Like most areas of endurance sports, swimming is not immune from multiple theories regarding proper form and technique. One area in particular is that of gliding. During the glide phase, there is no forward propulsion coming from the arms (the primary means of propulsion).
The glide aspect of swimming is primarily performed to allow the body to conserve energy – but does it really conserve energy?
During the glide phase, the body slows down due to a lack of propulsion and the viscosity of the water. If the body slows down too much, a substantial amount of energy is required to reaccelerate the body through the water.
A good analogy of this is a car’s gasoline consumption while driving in a city versus on the highway. When a car stops and accelerates frequently while driving in a city, the car consumes fuel at a greater rate than when driving at a faster, consistent speed on a highway. As you probably know, driving at an insanely fast rate of speed is also inefficient (as is an overly fast swimming arm cycle).
LIKE BANGING YOUR HEAD AGAINST A WALL
Before we go any further, let’s discuss this in relation to cycling. Anyone that has ever ridden a bike knows how challenging it can be to ride against the wind. Now consider this, water is 800 times more dense than air! See what I’m getting at? Try riding into the wind by only pushing down on the pedals once every 2-3 seconds! We can also use cycling as an analogy to the pedal stroke.