Optimizing Race Strategy Using Data

There are plenty of variables that come into play when deciding on a race strategy: stroke, distance, individual preference and swimming style, to name a few. Each strategy is best suited for particular types of swimmers. However, all too frequently, the blanket advice offered by a coach is to 'race hard'. Coaches are undoubtedly passionate about the success of each of their athletes and want to optimize race strategies individually. Unfortunately, with limited time and resources, this can be a challenging, if not impossible, task.

Enter TritonWear. Through data collection, coaches and athletes can review and analyze specific aspects of swim performance after each practice, as well as track metrics over time. This data can be used to determine how each swimmer should swim their races to achieve the most success, based on their strengths and weaknesses.

For quick references, you can also check out some of TritonWear's race analysis, where you can see how the best athletes swim their races, and apply their strategies where you see fit. To give an example, let's take a look at our analysis of the women’s 200 free at the 2017 Fina World Championships in Budapest. This was the race where Federica Pellegrini beat Katie Ledecky, breaking Ledecky's gold medal streak.

 Pellegrini celebrates.jpg

After analyzing the metrics, we found 3 distinct strategies used in the race by the competitors.

Strategy 1: Higher stroke count, Faster stroke rate, Shorter DPS

The first strategy used was that of Pellegrini, Ledecky and Leah Smith, who executed shorter strokes in faster succession. Their strategy was to swim fast with a higher stroke count than everyone else, along with a high stroke rate. Their fast stroke turnovers made up for their low distance per stroke (DPS) and a below average stroke index(Stroke Index = Speed x DPS x Cycle Multipler) compared to the rest of the field. The key to this strategy is having the endurance to sustain the high stroke rate throughout the entire distance.

Strategy 2: Lower stroke count, Slower stroke rate, Longer DPS

The second strategy was used by Emma McKeon, Katinka Hosszu and Charlotte Bonnet. They took longer, stronger strokes throughout the race, but at a lower rate. With this strategy, they were able to hold a strong DPS and generate more speed per stroke than the rest of the field. Their high DPS, along with maintained speed in each lap, meant they had good stroke index numbers. High stroke index means they were taking more efficient strokes, ensuring they had sustained energy throughout the race. The key to this strategy is having the strength to increase DPS to generate speed and balance out the longer, slower strokes.

Strategy 3: Combination of strategy 1 and 2

The third and final strategy was used by Veronika Popova and Siobhan Haughey. Their strategy laid somewhere in between the first two strategies. Their stroke rates were higher than Mckeon and Hosszu's but less than Ledecky and Pellegrini's. Their DPS and stroke index also fell between the other two groups. This strategy is key when you find yourself unable to produce the power for a longer stroke, but also not quite able to produce the rate or volume of strokes in a length. 

Takeaways

From this, we can see how the same race can be swam in multiple ways. Through years of training, these top level swimmers developed racing strategies that suit their style. With TritonWear, specific data is accesible to athletes and coaches, making it easier to determine which type of strategy will work well for individual swimmers, for any given event. Once you've identified swimming style, you can also see how elite athletes swim their races and use this to guide your own strategy.

For instance, someone who has the endurance to maintain a high stroke count at a fast rate, but struggles with swimming with a high DPS or stroke index in the 200 m freestyle can look at how Ledecky and Pellegrini swim the same event and mimic their strategy. In our previous race example, both Ledecky and Pellegrini's DPS stayed fairly consistent throughout the 200, but they gained the advantage by increasing their stroke rate and stroke count in the last 50.  A swimmer with a similar style could aim to swim the race the same way, holding DPS consistent and increasing stroke rate in the back half of the race.

Conversely, someone who is comfortable with swimming with a high DPS but takes slower strokes, can observe McKeon and Hosszu's 200m freestyle. In the same example, their DPS dropped slightly, but their speed and splits stayed consistent in the final three 50s. The key here is consistency. A swimmer with a similar style could aim to swim like McKeon and Hosszu, maintaining consistent metrics throughout the distance, and using their slower stroke rate to maximize DPS. 

With the accessibility of data, there are countless avenues you can pursue in guiding your swimmers' growth in the pool. Optimizing race strategy with data allows you to tweak specific areas that aren't working well and remove any inefficiencies. You can test out different race strategies to find the one that best suits individual athletes. Additionally, you can use data to identify, and work on, specific variables that need to be improved for the swimmer to be capable of actually executing the strategy come race day. 

Read about how Bergens Swim Club swimmer, Ariel Braathen and her coach Bruno Langlois  did just that, used data to identify her swimming style, find her area of weakness, and improve her breaststroke events, resulting in her breaking a junior national record here.