Tag: fluid mechanics

This Week in Research: The Right Way to Swim; Stop Washing Your Children


Sometimes science explores things that are so high-level we amateurs have a hard time fitting them into our brains. But sometimes they use their science-power to answer a question we’ve all been idly wondering for a long time:  in this case, what’s the fastest way to get from one side of the pool to the other? (No, the answer is not “get Michael Phelps to give you a piggy back ride.”)

As anyone who’s spent time splashing around in the deep end can tell you, there are two basic arm movements that can propel you through the water. One, the deep catch stroke, is akin to a boat paddle; the other, sculling, involves the swimmers’ bent arms whirring to the side, almost like a propeller. Both strokes are used in training by Olympic caliber athletes, and both have their advocates. The deep catch was the dominant technique until Doc Counsilman, coach of the U.S. men’s Olympic team and advocate of sculling, led his team to a combined 21 golds in the 1964 and 1976 games. But questions still remained as to which stroke was superior — until now when, thanks to fluid mechanics experts at Johns Hopkins, we finally know which swimming stroke is definitively better. “This is a result that is simple but sweet, which is something we usually struggle to arrive at in research,” according to Rajat Mittal, a professor of mechanical engineering at Hopkins.

And the winner is (drumroll please)…