HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
SAMANTHA RILEY'S FULL STROKE AT 70 m OF HER SIXTH PLACE 100 m BREASTSTROKE RACE AT THE 1998 PERTH WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Each frame is .1 second apart. The reason for presenting Samantha Riley in this forum is that she has been World Champion and world record holder. She is the reigning Pan Pacific champion. Her swims at Perth were "disappointments" and were largely attributed to the after effects of tonsillitis. However, her times still do not match those of 1994 and it is worthwhile to evaluate her stroke to determine if there are any possible technical faults that might have stalled her progress.
This series of frames is from the 100 m final at the Perth World Championships. Samantha Riley led until about 15 meters from the finish to eventually come sixth in a blanket finish. Her time was 1:08.80.
- Frame #1: The stretch forward is almost completed as the kick commences. A trademark and impressive feature of this stroke is the position of the feet at the beginning of the kick. They are turned fully outward so that a full propulsive surface is presented for the kick duration.
- Frame #2: This frame shows the first signal that something is amiss in the stroke. The hands are already turned outward to commence the outward scull. The shoulders and head are being driven down and the kick is kicking back and down. The vertical components of these movements are cause for concern.
- Frame #3: The head and shoulders continue to be driven down while the hands continue outward and slightly upward. However, the vertical movement in the body causes unnecessary flexion at the hips (a piked position) which leads to the kick continuing down instead of back or even lifting a little upward. This is not a streamlined position and will retard forward movement. As well, the vertical force component in the kick will drive the hips upward rather than directly forward.
- Frame #4: If the swimmer's legs were together one might mistake the position in this picture as being that of a butterfly swimmer. The head and shoulders have been driven down ever further and along with the elevated hips present a detrimental large frontal surface that detracts from streamlining. The propulsive phase of the kick is completed but the legs and feet are deep in the water and below body level as opposed to being nearer the surface as in the other champion breaststrokers in this web site. The major factor involved here is the wave resistance created by the diving head and shoulders and the lifting hips. Wave resistance is very costly because energy from the swimmer is used to shift very large amounts of water and that would fatigue a swimmer unnecessarily. A rocking action of this type in fluid mechanics is often termed "hobby-horsing" and is something to be avoided. The extreme flexion at the hips, for a breaststroker, is anything but streamlined.
- Frame #5: The head starts to rise and the hands are pitched to create forces that will halt the vertical movement of the torso. That results in expenditure of energy that could have been used for forward propulsion. The feet come together while hip extension (straightening) begins to occur.
- Frame #6: This frame depicts movements that require great amounts of energy but produce little propulsion. The hips have been thrust downward and the head and shoulders raised causing a massive movement of water resulting in high levels of wave resistance. That action is not propulsive. Added to this inefficiency is the fact that the arms and hands are pitched downward rather than mainly backward. Propulsive forces are principally in the vertical plane. The movements at this stage of the stroke would be tiring and would contribute only partially to forward progression. In contrast, a feature of other champion breaststrokers is their ability to keep their hips relatively stable and near the surface.
- Frame #7: The arm propulsion is still downward although the backward component has increased. The head and shoulders have risen to break the water surface causing the angle of the torso to increase. That increase, coupled with the depth of the hips, presents a large frontal surface that is very costly in terms of the frontal resistance it creates.
- Frame #8: The head and shoulders have risen well out of the water causing a reaction under the water. The torso angle has increased even further resulting in greater frontal resistance. Hyperextension of the lower back facilitates the thighs being trailed almost horizontally saving further resistance. Arm propulsion is completed.
- Frame #9: Arm recovery begins while the head and shoulders still remain out of the water. This suggests that the head was elevated too high and consequently will take longer than necessary to be lowered back into the water. While it is held up, streamlining is reduced, slowing the swimmer more than is necessary. The legs begin to bend preparatory to kicking.
- Frame #10: The arms are driven forward while the legs are still being drawn up. It would be preferable to have the legs almost completely folded at this stage. This is a period in the stroke where there is no propulsion. At this time there are large movements that produce forces opposite to the intended direction of progression. The head and shoulders are lowered and cause a counter-balancing movement in the raising of the hips.
- Frame #11: The arms are still driving forward under the water while the head and shoulders continue to be lowered. The hips continue to rise. The legs are drawn-up fully and the feet begin to be turned outward immediately before kicking.
- Frame #12: The position of frame #1 occurs again indicating completion of the stroke cycle. The position of the thighs is not streamlined. The elevated hips and lowered head and shoulders cause excessive hip flexion. Hip flexion is required to position the feet to initiate the kick.
Samantha Riley's stroke demonstrates several detrimental faults that if corrected could produce great improvements.
The exceptional vertical movements of the hips and head/shoulders produce a "rocker" motion that causes extreme wave resistance as well as increasing frontal resistance. If the hips were to remain stationary and breathing occurred through hyperextension of the thoracic and cervical areas of the spine, streamlining would be enhanced. Samantha's undesirable movements are particularly costly in energy consumption and movement efficiency. They are initiated by excessive diving of the head and shoulders at the end of the arm recovery and in the early stages of the outward scull.
The arm recovery under water is symbolic of the end of the short-lived "over-the-water" recovery that was popular only a few years ago.
In this swimmer's stroke there is a long period with no propulsion. The length of time taken to return the head and shoulders after breathing is too long and extends the detrimental effects of disrupted streamlining.
Several improvements are possible in this stroke. They would likely produce performance time improvements of a significant nature.
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