Ariana Kukors’s Favorite Butterfly Drill: Vertical Dolphin Kick

Ariana KukorsAriana Kukors is the world-record holder in the 200-meter IM (long-course meters). She is a U.S. Olympian and world champion and was named American Swimmer of the Year in 2009 by Swimming World Magazine.

Ariana’s favorite drill for training a powerful, fast butterfly kick is “vertical dolphin kicking.”Swim Speed Strokes Ariana Kukors Vertical Dolphin Kick Drill

Ariana, like the powerful dolphin kicker Doug Reynolds, uses her entire body in the kicking action, not just her legs.

There are two degrees of difficulty for this drill: arms bent at 90 degrees or arms upright in the streamline position.

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Both books are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

Stroke Data Shows You How to Become a Faster Swimmer

Swim Speed Strokes by Sheila TaorminaWhen you begin swimming the techniques explored in Swim Speed Strokes, you’ll be taking on Olympic-level techniques, which means you will not just swim faster, you will swim effectively.

Swimming effectively allows you to enjoy multiple gears in your swimming. You will be able to swim easy, moderate, fast, sprint, and in-between gears such as easy/moderate and moderate/fast.

You will be in full control of the effort you put into your stroke (the gear you choose), and that effort will translate directly to the speed you travel. You will be able to choose the right gear for a race or the set you’re doing in practice.

The key to swimming in various gears is to maintain your stroke mechanics no matter which speed you choose. Nelson Deibel, 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke, explains it succinctly:

“You must hold the same amount of water when you want to go fast.”

What does it mean to hold the same amount of water when you want to go fast? It means that rather than spinning your arms and kicking your legs in a flurry of activity when you want to go fast, you maintain your curvilinear path and continue to focus on the connection among the components, building power and speed within that connection. It means channeling your champion spirit in the right direction.

There is a valuable tool in swimming that lets you know if you are directing your energy the right way and holding water as you ratchet up the speed. It is called stroke data. Stroke data is a set of numbers that reveal the details behind the ultimate measure of success in swimming—time. Think of time like the final score of a baseball game, with stroke data the statistics behind the score.

 Knowing your stroke data will show you the path to becoming a faster swimmer.

In Swim Speed Secrets, Sheila Taormina introduces the concepts of the Swimming Equation, which is the formula that determines how long it will take you to swim any given distance. The Swimming Equation is this:

 Strokes per Length x Stroke Rate = Seconds per Length

This website swimspeedsecrets.com introduces it in two posts. You don’t need to read them now to understand the ideas behind stroke data, but it would help.

Those posts introduce the ideas. Sheila covers the concepts in full detail in her book Swim Speed Secrets.

So what is your stroke data?

Any swimmer can gather stroke data on his or her own swims, and use elite swimmers’ numbers as a model and a target, to make progress toward becoming as proficient a swimmer as possible. Building proficiency into your stroke requires understanding the relation­ship between two pieces of data:

  • Stroke count
  • Stroke rate

You can learn how to find your stroke rate on this post, aptly titled: How to Find Your Stroke Rate.How to Time Your Freestyle Swimming Stroke Rate Swimming Cadence

How to Take Your Stroke Count

To take your stroke count, simply count each time your arms enter the water for a stroke.

In breaststroke and butterfly this is a straightforward task since the arms move synchronously. In freestyle and backstroke you have two choices; you can count as each arm enters the water, or you can count in full stroke cycles, which is every time an arm on one side of the body enters the water—from right arm to right arm or left to left. It does not matter which way you count, but when com­paring your count with others you need to use the same method.

In Swim Speed Strokes, stroke counts are gathered as full stroke cycles. If you prefer to count when each arm enters the water in freestyle and backstroke, that is fine. Sim­ply divide your number in half to make the conversion to a full-stroke cycle count.

When you compare your stroke count with that of other swimmers, also note the size of the pool in which the data was taken. Competitions/practices are held in 25-yard, 25-meter, or 50-meter pools. Stroke counts obviously vary depending on the size of the pool.

If a swimmer takes 10 full stroke cycles to cover the 20 meters, and if they complete each stroke in 2 seconds, then the swimmer’s time for the 20 meters is 20 seconds, calculated using the Swimming Equation:

Strokes per Length x Stroke Rate = Seconds per Length

(10 strokes) x (2 seconds per stroke) = 20 seconds

This equation shows swimmers that once they are on the surface stroking, there are only two ways to get faster. They can either take fewer strokes to cover the 20 meters or take their strokes at a faster rate. Simple enough, right? Lower one of the numbers and you will lower your time. Yes, in theory it is simple, but in real life it’s more complicated. The two factors in our equation are not nec­essarily mutually exclusive. Oftentimes the efforts a swimmer makes to lower one number adversely affects the other number.

Elizabeth Beisel

Elizabeth Beisel

In Sheila’s new book Swim Speed Strokes, Sheila provides stroke data for 29 elite swimming performances from actual swim meets, often winning and world record-setting swims. Here are a few of the stroke data swims she uses in the book:

  • Dana Vollmer, 2012 Olympics, 100m butterfly (gold medal and world record)
  • Michael Phelps, 2012 Olympics, 100m butterfly (gold medal)
  • Elizabeth Beisel, 2014 NCAA Division I Swimming Championships, 400m IM
  • Mary T. Meagher (“Madame Butterfly”), 1981 U.S. National Championships, 200m butterfly (gold medal and world record)

She also compares superstar swimmer and NBC Olympic commentator Rowdy Gaines’s stroke technique and data today—as a masters world-record holder—to his technique and data from 33 years ago when he broke the world records in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter freestyles.

Swim Speed Strokes shows why stroke data is a valuable tool that all swim­mers should understand and put to use.

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Both books are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

Aaron Peirsol’s Favorite Backstroke Drill: Scull and Pull

Aaron PeirsolAaron Peirsol is the world-record holder in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke (long-course meters). He has competed for the United States at three Olympics—2000, 2004, and 2008—winning five gold medals and two silver medals.

One of Aaron’s favorite drills is the “scull and pull,” which is designed to help a swimmer feel for the catch from the extended straight-arm entry. Since backstrokers cannot see their hand/arm during entry and catch, it is useful to repeatedly practice the motion in isolation and develop the proprioceptive ability to know that the hand/arm faces back on the water.Swim Speed Strokes Aaron Peirsol scull and pull drill

When Aaron feels his hand/arm is positioned facing back on the water, he returns to the extended position so he can repeat the scull motion and practice feeling for the catch again. Once he has felt the catch a second time he pulls through (the “pull” portion of the drill) to the diagonal and finish phases of the stroke and switches arms.

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Both books are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

The Curvilinear Path Is Not an Illusion

The curvilinear path in elite swimming is not an illusion caused by body rotation or elbow flexion. It’s undeniably present in the world’s fastest swimmers.

Here’s just one example of the incontestable proof shown in over 300 photographs in Swim Speed Strokes: Elizabeth Beisel swims butterfly in this photo sequence below. There’s no body rotation in butterfly swimming, yet we can clearly see her arms taking a curved path, not a straight path, as she presses back on the water.

Swim Speed Strokes Butterfly Curvilinear Path 600px

Like all elite swimmers, Beisel’s pull is highly propulsive partly because she navigates to planes of ‘still’ or ‘non-moving’ water rather than pushing back on the same column of moving water. No train tracks here!

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. All three books in the series are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

Vladimir Morozov’s Straight-Arm Freestyle Swimming Technique Underwater Photographs

When Vladimir Morozov swam 17.86 for the 50-yard freestyle during his leg of the 200-yard freestyle relay at the 2013 NCAA Championships (watch it below at 2:30 into the video), he arguably became the fastest man ever to move through water. Those who witnessed the relay race, as well as his 40.76 100-yard freestyle (individual event), said it looked as though he was swimming atop the water rather than through it.

What does the fastest man in water do to generate such speed?

Vladimir uses a straight-arm technique.

Vladimir Morozov freestyle sprint swim technique

Vladimir Morozov’s straight-arm freestyle is analyzed in Swim Speed Strokes.

Throughout Swim Speed Strokes we have seen how elite swimmers use their hand/forearm as a large paddle to maximize the surface area upon which the propulsive forces of lift and drag act.

What if that paddle could be expanded even further, and include the surface area of the upper arm? How much additional power could a swimmer generate?

The answer: 17.86 for a 50-yard freestyle level of power.

Many people believe the straight-arm technique refers only to the over-water recovery portion of the stroke. It is true that elite sprinters who use the straight arm technique recover their arm overwater in a straight, rather than bent-elbow, position, but it is the straight-arm position underwater, during the catch, that is the most challenging aspect to master with this specialized sprint technique.

More and more elite sprinters are adopting the straight-arm technique for the 50-freestyle, and some are able to sustain it for the 100-freestyle, but the physical demands are so great that most do not use it for the entire 100. The straight-arm freestyle is most definitely not used by elite middle-distance to distance swimmers (200 meters and longer).

The following pages highlight the power of the straight-arm technique, but there is a caveat that goes with this appendix: the stress placed on the shoul­ders is immense.

This is not a technique easily or quickly adopted. A swimmer who wishes to use the straight-arm freestyle should have a comprehensive strength-training plan designed and monitored by a coach who is experienced in this technique. Otherwise, risk of shoulder injury is high.

Swim Speed Strokes includes an underwater photo sequence showing Vladimir Morozov’s full stroke cycle front below and in front of him. Sorry, but we’re not going to give that away here (please buy the book). Instead, we offer this tantalizing side view showing just how differently the world’s fastest swimmer catches the water using his straight-arm freestyle swimming technique.

Vladimir Morozov straight arm freestyle swimming technique

Vladimir Morozov’s straight-arm freestyle swimming technique: the catch

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Both books are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

Peter Vanderkaay’s Favorite Freestyle Drill: Catch-Up

Peter VanderkaayPeter Vanderkaay has competed for the United States in three Olympics—2004, 2008, and 2012—winning four medals. He is a five-time NCAA champion, three-time world champion, and the American-record holder in the 500-yard freestyle.

One of Peter’s favorite drills is “catch-up.” He uses the drill to practice positioning his hand/arm for the catch, which helps him time the stroke properly. Having the discipline to position the limb before pressing back on the water is an important factor in developing the front-quadrant timing studied earlier in this chapter. The catch-up drill exaggerates this aspect of the stroke. It is a drill that reminds swimmers not to pull back immediately when the hand enters the water, but rather to position the limb overhead for the catch.Swim Speed Strokes Peter Vanderkaay freestyle catch up drill

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. Both books are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.

Let’s Talk About the S Pull in Swimming

In response to this conversation on the Swim Speed Secrets Facebook page that has developed after this “S-pull” post on SwimSpeedSecrets.com, I first want to mention that what we posted online from Swim Speed Strokes was only part of the chapter—and only part of the story. My publisher tries not to give away too much of my books online, but in this case that caution has caused some confusion. (As punishment for my marketing guy, I’ve added 8×25 Dog Paddle drills to his set tomorrow!)

Later in the chapter (the part that we didn’t put online), I explain where swim propulsion stands today.

So let’s clear up the confusion.

Interestingly, the majority of comments on Facebook agree that the “S-pull is no longer the correct path to coach” swimmers.

These comments are partially correct and partially incorrect.

The confusion about stroke path is a big part of why I wrote Swim Speed Strokes. Because of the feedback we’ve gotten on Facebook, I will offer a short explanation of what I mean by “S-pull” and how all elite swimmers today show it in their stroke.

The famed coach, Doc Counsilman, from Indiana University, was the first to introduce the S-pull path to the sport of swimming in the early 1970s. Prior to 1970, swimmers were taught to push straight back on the water. In his underwater research, Doc saw that the best swimmers did not push straight back, but rather stroked in an “elliptical”, “curvilinear”, “S-pull”, or “inverted question mark” pull pattern. Call it whatever you want, the main point is that the pull path is not straight back.

Doc wondered why despite decades of being coached to pull straight back, the best swimmers were pulling with a curve in their stroke. He reasoned that just as a propeller-driven boat is faster than a paddle-driven boat, so too is a swimmer who operates the hand/arm like a propeller faster than a swimmer who operates the hand/arm like a paddle. Hence, Doc encouraged swimmers to exploit propeller-like (S-pull) movements as they stroked.

Doc’s S-pull stood for more than 20 years as the agreed upon best way to coach the swim strokes.

In the 1990s though, a number of new studies revealed that more power is generated by pushing back on the water than moving the hand/arm laterally or vertically (like a propeller) in the water. In the past decade swim propulsion theory and teaching has re-set the focus on pushing back on the water rather than exploiting the propeller-like movements.

HOWEVER! A curved path back is still the proper path to teach, and it is present in all elite swimmers’ strokes.

The benefits of the curved path are explained in the book, and no top coach or theorist disputes these. The point that needs to be understood is that both movements (pushing back and moving the hand/arm in a curved manner through the water) are present in elite strokes, but today swimming researchers agree that swimmers should focus more on pushing back than on exploiting the curves.

I want to make a very important clarification now: The “S-pull” and “curved path” are phrases used to explain the same pull pattern. The problem is that the S-pull is so closely associated with Doc’s propeller-movement exploitation theory that coaches/swimmers who have not studied swim propulsion history get confused.

We are dealing with the classic case of the telephone game here. One person whispers a sentence into someone’s ear and then that person whispers the same sentence into the next person’s ear, and so on. By the time the message gets to the last person, it is distorted.

The telephone game has distorted swim teaching, and I will make a bold statement about this:

Coaches, and the federations certifying coaches, are not delivering the proper message.

Because the focus is now on pressing back on the water rather than stroking in the manner Doc encouraged, the phrases used to coach today are “Train Tracks” and “push straight back.”

If you are a coach using these phrases, I strongly encourage you stop.

If you are a swimmer who has adopted these phrases, I encourage you to stop.

The underwater pull path is complicated and involves a unique manipulation/rotation of the upper arm, which affects the path the hand/arm takes through the water. The path is curved. You can even call it “S-shaped” if you like—that word choice doesn’t bother me.

Swim Speed Strokes is full of photographic evidence of elite swimmers, Olympians, and gold medalists who show the same curvilinear path in their stroke. The fastest swimmers in the world show the curvilinear path in all four competitive strokes.

Here’s one example. You can see in the photos of Olympic medalist Elizabeth Beisel that her hand/arm does not push straight back on the water but rather takes a curved path back. Note the position of the limb in Frame 1 as compared to Frame 2. (Click the photos to make them bigger, up to 600×800.)

Beisel1_600x800Beisel2_600x800

This is the curvilinear path, the ellipsis, the S-pull, the inverted question mark. Whatever you want to call it, elite swimmers do not pull straight back. They don’t swim on train tracks.

Some might claim that body rotation is what makes it “look” like a swimmer strokes in an S-pull pattern. This is incorrect.

Note that Elizabeth’s hand/arm is wide of her head in Frame 1, and then under her head in Frame 2. The head does not move laterally, thus we see that is the hand/arm that moves to an adjacent plane of water. Call this hand pattern an S. Call it a curve. Give any name to it you wish. Just please don’t call it “Train Tracks,” and please don’t instruct swimmers to push straight back.

Proper wording is to coach the following:

We focus our efforts on pushing back as we take a curved path through the water.

I am sorry that the post on SwimSpeedSecrets.com didn’t tell the full story. But in some ways, I’m very glad to have the opportunity to tell the rest of the story and to start a conversation about how we as swimming coaches talk about the swimming strokes.

I hope this explanation is interesting. Stroking properly is an intricate movement. The upper arm movement and resulting hand/forearm path through the water are explained thoroughly in Swim Speed Strokes, and the explanation is backed up with more than 350 photos of Olympic swimmers.

Thanks for the conversation! Let’s hear what you think in the comments below or on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/swimspeedsecrets).

Sincerely,

Sheila Taormina

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. All three books in the series are available in bookstores, swim and tri shops, from the publisher VeloPress, and from online book retailers.

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes book coverSwim Speed Workouts for Swimmers and TriathletesSwim Speed Strokes by Sheila Taormina

Swim Speed Secrets reveals the swimming technique used by the world’s fastest swimmers.

Swim Speed Workouts provides waterproof workout cards, drills, and training plan so swimmers can get in the pool and learn the fastest way to swim.

Swim Speed Strokes shows how to master elite technique in all four competitive swimming strokes.

Sheila Taormina is a 4-time Olympian, gold medalist, ITU triathlon world champion, and internationally recognized swimming coach. Learn more about Sheila here or at sheilat.com.