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We’ve all seen how drafting saves energy during a bike race, and it works for swimming, too. If you swim right at the feet of another swimmer, you’ll experience the most draft, and this can save huge amounts of energy in a race.
You can also draft off someone by being at their side. If you swim with your arms right at their hip, you’ll get a really nice draft. The downside is that when you swim on someone’s hip, you’re actually slowing them down.
The best place to be is directly behind the feet. You’re letting the other person do the work but you’re swimming at the same pace -- with a lot less energy.
Swimming this close to someone can be a little scary and takes practice, but it’s worth the effort to learn this skill, and the pool is the perfect place to start.
Find four or five swimmers who are roughly the same speed and get in one lane. In a short-course pool, you could do a set of repeat 300s or 400s. These swimmers are in a long-course pool, so they’ve set up a target in the middle of the pool.
Push off one or two seconds apart and try to stay right on each other’s feet.
One swimmer leads until he reaches the target and then stops to let everyone pass. He moves to the back of the line after everyone has made the turn.
The next person leads to the wall, stops while the others make the turn, and then starts swimming at the back of the line.
Keep going, nonstop, until everyone has a chance to lead. You’ll get a feel for how much energy you save when you swim right behind someone. And you’ll get comfortable swimming with other people right at your feet -- or right at your side.
When you draft at someone’s feet, the etiquette is: Don’t touch the person. If they’re doing all the work, the least you can do is not tap them on the feet every stroke. It’s annoying for them and can slow them down.
A good way to swim behind someone without touching them is to widen your hand entry. Make a big “Y” so that your hands go out to the sides of their feet.
When you pass someone after you’ve been drafting behind them, it’s smart to go really wide and not right at their side. If you’re too close as you pass, you’ll slow the other person down and then...when you start to pass them, they’ll be slowing you down.
Swing wide and you won’t affect each other’s speed.