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Aug 10 2011 08:49 AM | BarryBevan in Articles

Count Your Strokes

It’s the closest thing there is to a “magic pill” for better swimming.
By Terry Laughlin

Let’s imagine a match race between you and two of the world’s greatest athletes. Suppose you could persuade Michael Johnson, the fastest 400-meter runner in history, to match strides with you around a 400-meter track and Alexander Popov, the fastest 100-meter swimmer in history, to race you up and back in a 50-meter pool. Unquestionably both would beat you with ease. That wouldn’t shock you. But something else about these two races might.
If you and Michael Johnson compared the number of strides it took each of you to cover 400 meters, he would undoubtedly take fewer, but the difference would not be stunning--probably something on the order of 10 percent. And you could, if you really tried and ran quite slowly, increase your stride length enough to match his. But in the pool, the difference between Popov’s stroke length and your own would shock you, and if you tried to match his number, the only way you could do it is by kicking halfway down the pool before you took your first stroke. If you have access to a 50-meter pool, you can check the math. At moderate speed, Popov swims 50 meters in 23 to 24 strokes (12 arm cycles); at top speed he takes no more than 33 strokes.

In a 25-yard pool, Popov could swim for hours at 7 to 8 strokes per length, while the typical lap swimmer takes 25 to 28 strokes per length. I know because I take an informal survey every time I watch lap swimming sessions; the highest number I’ve ever counted was 63 strokes for 25 yards. Even a good high school competitor takes at least twice as many strokes as Popov. So the efficiency differential between an elite runner and a recreational runner might range from 10% to 20%, while the efficiency differential between an elite and recreational swimmer would probably be closer to 100% to 300%, What makes this difference even more striking is the substantial efficiency gap between Popov and Michael Johnson, the result of Popov doing his racing in water, while Johnson gets to race on land. Kinesiologists estimate that the energy efficiency of world-class swimmers peaks at just 9%, while that of world-class runners is probably close to 90%. This means that when Popov is racing at top speed, a maximum of only 9 of every 100 calories he burns are translated directly into propulsion; the other 91 are lost to the inefficiency of the body’s interaction with water.

So if you take, say, 20 to 24 strokes to swim 25 yards, your energy efficiency may be less than 4%. In other words, only 4% of your available fitness is going toward true forward motion; the other 96% is “consumed” by the water and gets you nowhere. So the smartest path to swimming improvement is not more or harder laps to get in better shape--a process that, yes, does make more energy available, but doesn’t keep you from wasting 96% of it with every lap you swim. Only when you train your body to use that energy more efficiently will you see real progress.

Stroke counting is important because it’s the clearest marker of how well you’re using your energy. Remember: Stroke length equals stroke efficiency. Only about 2% of the human race swims with instinctively long strokes. The rest of us have powerful instincts telling us to swim faster by stroking faster. Ask yourself: When you want to swim faster, what's your instinctive response? Right, churn your arms faster. This means that any time you’re not consciously monitoring your stroke length your instincts will probably have you lapsing into arm churning. So more or harder laps will most likely be training your muscles to flail at the water even more ineffectually, ensuring you’ll make poor use of the fitness you’re working so hard to build.

How do you count strokes? I’ve found the simplest way is to count each hand entry. At first, just try to develop the habit of counting each stroke. This may initially take great concentration, and that concentration may crowd out your ability to think of almost anything else--like how many laps you’ve done. But within a few weeks you’ll probably find yourself counting automatically. Once that happens you should be able to count both strokes and laps--and perhaps even figure out complicated intervals.

But in the meantime, for the few weeks in which you don’t bother counting laps and focus all your attention on stroke count, you’ll probably see a steady and surprising reduction in the count. Here are several creative ways in which you can use those numbers to improve your awareness and efficiency.

Be willing to swim slowly. The sprinters I coach at West Point do at least 80% of all their training yardage at speeds that are 75% or less of maximum effort because it’s the surest way to guarantee that they maintain efficiency. You have to swim well slowly before you can swim well at faster speeds. For a 6-foot male, any count over 20 per length is unacceptably inefficient. I have taught petite women on the West Point swim team to swim 12-stroke lengths routinely. Swim as slowly as necessary to make a real difference in your stroke count. Once you’ve gotten it into at least the mid-to-high teens (men) or high-teens-to-20 strokes (women), then continue swimming slowly enough to keep it there, at least for a few weeks. Since you’ve probably been swimming for several years with a much higher stroke count, this is the only way you’ll have any chance to make even a faint impression on your nervous system. It would not hurt your swimming to refuse to “practice” inefficiency by swimming exclusively at moderate speeds even for a period of several months.

Swim shorter repeats. If your stroke count remains over 20 per length on your daily mile of nonstop laps, then do that mile as a series of 30 to 40 50-yard repeats. You’ll find it much easier to reduce your stroke count and keep it low than if swimming a marathon. It’s more important that you train yourself to cover more distance with each stroke than to cover more distance between pauses for rest. Then gradually rebuild the distance of your repeats. When you can routinely swim 50-yard repeats in, let’s say, 36 strokes (18 per length), then increase your repeat distance to 75 yards and stay there until you can consistently complete these repeats in 54 strokes. At that point you can “graduate” to 100-yard repeats. And don’t jump to 150-yard repeats until every 100 you swim requires 72 or fewer strokes. Continue in this way until you can consistently swim your mile at 18 strokes per length. When you accomplish that, you might drop back to shorter repeats and try to increase your stroke length again.

Do less swimming and more drilling. There’s no particular magic in stroke counting as you swim. It simply keeps you continually aware of your Stroke Length as you swim and immediately alerts you when you’ve fallen back into inefficient Human Swimming-- using Stroke Rate (arm-churning) instead. Quite often the habits of inefficiency are so deeply ingrained that more swimming only reinforces them. The only way to make real change is to refuse to do whole-stroke swimming for a while, because your body knows only one way to do it. When you practice drills, your nervous system doesn’t recognize what you’re doing as “swimming,” which gives you a blank slate on which to practice new habits of efficiency. If you spend two or three months doing 8 of every 10 lengths in stroke drills, you should soon see some real change in your efficiency. For information on which drills to do, I recommend the Total Immersion Fishlike Freestyle Video and the Total Immersion Swiminar Workbook.

Make stroke counting more interesting and challenging. No matter how good it is for you, after a time just counting stroke after stroke could become boring. But I’ve been doing it for years and never tire of it because I’ve found numerous ways to make it more interesting. Here are two that could keep you engaged and improving for years: Practice “stroke elimination.” If you’re not yet an efficient swimmer, the main point of your practice should be to develop habits that move your body farther through the water so you need fewer strokes to go any given distance. More work from less energy. Stroke elimination means nothing fancier than disciplining yourself to use fewer strokes than you usually do. If you normally take 17 to 18 strokes per length, your mission now is to do all repeats in 15 to 16 strokes and not one more. Seems simple at first, doesn't it? You swim a series of ten 50-yard repeats, feeling fresh on the first few and easily holding the 15-16 stroke count. This stroke elimination's a breeze!

Then on the 2nd length of the 4th repeat, you head nonchalantly down the pool, take your 16th stroke, and find the wall is still five yards away. And what can you do about it? You've sworn not to take the 17th stroke so there's only one thing to do: roll to your side and kick to the wall. Hmm. Evidently this stroke elimination business will take some work after all.

So as you begin your next length, and every length from now on, you become the miser of arm turnover, keenly aware of how you spend every stroke, making sure that you make 16 of them stretch 25 yards. The clock is forgotten. The rival in the next lane is forgotten. The only thing that matters is how you're spending what you have to spend, which is how you learn to save. Just like real life.

You're working on how well you get there, not how fast. At first, the lower count will slow you down because you'll also have to stretch and glide more. Expect that, and don't worry about it. Your old count was "normal" for so long that it will take some time for your body to adjust. Eventually, the lower, more efficient count will become your "new normal" and somehow your speed will come back, too, without your even trying. As good teachers have always known, discipline teaches what indulgence never could.

Once efficiency has become habit, you can begin to trade strokes shrewdly for speed. "Spend" the fewest strokes for the most additional speed, and if you're not satisfied with the cost, try it again. As you master the 50-yard transaction, try it with your 100-yard repeats, which will give you a larger field on which to play the game. The game of swimming golf. Take time out for a game of swimming golf.It's possible to get too carried away with this business of eliminating strokes, and you’ll know you’ve arrived in this state when you're down to such a triumphantly tiny number that you're taking forever to get to the other end. Clever types can also figure a way to "cheat" the stroke-eliminator system so the numbers are better but the swimming is not (Hint: try gliding or kicking half a length after your pushoff). If the real point of all these efficiency gains is swimming faster, you want to know whether that's happening. Well, just tee up for some swimming golf.

The rules are simple. For a given distance, count your strokes and add that to your time in seconds.
A reasonably good swimmer can usually swim the two lengths of a 50-yard repeat in 40 strokes and 40 seconds. That's a score of 80. A "duffer" can usually aim for a score of 90; serious swimmers might be in the mid-60s. My West Point swimmers can record scores between 40 (men) and 50(women).

Always lower your score by reducing stroke count first, and later by trying to swim faster. Just a few rounds should be eye opening. You'll be amazed how quickly a bit more effort can add a lot more strokes. If those strokes don't translate into enough speed to lower your total score, you know right away how wasteful you've been. Remember: Speed equals stroke rate (SR) multiplied by stroke length (SL), and just about everyone has enough SR. It's your SL that needs work. Your golf score will be an unerring measure of how well you're using SL to create speed.

Monitor your efficiency. If you have difficulty counting laps, counting strokes, and watching the pace clock, there’s always the Speedo Stroke Monitor to do all of these things for you. A new sports watch cum stroke-counting device designed by Total Immersion alum Bill Geiser, the Speedo Stroke Monitor has simplified all the data-gathering and analysis described above. Using diodes in the watch’s face to record hand entries, it times you and counts your strokes. At the conclusion of any repeat (you preset the distance), it displays your time, how many stroke cycles you took, your distance per cycle, your cycle rate (average number of stroke cycles per minute) your speed (yards or meters per second) and your stroke efficiency index (SEI). The SEI is a single number--like a test score--that factors in both stroke length and velocity, and reflects how well you swam a particular repeat (the higher the SEI value, the better the swim). What this amounts to is instant, concrete feedback on how efficiently (whether you used Stroke Length or Stroke Rate) you've produced your velocity.

Even if you elect to do nothing more advanced than count your strokes a few times during each practice, even this modest change in awareness, if you haven’t done it before, will do more than anything else to move you in the direction of greater efficiency. Happy laps!

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Promoting Posts to Articles

Mar 16 2010 09:00 AM | Bernie in Forum Integration

Beginning with IP.Content 2.0, you can now promote forum posts to your articles section in IP.Content.

The administrator can configure the specifics of this feature in the ACP under My Apps -> IP.Content -> Promote Article Settings. You can turn the system on and off, control which groups can copy and move posts to the articles section, and specify a few other details for the feature. A new hook is included with IP.Content which adds a button to each post labeled "Promote to Article". This button only shows up if you have permission to use the feature based on the ACP configuration.

When clicked, the button will take you to a new form where you can formalize the details of the new article. You can tweak the text and title, upload an image, and specify other pertinent details. If you are able to both move and copy posts to the articles section, you will also be asked which type of promotion you wish to use. Upon submitting the form, IP.Content handles the rest.

This new feature can be used to showcase important content otherwise hidden in your forums by pushing this content to your frontpage. It is then up to you whether you want a copy made in the articles section (leaving the original post in tact), whether you want to actually move the post to the articles section, and whether you want any cross-linking left in place. With such powerful options, we are sure you will find many uses for this new promotion tool in IP.Content 2.0.

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What Is A Frontpage?

Mar 17 2010 09:00 AM | Bernie in Frontpage

IP.Content 2.0 uses the term "frontpage" to refer to both the homepage of the Articles module, and the landing page of each individual category. We have introduced this new navigational structure to better allow you to showcase content, while presenting it in a standardized format that your users will be able to understand and jump into without assistance.

Firstly, you will now be able to define "frontpage" templates in the ACP for the Articles module. IP.Content 2.0 will ship with 3 defaults:

  • 1x2x2 Layout
    This layout will display articles in a traditional "news" style layout.
  • Blog format
    This format will display articles in a blog-style format.
  • Single column
    This layout will force articles to display in a single column, one per row.

You can use one or more of these frontpage layouts, or you can create your own. Experiment with displaying articles in different formats on your homepage to determine which layout your users like best.

Articles must be set to "Show on front page" in order for them to display on the homepage frontpage.

In addition to the homepage frontpage, each category has it's own frontpage. The category frontpage functions identically to the homepage frontpage, except for two important factors:

  • Only records from within that category (and it's subcategories) will be displayed
  • The "Show on front page" setting is not honored for the category frontpage

You will be able to easily review and manage the articles set to display on the frontpage from a new section of the ACP labeled "Frontpage Manager". We feel that this new area of the articles section will help showcase important articles and increase user interaction with your articles section.

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Media Management

Mar 17 2010 09:00 AM | Bernie in Media

The media module in the IP.Content 2.0 ACP section allows you to quickly and easily manage multimedia files you may need to use with IP.Content. While you can certainly upload your files through FTP, or link to offsite files, you may find it easier to upload the files using the media section of the ACP, and then copy the links for use within pages, templates, and blocks.

From within the media module, you can create folders, upload files, move files and folders, rename files and folders, and delete files and folders. Files can be listed and you can click on a file to view it (or right click on the file to copy the link).

This simple tool can be a timesaver when you simply need to upload an image quickly for use within a page template. The media folder is defined in the media_path.php file in your forum root directory, giving you the freedom to move and organize your paths as needed.

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Page Management

Mar 16 2010 09:00 AM | Bernie in Pages

The page management module interface has been overhauled for IP.Content 2.0 to make it easier to manage your pages in the ACP.

Firstly, the folder navigation utilizes AJAX to load the folder contents inline without requiring you to visit a new page to view the contents of the folder. We found that folder navigation was a slow process, especially when working with many files and folders, so we wanted to speed up the interaction with the software in this particular area.

We have also updated some common management features to utilize AJAX to help facilitate management of your pages. Actions like clearing folders and deleting folders, for instance, will now occur without page refreshes, making your managerial activities flow smoother and quicker.

Additionally, the interface as a whole has been updated to provide a nicer, smoother feel for the page management areas. In practice, we found that many administrators spend the majority of their time setting up and utilizing IP.Content in the page management areas, so we wanted to update the user interface to make this experience as easy and enjoyable as possible. Minor details like confirmation dialogs have been updated to bring everything together for a more consistent feel.

A new filter bar, utilizing AJAX to retrieve the results without the need for a page refresh, has also been added to the page management area. You can begin typing in the name of a page and a live-search action will occur in the background, showing you the results of your search as you type. If you have many pages and many folders (and many pages within those many folders), you will find that using the filter bar to locate your pages can dramatically speed up your navigation of IP.Content within the page management areas of the ACP.

Overall, we've modernized the IP.Content page management area of the ACP, polishing up the little details, in an effort to make your experience all the more pleasant.

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Template Management

Mar 16 2010 09:00 AM | Bernie in Templates

In IP.Content 2.0, you will notice that there are 3 separate template sections of the ACP:

  • Page Templates
  • Database Templates
  • Article Templates

In IP.Content 1.x, database and page templates were combined into a single "Templates" section, which worked fine for our original intentions. However, with the introduction of a separate Articles module, and additional template types related to the articles module, we decided to separate the templates so that each template type is displayed separately. This should help finding and editing your templates easier in practice, as you will be able to filter the template types and work with fewer at a time.

Within each templates section, you can create containers to group your templates into logical groupings. For instance, you may wish to create a grouping for each database you create, and then place the database templates appropriately into the container representing the database itself. Or you may wish to create multiple front page templates, and group them all together in the article templates area. You can use containers for whatever purposes you may have, or not at all: it's up to you!

Templates can be reordered by dragging and dropping the rows up and down, and they can be moved from one container to another via drag n drop as well.

Certain meta data about the templates are stored when you create new database or article templates, allowing IP.Content to tailor other areas of the ACP to help you out. For example, in IP.Content 1.x the software did not "remember" what kind of database template you were creating, so all database templates were presented in each of the dropdowns when creating or editing a database. Beginning with IP.Content 2.x, the software stores the template type when you create a new template. This allows us to show only "category listing" templates in the "category listing template" selection dropdowns. Similarly, the template tag help popup can automatically know which template type you are editing without you having to specify.

Properly making use of templates can help you push out pages on your site in a uniform manner quickly and easily, and without having to "reinvent the wheel" each time a new page is ready to be published.

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Store Comments In Forum

Mar 17 2010 09:00 AM | Bernie in Forum Integration

With IP.Content 2.0, articles and custom databases can now mirror a topic to the forums when a new article or database record is submitted. In doing so, IP.Content can also utilize that automatically-generated topic as the comment "storage" for the article or record. When a comment is submitted to the article, the comment is actually stored as a reply to the topic. Similarly, replies made directly to the topic in the forum also show up as comments for the record.

This new functionality can be enabled at a per-database and per-category level. You can specify separate forums for each category in your article section, for instance, or you can turn off forum commenting for a specific category, while enabling it for all others.

A few additional configuration options, such as allowing you to automatically remove the topic when the record is removed, and specifying a prefix and/or suffix for the topic title so that your users can more easily identify that such topics were stemmed from the articles section help round out the feature, giving you better control over how these automatically posted topics are handled.

These new forum cross-posting capabilities allow the administrator to better tie in articles with the forums, giving you better opportunities to expose your content to a wider audience. Additionally, forum management of comments provides for easier maintenance and stronger managerial options of the comments, utilizing IP.Board's powerful, proven feature set.

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Sharing links

Mar 17 2010 09:00 AM | Bernie in Databases

IP.Board 3.1 introduces a new feature that is available for any application to make use of: sharing links. IP.Content 2.0 makes use of this new feature in the custom databases (and articles) modules to allow you to more easily expose your content to a wider audience.

Along with supporting sharing of your content with third party services such as Facebook and Twitter, you can now also send an article via email, print the article, and download the article easily by clicking the appropriate icon under the article body. The additional printing and downloading features allow the content to be shared, online as well as offline.

Within the articles module specifically, the article image that you upload when posting the article (optionally) will automatically be flagged for use with Facebook when someone uses Facebook to share the link. This ensures that the correct image is the one Facebook displays to other users. Similarly, we pull out an appropriate extract of textual content for Facebook to use as well. If the user is logged in to Twitter or Facebook, sharing the content becomes even easier, not requiring you to even leave the site.

We hope that by providing tools to make it easier to share content on your site, your content will be exposed to a wider audience, bringing you more traffic and making your content more easily and readily available to the world.

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Template Variables Help

Mar 17 2010 10:00 AM | Bernie in Templates

All templates are capable of using template tags, and as such when you edit any type of template, there will be a "template tag help" link. Clicking this produces a sidebar (there is then a link in the sidebar to open a separate popup) that details all of the template tags you can insert to include IP.Content data within your template.

However, with database and article templates, there are additional variables that are passed into the template to allow it to manipulate and display the HTML that represents the content. For instance, different data is retrieved and available when you are looking at a list of articles compared to when you are viewing a single article. You need to know what these variables are in order to be able to properly modify the template to display data in the manner you want, and as such, a template variable help popup is available that will detail the variables available for each template type.

When you are editing a template, click on "template variable help" and a new window opens displaying the variables you can expect to be available to the template with a short description of each variable. If you get stuck, this help window can help shed some light on the variables that are available, what values they should contain, and how you can use these variables to your advantage to build a more dynamic and useful interface for your database.

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