Thursday, August 16, 2012

Our Review: The Strokes Of London 2012

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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 are 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
Secondly, 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 re-instatement though as Sun quickly moved under world record place 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!

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