It can be argued that few people know more about swimming than Jonty Skinner, director of performance science and technology for USA Swimming. Jonty spends a good deal of his time poring over swimming videos of the top swimmers in the world, analyzing every detail of every swim stroke.
By utilizing underwater video in conjunction with the Dartfish software program, body position can be analyzed in great detail, including measuring specific angles.
In a recent coaching clinic, Jonty talked about key swim technique issues in freestyle with video and data to back up his observations.
I asked him to provide more detail about freestyle swimming analysis and how his pool observations relate to triathlon. Our discussion is summarized in this column, including photographs, courtesy of USA Swimming.
The swimmer featured in the photographs is Kayln Keller. Kayln was on the Pan Am team in 1999 and won the 800 freestyle at the Goodwill Games in 2001. In 2002, her swimming was at a plateau and she struggled to keep the back half of her races strong.
In the early summer of 2003, she changed to more of a catch-up, or front-quadrant (see Figure 1 for a location of the front quadrant), method of freestyle. In Jonty's opinion, this change paved the way to her three national titles in the summer of 2003 and was instrumental in her making the 2004 Olympic team.Figure 1
In addition to changing to front-quadrant swimming, she changed her arm angle and the timing of her hip rotation. She went from a technique that was basically a straight (as viewed from the side) underwater pull with a hip rotation emphasis during the finish phase of the stroke, to a high elbow in the catch-anchor phase of the stroke, with the body roll occurring during the front quadrant of the stroke. This change is evident in the photographs included in this article.Photo Set 1
Using Kayln as our model swimmer, let's look at six key areas that you might want to consider when evaluating in your own stroke.
Breathing and Head Position
The biggest problem in freestyle is created by the need to breathe. If we could just keep our heads down, freestyle could be much more efficient. Jonty noted that good head position is exasperated in the swimming pool by the environmental effect of swimmers looking up to see who's coming toward them, how far they are from the swimmer ahead, and the location of the wall. Picking the head up automatically drops the hips.
In the top frame of Photo Set 1 (2002), Kayln's spine is slightly curved and her head has been lifted off of the horizontal plane to initiate a breath. Her neck is bent to breathe. Notice that her hips are minimally rotated.