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 stroke. Here's some stills taken from our feature on Jono's amazing stroke in 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 as shown 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.
Trawling through the vast Swim Smooth video archives here in Perth we find that at least half of 'normal' swimmers 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:
How can this be true? And what does it mean? Let's look at the full sequence of Jono's frames for that left arm stroke:
Take a close look what happens between frames 1 and 2 where the hand is extending forwards and the other hand is finishing its stroke. The hand extends forward underwater nearly a meter, driven by the propulsion of the hand at the rear. Of course, the exact same thing is true for our more modest swimmers as they enter the water and extend forwards.
Because the hand extends so far forwards after entry, exiting ahead of the entry point is relatively easy to achieve. It goes to show that while Jono has a long stroke, he's not overly lengthening his stroke things because that would make his less efficient. He could certainly take thing to the extreme and drop his stroke count from 34 strokes per length to 28 by over-gliding but he would lose efficiency and slow down if he did so. He's chooses to swim in the middle of his stroke range with excellent rhythm and timing - something you should aim to do too.