Friday, July 29, 2011

Are You Shanghai Surprised?

Have you been watching the swimming world championships from Shanghai? We're sure you'll agree it's been fantastic racing and the underwater and close-up video footage is amazing to watch.

Have you been surprised at the range of strokes on show? Some swimmers using straight arm recoveries, some with super-high stroke rates, some slower two beat kicks and others powerful six beat kicks? It just goes to show that a variety of stroke styles can be fast and efficient depending on the build of the swimmer, the distance they are racing and the environment (pool or open water).

When watching the racing take a look for the similarities in all their strokes, the things that are essential for an efficient stroke technique:
Photo from Shanghai courtesy Dr Jim Miller

- Very high body position
- Good rotation to both sides
- Great alignment of the body and arm extension
- Great catch mechanics - pressing water backwards at all times, not down or to the sides
- Efficient kick technique with a relatively straight leg (with the possible exception of the sprints where all-out kick power is needed)

Aspects that vary significantly amongst elite swimmers are:

- Arm recovery style (traditional high elbow vs. straighter arm recovery)
- Head position (looking down to looking almost straight forwards)
- Stroke length (taking anywhere from 30 to 55 strokes per 50m)
- Stroke rates (up to 110 Strokes Per Minute in open water, 75-90 SPM during pool events)
- Kick timing (two beat combined with a faster stroke rate, six beat combined with a longer smoother stroke)

Clearly, if these aspects vary significantly between elite swimmers they are not fundamental to an efficient freestyle stroke.

Non-Elite Examples From Perth

Sue came to us for a video analysis session a few weeks ago looking to improve her swimming. She fits our Swinger Swim Type and has a naturally high stroke rate. She found that by lowering her stroke rate using a Wetronome and stretching out her stroke she became less efficient and 'it felt harder' as a result. As we lifted her stroke rate again she told us it 'felt much easier' and 'more natural' once more. This sounds counter-intuitive to many swimmers but for Sue a higher stroke rate style suits her perfectly and matches her natural two beat kick.

Guy is a classic tall Smooth swimmer with long arms and a natural 6 beat flutter kick. During our stroke correction session with him we worked on improving his catch mechanics as he had a tendency to press the water down at the front of the stroke. By improving his catch he became quicker and his stroke rate lifted slightly in line with this, however when we elevated his stroke rate too far things felt 'really tough' and 'ragged' to him. Guy's long smooth stroke fits his individual make-up perfectly.

Keep an open mind when making improvements to your stroke and take a leaf out of an elite swimmer's book and experiment with different aspects of your stroke technique. There really is no 'perfect way to swim'. If something feels promising then try it for a few sessions and see if it makes you faster and more efficient - you may be surprised by the results!

Swim Smooth!

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