Science weighs in: Should swimmers paddle or rake to improve stroke?

Sports science is not limited to injury prevention in athletes, it is also about improving their styles. Researchers are studying different sports and applying their knowledge to help each athlete improve their game. In the competitive world of swimming, a half-second can determine success or failure. Every single advantage must be used, from aerodynamic swimwear to the hydrodynamics of the front crawl.

it all begins with the stroke. Sports scientists are studying the effectiveness of the paddle versus the rake in improving the first stroke – and thereby gaining the momentum needed for a smoother and faster swim run.

Science proves that when a person is paddling, they should try spreading their fingers apart to increase swimming efficiency. This is because the paddle – with the swimmers pressed together like a blade – does not give the proper push needed to propel the swimmer. In a rake position, the spread fingers increase the drag of the hand and reduce the slip velocity between the hand and the water. This affects the hydrodynamics of the swimmer, with less power dissipated for propulsion. This gives the added advantage, and can potentially shave off seconds in a person’s run.

This was the conclusion after fluid dynamicists studied a 3-D hand model of a competitive swimmer and having software runs using either a paddling or raking position. It is apparent that despite conventional wisdom that a paddle position would be better because of its more streamlined design, a rake has stronger propulsion.

Jon Bunge of Chicago is studying physiology and is fascinated by sport science. Learn more about him when you follow this blog.

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Tags: sports science, competitive swimming tips, swimming tips


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