Freestyle Stroke & performance: Part 1
Many articles focus on the basics of freestyle but scarce discussed the technique of freestyle related to performance and competition.
Dave Salo in his book: “complete conditioning for swimming” said:
There is a difference between training to make it through practice and training to race.
That specificity of training as well as developing a racing mindset makes all the difference in the world
Gennadi Touretsky is one of the international coaches who is known for his controversial methods in training. He trained the swimming sprint legend: Alexander Popov and the Australian butterflier: Michael Klim. His coaching focuses on technique and multiple repetitions, with an important addition
"If you can't do it exactly right, don't do it at all"
Accordingly, the technique is very important in all strokes, not only for long distance but even for the sprint ones.
He added in another quote “Alexander has never practiced anything but perfect, flawless technique in the pool. He doesn’t know any differently. He has perfect body position and perfect application of strength. That is why he can swim so well even when he is out of shape–and it’s why he beats the best swimmers in the world.”
1) The elements of a flawless Freestyle
Gary Hall Sr. relates the efficiency down to the same three physical properties that govern all of our swimming techniques, laws of drag, motion, and inertia.
He added that ultimately, our swimming speed is determined not just by technique, but by fitness, power, mental toughness, fatigue, among other things, so we cannot say that efficiency is based on technique alone. But if we assume that we have a given level of fitness, power, mental toughness, etc at any moment in time, our technique then really become the key factor in determining our efficiency.
Therefore, to become more efficient swimmers, we must reduce drag as much as possible; not just off of starts and turns, but through every stroke cycle and we must be also able to sustain as close to a constant speed as possible.
To many coaches, swimming efficiently is analogous to distance per stroke. But that is not quite right. Swimming efficiency is really more appropriately defined by the body’s speed and shape in the water versus the energy expended to reach that speed. In another word, we need to learn to swim with the lowest possible drag forces. Some of those drag forces are inherent in our shape, while some of it is induced by our body position and limb motions. The latter part can be reduced.
In another part the law of inertia implies that each time we slow down more, it takes a lot more force (and energy) to get us, going again.
b- Underwater Pull
When analyzing the swimmers underwater pull in the previous world championships or any other major competitions, we notice the presence of two types of underwater pull:
The straight arm pull
The high elbow pull
i- Straight Arm Pull:
In this type of pull, the swimmer keeps his hand almost straight down and in some cases the hand crossover underneath the body and then released.
The shoulder joint is in a vertical angle (90˚), which represents the most powerful position mechanically and which generates more power but in another hand,
we cannot underestimate the frontal drag produced in this straight arm pull
During the underwater phase, the hand position does not contribute to any frontal drag, just because it is in the same exact position when entering and leaving the cycle (so the hand velocity is 0 and the drag = motion = velocity), but when we go up in the hand the velocity gets up and the frontal drag gets higher.
So, as faster the arm and bigger the shoulder as higher the frontal drag.
So, when analyzing the straight arm pull and pulling deep in the water, the shoulder goes off axis and off the alignment of the body so automatically the drag forces increases tremendously despite the big power generated in this strong angle of the shoulder.
ii-High Elbow Pull:
A lot of sprint swimmers use the straight arm pull but the fastest swimmers in the world pull with the elbow extremely high.
In this kind of pull, the elbow stays almost on the surface and on the side with the hand very shallow.
During this type of pull,
the upper arm is in the line of motion with the body and which reduces the frontal drag dramatically comparing to the deep dropped elbow position.
The power generated in the high elbow pull is less than the one generated with the straight arm pull but in swimming the drag trumps power which means that it is better to swim with less frontal drag and with some power than with a straight arm and a big power but a greater drag.
In conclusion, High elbow pull in Freestyle generates less frontal drag, more speed, and the swimmer will not get tired fast comparing to the straight arm pull, which produces big power but with a big frontal drag and thus more energy and the swimmers gets tired quickly.