22 February 2005

Stroke technique

As one studies the swimming strokes of more and more swimmers, one begins to feel that there are less and less "hard and fast" answers in areas of stroke technique.

It has been stated, somewhat humorously, that specialisation is learning more and more about less and less until eventually one knows everything about nothing.

As one studies the swimming strokes of more and more swimmers, one begins to feel that there are less and less "hard and fast" answers in areas of stroke technique. Often, it seems that when the swimming intelligentsia are set to focus on one aspect of the stroke as being vital to effective swimming, an elite swimmer comes along and sets the swimming world ablaze with a disregard for or a modification to such a factor.

Focus on fundamentals
For any swimmer to get the most from his or her technique, it is helpful to be aware of the general principles and practices that define the stroke. For example, backstrokers should aim for a balanced body position, a smooth stroke rhythm, an effective catch early in the underwater stroke, a powerful finish to each stroke, effective hip rotation, head stability, a relaxed recovery and proper hand entry.

There would be little argument that each of these elements plays a significant role in the development of the backstroker.

But within each of these technical factors, there are endless variations across the swimmer spectrum. For instance, take the finish of the backstroke pull. While all top backstroke swimmers will experience propulsion from the follow-through phase of the stroke, some backstrokers emphasise a pronounced down sweep toward the pool bottom before exiting, while others have no down sweep.

Jeff Rouse, 1996 Olympic champion in the 100 backstroke, used virtually no down sweep at the finish of his stroke, but instead just zipped right into another stroke as quickly as possible. Even with those who do finish with a down sweep, there are those who sweep relatively deep, while others sweep to a shallower spot.

So, who's to say what is "right" and "wrong" in areas of technique? Most likely, there is no "one way" to swim any stroke, but each swimmer is best suited to take his or her capabilities and fit them with the commonly accepted general technique principles. It's one thing to understand the basics of proper stroking; it's entirely another to understand yourself and apply your mental and physical traits to those stroke basics.

To learn more about freestyle technique, swimmers can study the form of the best freestyle swimmers in the world and often emulate their tendencies. When a high-level breaststroker sets a world record with a new stroke "quirk," breaststroke swimmers around the world are a sure bet to give it a try. As well, coaches tend to follow the tried-and-true training methods of other coaches who are deemed to be at the top in their field.

When attempting to "find" your best stroke, consider your individual traits, including your levels of strength, flexibility, range of motion, athleticism and hydro perceptive abilities. Anthropometrical measurements can also play a vital role in determining your unique technique.

For example, do you have shorter limbs that may lead to a faster stroke rate compared to a long-limbed swimmer? Or, how is your strength proportioned throughout your body? - Scott Rabalais


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