Our Review: The Strokes Of London 2012

London 2012 saw some fabulous swimming performances in the pool and open water. The TV footage has been stunning and we're sure you've noticed quite a range of stroke styles on display, each suited to the particular swimmer and the event in which they were swimming.

Let's take a look at some of the top performances at the games and the stroke styles the swimmers used.

Men's Triathlon

The men's triathlon was an epic race, finally won by Alistair Brownlee with a stunning 29:07 10K run. Paul Newsome was down at the Serpentine studying the swim:

"An electric pace was set throughout the 1500m wetsuit swim by Richard Varga, exciting the water in 16:56 - a very fast split indeed, even at the very highest level of triathlon. Having someone pace things out so quickly at the front really strung out the field with numerous small clusters of swimmers forming rather than the massive packs often seen at world cup races.

Watching the swim two things were immediately apparent. First, in stark contrast to many of the male swimmers in the pool, nearly all the triathletes were using markedly straight arm recoveries over the surface. This helped them clear the wake and disturbed water from other swimmers and also get closer to other swimmers around them, increasing the drafting benefit available to them. Opening out the elbow angle to create a straighter arm also reduces the fatigue on the shoulders that even the most flexible wetsuit can introduce if a classical high elbow technique is used.

Straight arm recovery technique employed
during the triathlon swims
Second, all of the athletes were turning their arms over very quickly, using a fast stroke rate in the 80-90 strokes per minute region. If you have a Wetronome or Tempo Trainer Pro, try setting it to 85 SPM* and give it a try: it's very quick!

The benefit of this shorter stroke with lots of rhythm is that it reduces (or entirely removes) the gap between propulsive strokes underwater which means the swimmer can't get stalled by waves or chop in the gap between strokes. For that reason, this punchy refined Swinger style is more efficient than a longer slower stroke in open water."

Quick Stats:
Gold: Alistair Brownlee: 89 SPM
Silver: Javier Gomez - 82 SPM
Bronze: Johnny Brownlee: 92 SPM
* SPM: Strokes Per Minute (counting both arms)

Men's 1500m 

Over in the Aquatic Centre, Swim Smooth's Adam Young watched Sun Yang's incredible 1500m world record:

Sun Yang has super long arms!
"When you first see Sun Yang in the flesh, the first thing that strikes you is his sheer height, even compared to the other tall male elite swimmers in the field. Somehow he seems even taller than his 1.98m (6ft 6in), an impression perhaps created by the length of his incredibly long arms dangling by his sides.

Sun false started the first time the field lined up on the blocks (apparently from a noise in the crowd) and hoping to witness a world record swim, the whole stadium breathed a collective sigh of relief when the starter spared him from disqualification. His competitors might have been slightly more disappointed with his reinstatement though as Sun quickly moved under world record pace and built a dominant lead in the race.

Bent elbow pull-through technique
If you have watched video of Sun swimming, he can give the impression that he glides down the pool as he has a super-long stroke style. However, when you see him swim right in front of you, you can see this is actually not the case. Yes he has a very long stroke but this gifted athlete is all power and timing, making the most of his huge arm span, driving himself forward on every stroke.

In fact our 2011 analysis of his stroke (see here) showed that he has only 0.2 second between finishing one stroke at the rear and starting the next at the front, showing this impression of glide to be an illusion caused by a very long smooth stroke. He is very much the Smooth Swim Type just with a huge wingspan!
Cutting smoothly through the water, Sun stopped the clocks at 14:31.02, a breathtaking new world record and one that will live long in my memory and that of everyone else who saw it."

Quick Stats:
Gold: Sun Yang: 28 SPL* / 65 SPM
Silver: Ryan Cochrane: 36 SPL / 80 SPM
Bronze: Oussama Mellouli : 34 SPL / 76 SPM
*SPL: Strokes Per Length (counting both arms)

Women's Open Water Swim

The women's 10K marathon swim in The Serpentine was another close thrilling race full of tactics and skilful swimming. Paul Newsome gives us his observations:

Swinging arm recoveries and light two-beat kicks
"I really enjoyed watching this race, as a former pool swimmer who has transitioned first to triathlon and now marathon swimming, this race really highlighted how tough marathon swimming is with a real race of attrition.

Just like in the triathlon events, the 10K field all used very punchy stroke styles, also using a straight arm recovery over the water. What was really noticeable in this race was how the girls combined the fast stroke style with beautifully timed 2-beat kicks. This is much slower than a flutter kick (6-beat) and involves the swimmer kicking at the same speed as their arms strokes, i.e. one kick per arm pull.

Keri-Anne Payne's excellent sighting technique with
just the eyes above the surface
Since kick propulsion is very inefficient, this slower kicking style allows the swimmer to conserve energy during a marathon swim but the swimmer must get quickly into their catch at the front of the stroke without any glide for it to be effective. Otherwise they would decelerate between strokes without the benefit of a more continuous kick.

As with the triathletes we see that swimmers focusing on open water are employing the refined Swinger style to great effect."

Quick Stats:
Gold: Eva Risztov: 83 SPM
Silver: Haley Anderson: 87 SPM
Bronze: Martina Grimaldi: 97 SPM
4th: Keri-Anne Payne: 90 SPM

Personality And Stroke Style

At Swim Smooth we've coached thousands of swimmers over the last 10 years and observed the 6 classic Swim Types at play. As well as stroke characteristics, we've also noticed how there are distinct personality traits that tend to go with each stroke style. We've noticed that Smooths tend to be much more laid back than Swingers, perhaps turning up late to swim sessions and taking their time to get in the pool and swimming. In stark contrast, Swingers want to get on with things and are often first on the pool deck, dying to get in the water!

This contrast in personality between Swingers and Smooths was immediately apparent on our Coach Education Course last weekend in Loughborough, where we had two coaches on the course with really nice swim strokes themselves. Vicki used lots of punch and rhythm in her stroke and a classic 2-beat kick, every inch the refined Swinger. Ian, a classic Smooth, used that longer smoother style together with a six beat flutter kick. Prior to filming, Ian was taking lots of time to get himself ready fiddling with his bathers, cap and goggles whilst Vicki stood on the blocks waiting to go. In her own words "I can't stand all this waiting around, I just want to get on with it!".

Perhaps this difference in urgency is what defines their individual stroke styles: the smooth relaxed stroke of the Smooth versus the 'get on with it' punchy style of the Swinger.

Swim Smooth!


Chris Brown said...

Once again thanks for the insight on the olympic swimming strokes,but what I found interesting was your comment on personality types mathing their swimming strokes,this is something I will look out for at my local pool to test your theory a bit.

Anonymous said...

I don't see an evaluation of the mens 10K race and look forward to learning which swim types won the medals, and any data you can provide about them.

Anonymous said...

Was also wondering what you thought of the men's 10k OW. To me, Ous looked pretty smooth. Particularly on the last lap or 2, Thomas Lurz appeared to be taking significantly more strokes than Ous, on TV it almost looked like 30-40% higher, but yet he was losing ground w/ every stroke. In an interview afterwards, Ous admitted the conditions favored him (basically smooth water, no current, & water wasn't that cold). He also said he wanted to be out front, to have clear water, avoid jostling around the buoys, etc. Must be nice to have that kind of strength! Would be interesting to know how his stroke rate for the 10k compared to his 1500. Anyway, for what was apparently only his 3rd OW race, it was impressive.

Paul Panaretos Jr. said...

Before another day finishes: thanks for the posts, _Bend It Like Becky_. I began to bend my hand last week, and that slight alteration only moved me by others! It was incredible. Because I traveled this week, I was in two other pools (thus, other swimmers), and my swims were consistent.

Waves of thanks! --p@ul

Rudolf said...

It was a bit unfortunate that life coverage of the 1500 in HD was cut short and not as well filmed as the sprint distances, so, a really interesting good study of neither Sun nor Ryan Cochrane, a fellow i used to see swimming on an almost daily basis at the Commonwealth pool in Saanich, Victoria, BC was not possible, and those small YouTube videos are not the same thing, maybe for you Swim Smooth experts they where good enough??

P.S. one interesting thing, if i say "you swim as good as the pool you are at" (may not apply to open water swimmers at all) do i have a point??
If yes, it would be AWSOMELY interesting if you could once make a post with a list of all the great pools for serious swimming you know around the globe!!

P.S. to Adam, from the previous post reply: yep, i messed those video trials up this summer, but instead i learned so much during the exactly 436km's i swum between May 4 and August 17 that i have no regrets - but should be able to get a full range of such studies in the later part of this year.....

On this note something i have been playing around and testing over the weeks since the olympics, wonder what you think of it....:
I put on the fins, stretch my arms straight out in front of my head and start kicking down and up the lanes.
I use fins because the speed they give me allows me to pay close attention to any and all drag, much more so than barefoot kicking.
I also use the snorcle so i can focus solely on my "Formula One under water drag reduction program".
I do a couple of laps with the usual, hand over hand neatly together, than some with the hands right side by side plus the fingers lightly spread apart (no pull or other movements with arms nor hands, just drag testing with stretched out arms in front of the head).
One would think the hands laid over each other would reduce the drag more, maybe, i could not feel any difference, but, i CAN HOLD the water incredibly good with the hands side by side, fingers slightly stretched.
Next i observe that i have my thumb facing downwards when i have my hands totally lose but fingers slightly spread apart - and that this silly little bit actually produces considerable "downforce" (to stick to F1 language).
Pressing the thumb upwards, so that the thumb is pointing higher than the rest of the fingers makes an incredible difference in holding the water while gliding fast forwards.
I also experimented with general hand position and found that the small finger should be higher than the pointing fingerand i ended up with something i have seen from top elite swimmers but was never able to make much sense of it.
The forward glige of the hand works apparently best when the hand is at a light inward down angle and the thumb spread out a bit and upward, it gives a gliding feeling of a hand like a V, one part is the thumb, the other 4 fingers making up the other part and the inner end of the V is lower than the 2 other ends.
Now started to test that with freestyle strokes - and noticed that is hand position makes it easier to catch and pull with the usual best prctice l-shape and even more so, easyhigh ellbows a la Ryan Lochte....

Anonymous said...

I was at the aquatic centre for the 1500m heats on the Friday. My biggest observation was that apart from the top 4 swimmers, nearly all these elite distance swimmers had a noticeably assymetric stroke, something I have seen too on masters videos on youtube. That is they use longer on their breathing side than there other side.

When I try this I too find it feels easier , especially if I maintain a stroke rate ratio of 3/4 for the two sides e.g. stroke rate 0.9 on the left and 1.2 on the right for an average of 1.05

I do not understand though why it helps and why it is so evident even at elite level where you expect fluency throughout?


Isabella Kinsella said...

It's important for the athletes to have their own exercise and routines to make sure that their body are always ready. Also it could avoid the risk of having an injury because their body was strained during the competitions.

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