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October 26 2015
In this final week of our Stroke Month, the focus finally falls on butterfly. We've often said that the beauty of this stroke is only offset by it's ugly twin; the Butterstruggle. Fly stroke done well is a graceful and beautiful movement. Fly stroke done poorly is a DAM pain in the neck.
Our bearded model is American Tyler Clary, an accomplished flyer, IM'er and backstroker. He was the 2012 Olympic Champion in the 200m back. The full video of his butterfly can be found at Speedo-Swim Technique.
We'll take a close look at six different elements of Tyler's butterfly.
The first is his body position on hand entry at the start of his cycle. Notice how his chest and chin are at the same depth well below his hips and thighs. This is the start of the dolphin motion that, when executed properly, provides continued forward progress even in between stroke cycles. Most technique mistakes start here.
From the entry in image 1, out to the 'Catch' in image 3, these three motions are nearly identical to those of breaststroke. But it's after the 'Catch', that the real fly power begins.
Tyler creates increasing propulsive forces by angling water backwards with his palms, forearms and even upper arms. This phase is known as the 'PULL'.
His hold on the water continues until his fingers are nearly touching each other. Notice how his elbows are bent here at nearly 90 degrees, the same as in the power phase of freestyle. But because both arms (shoulders) are moving at the same time, they do their work underneath the torso instead of outside it. Here he is changing the pitch of his hands from pull to push. This phase is the 'HOLD'.
Finally, he is extending his triceps, still maintaining backwards facing palms, and finishing the motion. This is the 'PUSH'. Together the above three sequences demonstrate the correct and powerful motions of the arms. Combined with the downbeat of his legs, he is producing an amount of forward thrust that is the greatest of any of the four strokes. Now let's take a closer look at the kick.
There are two kicks (downbeats) for each one arm cycle. The first kick, shown above, is more of a stabilzing motion and is complete at the extension of the arms on entry.
The second kick is more propulsive. In the following sequences, see how the knees forcibly straighten just as the hands are moving from the HOLD to the PUSH.
Lastly, let's look at the timing of Tyler's head lift for inhalation.
Here we see he's lifted his head and shoulders out and over the water and is already inhaling before his hands actually exit the pool. Unlike 'Late Breathing' in breaststroke, butterfly requires an 'Early Breath' so that the head can be dropped back into the water before the arms come around.
The head should be fully submerged when the fingers finally make soft contact with the water.
October 19 2015
Breaststroke is the oldest of the four strokes and the least fastest. Though nowadays some of the top men and women are turning in breaststroke times that used to be good enough for fly or back. This KOW will focus on creating propulsive forces and simultaneously minimizing resistance.
The model for the video is American swimmer Jessica Hardy, a ten-year veteran of international swimming, with over 25 medals in relays, sprint free and breaststroke. The full video can be found at this link.
We're just going to let her technique speak for itself as we compare side and front images throughout one full stroke cycle.
Backstroke ought to be the easiest stroke to learn. Unlike the other three disciplines, it has no stroke variations, i.e., catch-up, gliding, arm dominated, breath holding. In its simplest form, backstroke has a continuous kick, alternating arms and constant breathing. In fact, once a swimmer learns how to float on their back they're almost ready to start swimming. It's that easy.
Except for, just as in the other strokes, maximizing propulsion. So that's the gist of this KOW. How to move forwards by discovering the best way to angle water backwards.
This week's Go Swim video is of Aaron Piersol. The full video is located here and it's entirely shot with a focus on his perpendicular palms.
For today's still shots we've chosen just a three second snipet from the video (1:35 to 1:38) and isolated one of his right arm sequences. Here is an excellent view of outstanding swimming.
Aaron enters the water with a locked elbow, straight arm, pinky first with his palm pointed away from the body. The direction of the little finger should be in 'scooping' motion down and out simultaneously.
The upper arm should point no lower than about 45 degrees and the forearm should stop at horizontal. The fingers and hand keep moving to 'round off' the entry and start the hand back upwards.
The upper arm remains stationary, the bicep muscle is at work as the hand starts following the thumb and the palm initiates it's backward facing pressure.
The elbow bends to nearly 90 degrees, the palm, forearm and upper arm combine for maximum surface area as the entire limb creates forces perpindicular to his direction of travel. The fingers are closest to the surface at this point.
This view shows the beginning of the change from pulling to pushing water. Actually, in Aaron's case, his hand is staying still in the water and his entire body is moving past that anchored point. His palm is still pointed backwards, his wrist is beginning to hyper-extend and his thumb is point upwards. A common mistake at this point is to begin rolling the thumb towards the feet and prematurely releasing pressure.
Just as in freestyle, completing the backwards facing motion by holding onto the water as long as possible is the key to maximizing forwards propulsion. Even at racing speeds Aaron maintains a perpendicular palm by switching to tricep strength, extending his elbow and continuing to direct water backwards.
His final position underwater is identical to his first; straigthening the arm at the elbow before exiting upwards.
Besides the perpendicular palm,the other key takeaway here is the elbow sequence of straight-bent-straight. Only with that motion can backwards forces be maximized and maintained. Straight arm swimming doesn't work for freestyle and it's not so good for backstroke, either.
October 5 2015
Our model for this stroke is Kara Lynn Williamson (Joyce), a three-time Olympian ('04, '08 and '12) and five-time NCAA Champion. While a junior at the Univ. of Georgia, she became the first-ever woman to win the 50, 100 and 200 yard freestyles at a single NCAA Championships. Her ability to successfully compete over three different distances is a true testament to the technical skill and stroke mastery.
She recently crafted an underwater video detailing the elbow angles she uses while swimming. The full four minute video of her stroke can be seen at this GoSwim site.
I've taken the following images from that video to highlight many of skills we're emphasizing this week.
Starting with body position (or Aquatic Posture as it's becoming known) you can see at mid-inhalation she keeps her head low in the water, directly in line with her spine. We teach this postion using the 'Tophat' drill. It's a great way to lead with the crown of the head, while practicing quick, minimal chin rotations. Notice also that she's swimming with about a 60% Catch-Up stroke here. Her right arm is still fully extended at this point as she waits for her recovering arm to extend forwards.
In this photo, her left arm has entered the water and moved forward in a line straight out from her shoulder. This extension minimizes splash and keeps water resistance to a minimum. Crossing over in front of the skull is a common error at this point.
From the front, you can see her recovering left arm is passing just beyond her head as her right hand drifts slightly outward towards her pinky. This sets her up for a better catch on the water by allowing the shoulder and back muscles to play a more functional role.
This opposite view of the left hand is taken just a little farther along the recovery cycle.
Under the water we now see where Kara Lynn's strength really lies. As much as any other swimmer we've ever looked at, she creates a powerful underwater pull pattern utilizing a very high elbow. In fact throughout the video, you'll see her elbow stay within inches of the surface during her entire pull/push combination. This view shows her in the Early Vertical Forearmpostion. Also known as 'the catch', it is a much emphazsized position in our sport, deserving of all the attention it gets. But from all of the evidence we've gathered it is not as propulsive as the next two stages.
Her right elbow also bends to nearly 90 degrees creating a maximum amount of backwards facing surface area. It is surface area plus acceleration plus length of motion that combine for the greatest amounts of forward propulsion.
In these images, we see her continuing her backwards pressure with what we've termed the Late Vertical Forearm (LVF). She then hyper-extends her wrist and positions her hand into what we've named the Even Later Vertical Palm (ELVF).
This image is from a velocity study done with swimmers wearing force sensors on their palms. The peak forces are greatest in the LVF position (the photo is synchronized with the grey line in the upper graph) and then decrease through the ELVP but even then remain higher than when in the catch or EVF.
Our last series shows a different swimmer demonstrating not only the same arm positions as Kara Lynn but also another very important concept about our sport. In terms of creating maximum forward propulsion it is possibly the most difficult notion to grasp. Here it is..when technique is done well, the hand stays still in water and the body moves past the hand. Notice the arrows in the above sequence referencing the entry and exit positions relative to the lane line.
Counting strokes is the simplest and best way to determine swimming efficiency. If you're count is in the mid-teens, then you're anchoring your hands effectively. If your stroke count is in the mid to-upper twenties, then your hands are moving backwards and slipping, meaning your body is staying still.