What makes a perfect swimmer’s body?
While there are many body types that have been successful in swimming, the majority of international swimmers look the same. They all sport tall, muscular bodies, with short arms, long legs, and long torsos. It begs the question: What if you could create the perfect swimmer’s body in your lab?
Although it is impossible to make a perfect body for every event, because of the many distances and strokes involved, research has shown there are some physical characteristics that are conducive to making the best swimmers.
Height is one of the most important physical attributes that gives swimmers an advantage in the pool. Many of the top international male swimmers can clearly see this.Nathan AdrianAt 6 feet 6 inches high (1.98m), he isKliment KolesnikovAndMichael AndrewBoth are 6 feet 5 inches (1.96m) tall.
As world record-holders, many of the most prominent women in the world have great height.Sarah SjostromAndKatie LedeckeyThey are both six-foot tall (1.83m), and come with 100 gold medalists.Simone ManuelAndPenny OleksiakThey are respectively five-foot-eleven inches and six-foot one-inch tall. The average height of Rio 2016 Olympic finalists was 6′ and 2 inches for men and 5′ 9″ (1.755m for women), respectively. These figures are significantly higher than the average human.
Anthropometry is simply the study of the human body and the physical variations among people. Swimming is a sport that has certain physical differences. Long wingspans are an advantage in swimming, because they can reach further and pull more water every stroke.
Research was actually done by a former 100-freestyle world record-holder, and former coach of the USA National Team.Jonty SkinnerResearchers found that limb size and length play a significant role in event potential. The relationship between arm lengths and heights gives an accurate picture of an athlete’s potential. High anthropometry scores, which means that their arms are longer than their height, tend to perform better in long-axis backstroke and freestyle.
Swimming pros with shorter legs are also more likely to benefit from them. They allow for greater power and less drag. Large hands, feet, and lungs are also important anthropometric characteristics that are favorable for speed swimming. Large feet and hands act as natural paddles and fins. Large lungs also increase natural buoyancy.
Center of Mass
Each swimmer has a balancing point in water. This is known as the center or mass. The closer the center of weight is to the center (or lungs) of flotation, the more the body can float horizontally without much effort. Many elite swimmers have a long torso, often in a triangle shape due to the proximity of the center of mass to the lungs.
Flexibility is an asset to swimmers. It is especially important for those who are trying to find the perfect body. Flexible shoulders allow swimmers to move their bodies in long axis strokes while still keeping their hands on the water. Swimmers with flexible shoulders can press their chests down further during the shorter access strokes. This allows them to lengthen their strokes and make them more efficient.
For a powerful kick, you need to have good ankle flexibility. Flexible ankles allow for more surface area in the foot. This makes the foot more flipper-like and allows you push more water backward. This increases forward propulsion. Flexible ankles allow for greater force to be exerted from the quadriceps and gluteus maximus, two of the largest muscles in the body.
While natural joint flexibility is usually inherited genetically it can be improved by stretching.
Hyperextending a joint is when it can extend beyond the normal line. Double-jointed is another name for this condition. Double-jointed elbows and knees allow the leg or arm to bend backwards if they are double joined. This is a great physical characteristic for swimmers as it allows them to capture more water with each stroke, and kick more water with every kick.
Fast Twitch vs. Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
Tracy Caulkins, 3x Olympic Gold Medalist
There are two types of skeletal muscle fibers. They are slow-twitch or fast-twitch. Slow-twitch muscle has a lower rate of explosiveness, but it is more suitable for endurance events such as distance swimming. Fast-twitch muscles, on the other hand, are more powerful and can be used in strong bursts like sprinting. However, they are less tiring.
There are two types of fast-twitch fibres: A or B. A fast-twitch fiber can be used for either aerobic or anaerobic training while B fast-twitch fibers are designed to work in anaerobic conditions.
A swimmer’s muscle fiber composition, specifically the ratio of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers, is an important factor in determining their potential. Swimming’s greatest potential is found in athletes who have high levels of FT-A fibers. They can swim in a variety of events. Skinner believes both.Mark SpitzAndTracy CaulkinsProbably had unusually high numbers of FTA fibers, which would explain their versatility.
The Perfect Swimmer
Michael Phelps’ body is closer to perfection than any other swimmer’s body in history: Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick
It is difficult to be a perfect swimmer due to the variety of events and strokes. Having said that,Michael Phelps“My body is closer than any other swimmer’s in history to perfection.”
Phelps is a great anthropometric prospect. Phelps is tall at 6′ 4″ and has a wingspan of 6′ 7″. He also has short, powerful legs that are as tall as someone 6’7″. His hands and feet are large, as well as his torso, which is larger than the one you’d expect to find on a 6 foot 8 inch tall man. This gives him both high natural buoyancy, and a great lung capacity. Phelps has excellent ankle and shoulder flexibility, and hyperextension in his joints. Phelps’ extraordinary versatility is a result of his unusually high number FT-A Muscle fibers. No swimmer has ever won eight gold medals in one Olympics.
Caeleb Dressel exploding off of the starting blocks at 2017 NCAA Championships Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick
There are other swimmers with exceptional natural talent, such asCaeleb DresselWith his unrivaled sprint speed, and Ledecky’s inhuman endurance, Phelps was the fastest swimmer to ever be able to swim.
Although the above characteristics are important for a swimmer’s physical abilities, mental strength is the most important. Physical talent is not the only thing that matters. Mental strength, focus, determination, confidence, and a strong work ethic are all equally important. There are many truths to this.Pattie Johnson“Once you are physically capable of winning gold medals, the rest is mental.”
For the top swimmers to turn their natural abilities into success, it took a lot of work. You will never reach your full potential if you don’t have a growth mindset that encourages you to constantly improve.
What do you do if your body isn’t perfect? You can’t control your body or the natural talent that you have. You can still maximize your natural talent and achieve greatness in the sport if you work hard and are dedicated.