Bend It Like Becky

Tonight is the women's 800m final in the London 2012 pool, featuring two awesome distance swimmers: Rebecca Adlington from Great Britain and Lotte Friis from Denmark. It's likely to be a close race between the two of them and all fingers are crossed here in London for Becky to produce the first British gold medal in the pool.

The fascinating thing about these two great swimmers is that they have completely different stroke styles and yet are very evenly matched. Becky has that classical long smooth stroke using a high elbow recovery and a six beat kick. Lotte is a classic swinger with a much shorter stroke, straight arm recovery and the ability to switch between a six and two beat kick.

This could well be the classic Swinger vs. Smooth race - you won't have any trouble working out who is who!

Make sure you catch the final tonight at 7:45pm UK time, 2:45pm EDT, 11:45am PDT, 2:45am China/Singapore/Perth.

Bend It Like Becky

So what makes Becky such a great swimmer? Let's have a little look at her underwater and highlight her pull-through technique, something you should be aiming for within your own stroke:

Notice here how Becky's elbow is bent to 110° which gives her perfect leverage to press clear water backwards, propelling her forwards (you can click the image to expand). In your own stroke you should be aiming for an elbow bend of between 100 and 120°.

Many swimmers pull through with a very straight arm which places a lot of load on the shoulder and produces much less propulsion:

Notice also how Becky's hand is directly below her shoulder as she pulls through:

This is perfect technique and is something you should aim for in your stroke too. If you press wide of this or cross the centre line then you will snake down the pool:

Underwater Shots

The underwater footage is fantastic at this Olympics and during tonight's final you should get a good look at both Becky and Lotte's strokes under the water as they go head to head. Their stroke styles are different above the water but don't get distracted by that, instead notice all the important things that are the same:

- Very high body position
- Great alignment without any crossing of the centre line or pressing wide
- Amazing rhythm and timing without any deadspots or pauses
- Great catch and pull through technique, pressing the water backwards, not downwards and bending those elbows!

Becky takes around 38 strokes per 50m and Lotte around 44, despite Lotte being about 5cm taller than Becky. Both swimmers could easily swim with a longer stroke if they chose to but they would be less efficient and so slower as a result. In fact, we're sure many of you reading this could better those figures yourself, albeit with much poorer stroke technique. This really highlights that you can't measure efficiency by counting strokes - not even remotely!

Enjoy the race and Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for refining my understanding of the arm position. I just feel sorry for the kids I have already taught. It's a good thing I send most of them to your site.

Merle said...

Thanks for explaining the degrees of elbow-bend thingy - now I know why my shoulders have been aching - wrists not coming through under my shoulders. Will try next time I swim. Your site has helped my swimming a HUGE amount - thank you! Goes to show, even at 68 you're never too old to learn.

Gregwh said...

Great post, I got out my protractor to see what the angle looks like. Every triathlete should have one. Thanks! Greg

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know which muscles to build to support the pull through phase at the optimum angle?

Lucia said...

Adoro este site. Traz dicas importantes e detalhes pequenos que fazem toda a diferença na técnica. Eu sempre tento fazer o que os outros atletas fazem, mas eu acho que cada corpo é um corpo e a mesma técnica não se aplica a todos. O importante é buscar sempre aquele detalhe que encaixa no seu desenvolvimento. Isto se consegue com treinos e mais treinos.
Obrigada !
Abraço e Parabéns pelo excelente trabalho.
Lucia Trillo

Mike A said...

@anonymous: Key muscles for the pull-through phase are latissimus dorsi and pectorals (large back and chest muscles). After that, shoulders, biceps and triceps - but with good technique the bulk of the pulling power should fall on the lats and pecs.

Well I guess it turned out not to be a 2-horse race after all!

John said...

Great post guys and I agree about the superb photography at this Olympics. There have been some superb shots of both Adlington and Friis's catch and pullthrough from the bottom of the pool - just like your stills from the Catch Masterclass DVD :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!!
I watched the final and had a big surprise with Mireia Belmonte race. She improved in 4 seconds her best time. What can you tell us about rythm in this race? We knew that Becky and Lotte are usually faster than Mireia but I have the impression that they tried to reach Ledeky´s rythm instead of swim at her own rythm. Mireia swam most of the race in the fifht place and probably had more energy that Becky for the last 200 mts.
I was really happy about Mireia (I´m spanish) but I was also deeply moved in the ceremony with Becky´s tears.



PS: I´m actually enjoying you excellet new book.

Rudolf said...

.. and yet someone much younger beat them both.. furious stuff that was, but you made a point with the pretty good TV coverage, in fact, here in Canada we all watch on really big HDTV's on US or Canadian HD TV channels, and the "spying" on what all these great swimmers really do has never been easier and clearer.

I want to bring up some of my observations here, maybe someone also has an answer or two about it...

1. Your "Bend it like Becky" thing looks outdated!
From what i saw (especially at the mens races) todays swim technique looks very different than what it used to be.

2. I detected the following differences:
2 a: Catch, what catch...
Ryan Lochte and Co. don't bend all that much anymore, they merely wisk their "forks" (fingers spread relatively wide apart) in an awful hurry through the water, and that just a tad below the surface!
It now really looks like they just CRAWL the water with their forked hands and forearms, poor Becky stretched her arms just to deep down........
P.S. i have now started a new exercise routine in this regards:
Put on my fins, stretch out my arms in front of me, no float in my hands.
One lap down i keep my fingers relatively close together.
One lap back i keep the entire hands completely lose but fingers a stretched apart beyond the normal relaxed position.
Verdict: i hold my front up much easier with the stretched "paws"!
Hmm, maybe "crawl" should be called "pawing" in the near future??

2 b: Kicking (not like Becky nor Beckham)....
You always mention that kicking only brings maybe 10 to 15% of propulsion, and that could (and did in my case for a long time) mislead people into thinking "if it's not that important why stress myself over it".
But, looking at all these great swimmers with their "windmill" style of rushing down a lane (from the above camera angle) it seems to me that they can only do this because their leg kicks hold their core in a beneficial position and, the better the kick the easier the catch, and this you can take to the bank, because the minute i observed it i took to the pool and started trying and now i know this is a fact.
Kicking is incredibly IMPORTANT.

Adam Young said...

Thanks for your posts guys!!

Hi Rudolf,

We really do need that video of your stroke so that we can give you some strong guidance on what to focus on. Not just for us but it would give you some clear direction too.

On Phelps, he's very Becky-like with the exact same position underwater :

On kicking, yes the technique is very important, we do whenever possible make the point about that, e.g. second point here:

Be wary of the difference between sprint freestyle and distance freestyle. Sprinter do use the kick for stability but that's much less the case for distance freestyle as the same intensity of kick cannot be sustained.

Hope that helps!


David Kaufman said...

What about the men distance freestylers? It looks to me like Sun Yang is an overglider! The commentator was saying that it looks like he is drilling catch up instead of swimming!

Adam Young said...

Hi David!

Sun Yang has an exceptionally long stroke but he doesn't do that by gliding! I was at the pool myself when he set his world record in London and it's very clear in the flesh that he isn't gliding at all, he just has exceptionally long arms, great propulsion and low drag. In other words a fantastic smooth freestyle stroke!

In fact, the gap between one stroke finishing at the rear and the next starting at the front is just 0.2 seconds! We ran a special blog on this here, I'm sure you'll find it fascinating:

I hope that helps!


David Kaufman said...

It is hard for me to discern the absence of glide from the pictures in your analysis so I will view the race again and look for the underwater footage.
I was not in London to see it live but when I watched it on my computer it certainly looked to me like he was gliding.

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