These last few weeks swimming I’ve been thinking about bubbles.
Not bubble bath mind you, but the bubbles I create while swimming.
If you read about bubble formation in swimming books, some of them say that it’s the byproduct of wasted energy. Energy that could have gone into propulsion gets wasted in creating turbulence in water whose evidence is bubble formation. There is also much written about quiet or calm swimming, which is the ease and flow of swimming that makes you feel and look like you’re gliding through water with little energy.
Lately, I’ve really tried to employ calm swimming and maintaining the form which minimizes turbulence in the water. It’s hard to maintain that form, as I lose concentration as I get tired. As I stroke and look at my stroke under the water, I noticed a big difference between both arms in bubble formation.
This was strange, I thought at first. My right arm would stroke with almost no bubbles at all, but my left with stroke back with a huge frothing of bubbles. As I analyzed further, I realized that I was not symmetrical with respect to my stroke. My right hand enters the water more at my head, and then glides straight forward out. My left hand, however, does a more traditional reach-out and over the water until it is almost extended, and then enters the water far forward of my head. Somehow, this reach-out and over causes huge bubble formation and if the texts are true, then I am wasting energy on bubble formation which could be used for forward propulsion but is making me expend more energy in a non-useful fashion.
So I’ve been really paying attention to my bubbles and trying to remove them. After figuring out what was different between my left and right arm strokes, I strove to make my left arm like my right arm. On slower stroking, I can make both arms even with minimal bubbles. As my stroke rate increases, it becomes harder and harder. Yet another thing to practice in the next coming months…

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2 responses

  1. Jamie Avatar

    Hmm . . . I wonder what the trade-off is between the turbulence and the under-water recovery. If your arm enters near your head and extends out, then the extension takes more energy, because more of your recovery/extension phase is in the water, and water has more resistance than air. But if you create more turbulence by extending before entry, then which is more efficient? I never thought of paying attention to the bubbles I create while swimming, before; I’m going to watch out for that today.

  2. DShen Avatar

    I think it’s something that a lot of people have commented on and are studying. Bubbles are one of the few visible aspects of swimming that we can perceive. What causes it and it’s effects is definitely subject for debate. But your question is very valid, although I suspect that gliding in the water while streamlined doesn’t use as much energy as you think, but potentially lifting and keeping your arm raised over the water while it reaches out could expend more energy as well.
    Turbulence is definitely evidence of more thrashing than not. If you swim in a “calm” fashion, meaning minimizing extraneous movement and dedicating all energy to moving your body forward and not doing things like creating bubbles, you’ll probably end up expending less energy, being more efficient, and going faster.
    Watch the really smooth and fast swimmers in your Master’s class or swim team. Some of them are so smooth it’s amazing! And while some of them are so fast but yet look so graceful in the water, I thrash about, increasing my stroke rate and exponentially increasing my energy expenditure for a measly 1-3 seconds increase in speed?