HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
LAURE MANAUDOU AT 340 m OF HER GOLD MEDAL 400 m FREESTYLE RACE AT THE 2004 ATHENS OLYMPIC GAMES (LEFT-SIDE PERSPECTIVE)
Each frame is .1 seconds apart. Laure Manaudou's time for this 400 m freestyle event was 4:05.34.
This stroke analysis includes a moving sequence in real time, a moving sequence where each frame is displayed for .5 of a second, and still frames.
The following image sequence is in real time. It will play through 10 times and then stop. To repeat the sequence, click the browser's "refresh" or "reload" button.
The following image sequence shows each frame for half a second. It will play through 10 times and then stop. To repeat the sequence, click the browser's "refresh" or "reload" button.
At the end of the following narrative, each frame is illustrated in detail in a sequential collage.
The collage included with this analysis demonstrates that Ms Manaudou swims with bilateral breathing. This author advocates bilateral breathing because it promotes more balanced stroking, lessens the disruption to good fluid dynamics caused by breathing since breathing occurs less often than same-side breathing, and it provides the swimmer with in-race knowledge of how other swimmers are performing (if such content is part of a race strategy).
- Frame #1: This frame illustrates a major strength in the swimmer's stroke pattern. The left arm enters while the right arm is still propelling the swimmer to a significant degree. By doing this, inertial lag is reduced and possibly eliminated. Her stroke has similarities that are evidenced in other great female distance swimmers (e.g., Shane Gould, Jenny Turrell, Janet Evans, and Brooke Bennett). It bears no relationship to the stroke timing of the principal male distance swimmers of this era.
The right arm has completed adduction. The hand and forearm provide direct propulsion, evidenced by their vertical orientation and the drag pocket of turbulence in front of those arm segments. The position of the pocket illustrates the magnitude of the drag component of any created propulsive force. The left arm has entered long in front of the swimmer and a counterbalancing right leg kick begins. Streamline is good with the head well into the water.
- Frame #2: The right arm continues its propulsion. The rotating body associated with the entered left arm, causes the right arm to rise in the water while it continues to produce propulsion (showing the exceptional length of the propulsive phase in the latter part of the stroke). The left arm is led by wrist flexion as the swimmer begins repositioning it for propulsion. There is no "parking" of the arm forward. The kinetic energy of the entered arm is used to facilitate prompt repositioning. The position of the swimmer illustrates a stroke with maximum length forward and very good streamline. A vigorous right-foot kick counterbalances the vertical force of the left arm entry.
- Frame #3: Although obscured, the right arm is exiting the water. The left arm is being repositioned to apply propulsion backward. The upper arm rotates medially, the elbow flexes, and the wrist remains flexed as the hand angle increasingly approaches facing backward. The vigor of the repositioning warrants a substantial counterbalancing kick by the right leg. At this stage in the kick, resistive drag is created (the drag pocket follows the foot) and also facilitates rolling the body to the left. The left leg "trails" in a very good streamlined alignment.
- Frame #4: The right arm has exited. The left arm, and to some extent the right leg in this post-kick position, provide the counterbalancing forces for the vertical component of the exited right arm. The left arm continues to be repositioned. At this stage a positive, but minor horizontal component of the drag forces is created by the lower arm and hand. Little time has been lost since the completion of productive propulsion of the right arm and the beginning of propulsion of the left arm. The right leg remains low and out-of-streamline to promote a good abduction-adduction action in the upper left arm.
- Frame #5: The left arm is powered by abduction of the upper arm. The lower arm and hand continue to approach a vertical alignment. Propulsion has increased, as evidenced by the drag pocket forming on the lower and upper arms. The right leg continues to perform a stabilizing function, despite the resistance in produces in its current position.
- Frame #6: Powerful propulsion is developing with the right arm. Abduction is almost complete. The three arm segments are almost vertical. Drag is being created by the whole arm and is magnified at the finger tips. The right leg continues to drag.
- Frame #7: Rapid and powerful adduction of the upper arm has occurred. The full arm surface is near completion of its total contribution to propulsion. The right arm approaches entry. The right leg rises since counterbalancing forces are now largely performed by the entering right arm. The swimmer has raised her head and shoulders preparatory to breathing, which appears to have caused her hips to drop slightly and disrupted her previously good streamlining. This action will cause significant drag resistance to be produced by the face and upper body.
- Frame #8: Upper left arm adduction is completed and lower arm and hand propulsion occurs (similar to that illustrated for the right arm in Frame #1). The right arm has entered and presses directly downward, providing a counterbalancing (supportive) force for a high head position for breathing. One might consider if there would be any advantage in having the top of the head much lower and the central axis of the head aligned horizontally (theory would suggest much advantage from such a position). The resistive forces of the head action are evidenced by the substantial turbulence from the face to the bottom of the torso. Some of the resistance (turbulence) is caused by the swimsuit fabric. The legs "trail" in a streamlined position.
- Frame #9: The right arm continues to press downward counterbalancing breathing and the exiting left arm. This position differs to the rapid repositioning that occurred in Frame #3 when no breathing action complicated the stroke. Drag resistance off the face continues (although it could be minimized) and further resistance is now evidenced on the front of the swimmer's body. That resistance is caused by the swimsuit fabric and rather than speeding-up the swimmer will function more to slow her progression. The left leg just begins to kick.
- Frame #10: The right arm continues to press down to support the raised breathing head and the recovering left arm. The left leg kicks. Turbulence streams along the front of the swimmer's suit. The surface texture of the suit produces this exaggerated surface drag, a detrimental effect on the athlete's progress.
- Frame #11: The right arm continues to press down to support the raised head while elbow flexion occurs as does abduction at the shoulder, signaling a transition to the development of propulsion. The left leg continues to kick producing another deep substantial movement in the two-beat action.
- Frame #12: The swimmer is still inhaling while the left arm recovers. Throughout the past five frames, the swimmer has had to support a raised and rotated head as well as a recovering arm. This suggests the swimmer times her breathing with the arm recovery rather than producing circumstances that will minimize the length of time this detrimental action and position will occur. The right arm continues to be abducted at the shoulder. Drag turbulence on the front of the entire arm indicates that propulsion is occurring. The left leg kicks deeper, the drag turbulence coming off the bottom of the foot showing that drag resistance is occurring.
- Frame #13: The head/face begins to turn back toward the pool bottom. The right arm begins to adduct at the shoulder and propulsion from the arm can be inferred from the clearly visible drag pocket along its length. The left leg begins to rise.
- Frame #14: A position similar to that illustrated in Frame #1 is attained.
- Frames #15-20: Stroking continues in a manner similar to that evidenced in Frames #1-8 except that no breathing action begins to occur in Frame #20. The differences in streamline and drag resistance production between frames #7 and #20 illustrate the detrimental effect that a breathing action can have on the mechanical properties of a crawl stroke. As well, the surface drag created by the bodysuit continues to be evident along the front of the swimmer's torso.
There are several features of this stroke that are worthy of note.
- The swimmer rates high, a cycle being completed in 1.3 seconds. Despite that high rate, the breathing action takes too long, The duration of its execution could be reduced by expelling all air before or while turning to breathe. That would create a negative pressure gradient between the lungs and the atmosphere so that when the mouth is opened, air would rush in quickly to equalize the pressures. The head turning action should be limited to rotation on a horizontal axis (eliminating head lifting and the consequential disruption to streamline). Inhalation should occur in the bow wave trough, further reducing the need to move the head vertically.
- It appears that the timing of breathing is in concert with the recovering arm. It would be better to have breathing occur independently of that movement. Some extra force has to be developed to support a recovering arm and a raised turned head simultaneously. Fast inhalation, timed as closely as possible with the exiting arm and completed before the arm is halfway through the recovery, might be best.
- There is very little inertial lag between the finish of one arm stroke and the beginning of the next. This is a most desirable mechanical feature. The closer one can come to the perfect situation of developing continual propulsive force, the more a swimmer's times will improve. This little considered influence of Newton's First Law of Motion is as important in swimming as any other facet of stroke technique. This feature is also evidence of great female distance crawl stroke swimmers exhibiting two, or at most four, kicks per arm cycle while minimizing inertial lags.
- The swimmer exhibits a two-beat kicking action. It allows the swimmer to dominate the stroke with the arms rather than having them wait until six kicking beats are completed. The absence of propulsion and development of resistive drag by the legs will be difficult to explain by those who claim kicking is propulsive. Kicking is not propulsive in this Olympic Champion and now world-record holder.
- The detrimental aspect of the current set of full body suits is shown clearly by the surface drag created on the front of the suit throughout the full stroke.
- Within the mythical concepts of competitive swim coaching, "anchoring" has been proposed and discussed. It implies that a swimmer's arm is stationary in the water when a stroke is completed "correctly". The unrelated phenomenon exhibited by some swimmers of entering and leaving the water in the same spot is supposed to support this notion, a na´ve and incorrect proposal. The far lane marker (the blue band on the yellow-green lane divider) can serve as a reference point for determining how much a propelling arm moves backward during very effective crawl stroke propulsion (Frames #3 through #9). Anchoring is a mythical concept that does not and should not occur when exerting propulsive forces in fluids.
Return to Table of Contents for this section.