Friday, August 26, 2011

Hand Exiting The Water IN FRONT Of The Entry Point?

There's a common story that circulates among swimmers and coaches that legendary swimmers such as Alex Popov have such long efficient strokes that their hands exit at the back of the stroke ahead of where they entered the water at the front!

On the face of it this sounds amazing but is it true? Let's have a look at Jono Van Hazel's stroke, Olympian from the Athens games and owner of an extremely smooth efficient technique. Here's some stills of Jono's stroke taken from our Catch Masterclass DVD, he's swimming here at a steady pace of 1:10 /100m and 34 strokes per 50m.

Here's Jono's left hand entering the water:

And on the same stroke exiting at the rear:

His exit point is definitely in front of his entry point, highlighted by the red line which we've added at a fixed point relative to the lane rope. That looks very impressive but here's the twist - you might also be doing this in your own stroke.

A quick trawl through the vast Swim Smooth video archives here in Perth shows that at least half of 'normal' swimmers we've filmed enter ahead of their exit point. Here's Mike, a classic Arnie swimming around 1:55 / 100m and 48 strokes per 50m:


Jane, a fast developing Bambino swimming here around 2:00 / 100m and 51 strokes per 50m:


And Natalia, swimming here around 1:35/100m and 52 strokes per 50m:


All three swimmers are exiting in front of their entry points. How can this be true? And what does it mean? Let's look at Jono's full sequence of frames :

Take a close look what happens between frames 1 and 2 where the left hand is extending forwards and the right hand is finishing its stroke. The hand extends forward underwater nearly a meter before starting the stroke, driven by the propulsion of right arm and hand. Of course, the exact same thing is true for our more modest swimmers which explains how they also exit the water in front of their entry point as well.

OK, so exiting in front of entry is not such an extraordinary achievement as we were lead to believe. Jono has a fantastically efficient freestyle stroke capable of swimming 100m in sub 50 seconds but in this regard he's not outperforming our 'normal' swimmers significantly. There doesn't seem to be anything magical or mystical about his stroke length.

Jono could artificially lengthen his stroke further if he wished by introducing a glide - if he did that we'd see in frame 3 above that his left arm would still be stretched out gliding rather than catching the water. He'd certainly exit the water even further in front then. However, he does not do this as not only would it slow him down but he'd become less efficient as he has to work hard to re-accelerate himself again on the next stroke.

Here at Swim Smooth we call overly lengthening the freestyle stroke 'overgliding'. Overgliders tend to drop their elbows and wrist as they try and lengthen forwards as much as is physically possible:

Showing the palm forwards like this adds drag ("putting on the brakes") and greatly harms your catch on the water and so your propulsion. When Overgliders tidy up their strokes and remove the deadspot introduced by gliding, they generate much more propulsion and their sense of rhythm and timing returns. The result: they move closer to Jono's stroke style and swim much faster swimming for the same level of effort.

Use our Catch Masterclass DVD and/or Overglider Swim Type Guide to fix these aspects of your stroke.

Swim Smooth!