Thursday, May 7, 2009

Or you could try syrup...

I happened to stumble across an edition of Mythbusters last night that got me thinking more about swimming, viscosity, drag and power. The infamous Mythbusters were trying to see if people swim faster or slower in syrup. Ironically enough they quoted the Boston molasses disaster as an inspiration for their endeavor. Not that it mattered much, but it just so happened we were on the Duck Tour while in Boston for the marathon, and the molasses story is a big thing over there. I had never heard of it before.

Getting to Mythbusters results is not as easy as it seems but I recall from seeing the show that one of the two guys swam the same speed in syrup or syrup-like goo as he did in water. They also invited an Olympic champion, whose name I forget, but who swam slower in goo. But then, after talking to him about his results, they decided to discard them because he faulted the unfamiliar situation for his slower speed. Apparently, when he can not see the bottom, it throws him off and messes up his stroke.

Then, today I found another result from an experiment done by the Chemical Engineering Dept. at the U. of Minnesota. These guys filled the entire pool with gooey stuff and had many people swim in it. They found that individuals swim the same speed in both media, regardless of stroke used (the MB only tried freestyle). One conclusion was that human swimming is so turbulent (despite the beautiful superman-like wind tunnel picture of Ian that I posted yesterday) that the effect of viscosity is relatively small. The results are on their blog.

And that once again confirms what I mentioned before. Swimming is a matter of muscle power, first and foremost. Maybe, if you are to become an Olympic champion you can shave off some seconds by working diligently on your stroke, but unless you have the power, don't even bother.

Today I rode 30 miles on my tribike.
Yesterday I swam 2 miles in the pool (in water!)

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