But, unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. There is another stroke style that sets world records and wins Olympic Gold medals too, that's the refined version of The Swinger. This shorter, punchier style of stroke can be extremely fast indeed, especially when combined with a 2 beat kick. Laure Manadou, Kate Ziegler, David Davies and Janet Evans used this style of stroke to win gold medals and set world records in the pool.
|Smooths and Swingers sit|
together at the top of the tree
So, there are actually two 'top dogs' in swimming stroke technique, not one. Both have their strengths and weaknesses but they are both devastatingly fast and efficient strokes when matched to the right swimmer.
Which style should you choose for your swimming? In a sense you don't have to choose, your stroke should evolve one way or the other naturally. If you work on correcting and refining elements of your stroke technique you'll naturally gravitate towards one or the other depending on your natural buoyancy, strength level, gender, height and arm reach. Believe it or not personality can even play a part - Smooths tend to be more reserved and considered people while Swingers tend to be more extroverted and go-getting!
The mistake you might have made up until now is targeting a very long stroke, hoping to emulate Thorpe, Hackett or Phelps who are well over 1.9m (6'3") tall with very long arms. If you don't have the physical make-up to do this then you'll introduce glide to your stroke and you'll end up less efficient and slower as a result.
If you do have the attributes to develop a classic long Smooth stroke style then remember that to perform well in open water you're going to have to get into your catch a little sooner. This will shorten things slightly and add more rhythm to your stroke. You can do this without fighting the water but allow yourself some time to develop the modification as it will change the feel and timing of your stroke quite dramatically.