Some Awesome People

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The secret to swimming faster?

Do exactly what you were always told not to and spread your fingers.

By Rob Waugh

PUBLISHED:  3 July 2012

It may be hard to swallow for amateur swimmers, but keeping your fingers firmly together to create an oar-style effect is not the best technique.

Instead, counter-intuitive as it seems, keeping the fingers slightly apart like a fork apparently makes a swimmer faster.

A study claims that an ‘invisible web’ of water is created by spread fingers, allowing swimmers to propel themselves with more force – and that the technique is already used by the professionals.

Forked hands exert up to 53% more force than tightly clasped 'paddles' 
say researchers

‘It is a counter-intuitive idea, the fact that you should paddle with a fork, not with an oar,’ said researcher Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

The reason is that when a solid object moves through a fluid, the layer of fluid that touches the surface ‘sticks’ and gets dragged along with the object.

When swimmers spread their fingers just right, each individual digit forms its own layer.

With ideal finger spacing, the forces a swimmer can exert in this way are 53 per cent greater than those produced with no finger spacing, according to the study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

The perfect spacing is between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of the diameter of the finger.

This allows swimmers to lift themselves more easily out of the water, where resistance is lower, resulting in increased speed.

Mr Bejan added that the findings could also have implications for the development of better automated propulsion systems.

Writing for Mother Nature Network, Stephanie Pappas from LiveScience advised people settling down to watch competitors at the London Olympics should take a good look at the hands of the swimmers.

She says that chances are their fingers will be slightly spread.

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