, it should also be visible in the feedback. Usually the end result (= swimming speed /laptime) does not immediately correlate with feeling and therefore the feedback information needs to provide visibility to the movement itself.

SmartPaddle system is designed to fullfill these criteria.

We are good on remembering the best and worst things on what we do. This easily lead to hasty conclusions.

A natural tendency for a swimmer is to rely on "the good ld habits" when they are stressed or don't focus on the execution. This makes changing a movement an adventure that requires "a map to coordinate.

When new movement is being learned it takes time to see the changes in the end results. In the beginning the variation of the movement will be big: there will be good and bad strokes. In order to see the progress it is essential to get visibility to the average stroke and the variation around it. Having visibility to the nature of variation will enable setting the constraints for the execution to speed-up the progress. Seeing the progress of the stroke level variation will build-up on the change both for the swimmer and coach. 

SmartPaddle automatically calculates the average strokes and enables comparing them to previous recordings. Also the trend is automatically available.

The swimmers that have been using the SmartPaddle for a longer time have commented that "they modify the curves" when they change their swimming. This indicates that they have stored the SmartPaddle stroke information in their memory system and pick the most suited one for any specific situation. SmartPaddle measurement happens on the same level of detail as the human movement control and after using the information for some time, human mind seems be able to process the information really efficiently.

The fact is that there is hardly a similar stroke in lap length of swimming. As this is the case, it is important to be able to modify the curves and learn to adapt the strokes.

The quickest way to get started is to record 25m medium speed. The detailed measurement makes visible the typical features of the swim already in 25m. Swimming longer or faster can be used to further validate the findings.

After the swim you get the data visible in seconds into SmartPaddle Analysis Center LIVE view. It displayes automatically the average stroke.  

By overlaying left and right hand force profiles, you can quickly see which hand is weaker and where the force drops. With the help of trajectory information, you can identify the location in the hand path at that point.

Best practice has been to involve the swimmer into analysis at this point by placing the his hand to the identified position and start discussing&simulating what muscles should be used to remove the droppage in force. With this kind of simulation they will feel the difference of correct and incorrect muscle action.

When swimmer feels the difference, it is good to let them try it out in the pool on their own. When they think they found it, it makes sense to do another recording. The original and new recording can be overlayed immediately after the trial to see if the changes where they were supposed to be and how big the changes were.

Usually the differences in the first trial are not huge. However, the main thing is to ensure that the changes were in the correct direction and the swimmer has the feeling on the difference. This enables them further examining their muscle action. By doing more of the same, they will be able to make progress.

In many cases swimmers have different techniques when they are swimming with different effort. With SmartPaddle it is possible to make it concrete for the swimmer what happens when they try to increase the speed. 

A test set that has been widely used with SmartPaddle is 4x25 increasing speed: 200 racepace, 100 racepace, 50 racepace, all-out. 100 easy between the recordings. 

Recording all of the swims as separate recordings into same session enables doing a quick analysis with LIVE view and going into details with ANALYSIS view. 

When using the LIVE view, it makes sense to start by quickly checking the power difference between left and right to see if the difference changes over the efforts. And start the detailed analysis on that swim where the difference is biggest. The analysis can be done in the same way as explained above.

Additionally it makes sense to overlay the force profiles of same hand over different efforts to see if the shape of the profile remains the same. This would mean that the same muscles are active in different speeds. If there are changes, then once again simulate on dryland and discuss how the focus changes on that point of the stroke when the effort is increased.

In many cases increasing effort results in high force peak in one moment of the stroke. The general rule for efficient swimming would be to try to maintain the impulse on the same level by keeping the length of the powerphase at least the same instead of focusing to increase the peak force.

ANALYSIS tool has more visual tools to do the comparisons over the different swimming speed.

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With SmartPaddle it is easy to make visible the impact of different environmental parameters. For triathletes one of the most concrete ones have been the impact of wearing a wetsuite or swimming in open water. 

The comparison should be started in the pool environment by creating a reference measurement: 200m racepace.

Doing the same measurement in the pool with wetsuite enables isolating the impact of that. Usually two things happen with wetsuite:

- the floating material easily limits the core activation which is visible in lower force levels and hands extending wider out

- wetsuite is tight on the shoulders in recovery which easily leads on shoulder dropping which is visible as negative impulse in the beginning of the stroke

It makes also sense to try out the impact of navigation and swimming eyes shut on the pool. The impacts are various, but usually the asymmetries become clearly visible. And the fact that easily triathletes stop applying water during the navigation stroke. 

When the impact is known in the pool, it is easy to go into open water and do similar recording and compare the strokes against the references from the pool environment.

What can be seen from the force measurements?

The ability to produce high maximum force is important especially in sprint distances.

It is equally important that the duration of the force is long, in order to get a large impulse to the hand stroke.

Force x Time = Impulse

In the example below, swimmer A produces a higher maximum force. However, swimmer B generates a higher impulse and is swimming faster, because the duration of the force is longer.

Swimmer A: Force 42N, Impulse 18.6Ns, Time 1:32 / 100m

Swimmer B. Force 35N, Impulse 24.5Ns, Time 1:11 / 100m

Any break in the generation of the force reduces its effectiveness substantially and prevents the swimmer to reach the top speed.

In the example below, the drops in the force mean that the impulse of the stroke decreases by 25-30%. At the same time, the stroke is relatively tiring as the maximum force applied is high.

The drops in the force may be related to non-optimal orientation of the hand. If the palm is not facing the movement of the hand, it does not generate force efficiently.

The force is also reduced, if there is a break in the muscle chain used for the stroke.

Force dropping during stroke:

In addition to the magnitude of the force, SmartPaddle displays also its direction. Ideally, the magnitude and length of the force in forward direction should be maximized, while keeping force in other directions minimal.

In the example below forward, lateral and vertical directions are presented in green, yellow and red colours respectively. The swimmer applies relatively high force in vertical direction (red) especially in the beginning of the stroke. Such stroke typically leads to a non-optimal body posture.

Stroke references found in the Analysis Centre show, how top level swimmers apply the force in different directions. The references may help in improving the efficiency of the hand strokes.

In all swimmers the hand creates some drag, especially when it enters the water. If the velocity of the hand is slow or its direction changes, it can start to resist the swimmers movement even during the stroke.

In the picture below the resistance of the hand is visualized as negative values of the force. In this example the resistance is even greater than the impulse of the stroke. The drag force is especially high, when the hand enters the water. The force graph shows also significant negative values at the end of the stroke, when the swimmer is pulling the hand upwards.

Minimizing the drag force may in some cases be even more important than increasing the impulse of the hand stroke.

If the strength of the strokes is not evenly balanced between the right and the left hand, it can easily lead to fluctuation in the body speed. Any such deviation from a constant speed increases power consumption. With the SmartPaddle the balance of the hands can easily be checked.

In the example below the force profile of the left hand is presented with dotted lines on top of the right hand profile. It can be seen that both the maximum force and the impulse of the right hand is substantially larger. In addition, the right hand starts to produce force earlier in the stroke than the left hand.

Typically, the impulse of the hand strokes decreases with increasing speed. It becomes progressively harder to maintain the force of the hand stroke when the body is moving faster to the opposing direction. The decreasing impulse is often the factor limiting the maximum speed of the swimmer.

Also the balance between the hands may change as the swimming speed increases. The example below shows the impulse measured from the right (green) and the left (orange) hand in different swimming speeds. It is evident that in this case the difference in the impulses increases when the swimmer is speeding up.

In addition to the balance between the right and the left hand, SmartPaddle application offers a view to the development of the swimmer over time as well as an easy comparison between different swimmers.

The strength of the hand strokes may vary greatly from one stroke to another, especially if the swimmer has difficulties in maintaining the body posture. For example the breathing rhythm can often be seen from the variation in the stroke impulses.

An example of a significant stroke to stroke variation can be seen in the figure below. The difference between individual strokes causes fluctuation in the swimming speed as well. The mean velocity of the swimmer decreases since part of the power is consumed by acceleration.

Swimmers can rarely maintain optimal technique when the swimming distance increases. Typically the strength of the strokes decreases as the muscles get tired, even if the swimmer is able to maintain a constant frequency. This change is usually evident also from the decreasing stroke length and swimming speed.

The figure below shows the development of the stoke impulse during an 800 m swim. It can be seen that the strength of the hand strokes decreases significantly during the first 100 m. Thereafter the swimmer is able to maintain the impulse in a stable level. It is also evident that the stroke to stroke variation increases when the swimmer gets tired.

The analysis of the swimmers technique is usually based on tests carried out over relatively short distances. This example shows that it does not necessarily help in optimizing the technique for long distance swimmers.