HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
SIMON COWLEY AT 180 m OF HIS 200 m RACE AT THE 1999 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS IN SYDNEY
Each frame is .1 second apart. Simon Cowley won this race in 2:12.98, which was the fourth fastest time in the world in 1999. For a 200-m breaststroker, Simon Cowley's stroke is almost continuous and is more in the tradition of a 100-m swimmer than a 200-m swimmer. That continuity is probably emphasized because the swimmer is close to the finish and he is executing a finishing "effort."
Frame #1: This is Simon Cowley's position of longest stretch. The propulsive phase of the leg kick is completed and the feet are wide apart. The stretch forward is also downward, a movement that will produce some vertical reaction in other parts of the body. If the swimmer holds his body rigid, the stretch forward and down will produce a lifting reaction in the feet and legs. In this position, the hips are the highest part of the swimmer, suggesting that the hips rise in response to the slightly downward drive of the arms.
Frame #2: The hands are pitched at an angle as they start their outward scull. The head rises slightly probably exploiting the lift forces created by the initial hand movements. The hips drop slightly and improve the swimmer's streamline. The feet approach each other.
Frame #3: As the hands continue their outward scull, the head and shoulders continue to rise, the hips depress more, and the feet rise, all actions which produce relatively good streamline on the under-surface of the swimmer. The hand speed of the outward scull is not particularly great and suggests that the swimmer is producing some "feel" that sets the rest of the posture.
Frame #4: The outward scull continues as does the rise of the head and shoulders, movements that occur much earlier in this swimmer than in most other champions. To accommodate this early rise, the outward scull and hand pitches produce vertical force components. If there were no lift force from the hands, then other parts of the body would sink as a reaction to the rising head and shoulders. The rest of the swimmer remains streamlined. The outward scull is powered by upper arm adduction.
Frame #5: The hands have reached the limits of the outward scull and begin to change to direct propulsion. To facilitate the repositioning, the elbows flex. The head and shoulders continue their relatively slow and deliberate elevation.
Frame #6: Further elbow flexion and adduction of the upper arms produce mainly direct propulsive forces. The head has cleared the water surface. Throughout these developing stages of the stroke, the hips and legs have trailed in a streamlined position. Good flexibility in the middle back has allowed one part of the body to rise while the remainder is relatively unaffected.
Frame #7: The length of the "direct" phase of the pull is illustrated in this frame. The elbows have been adducted past the shoulder line while some inward rotation has occurred. The hands are still oriented directly backward. The hand/forearm surfaces have acted as the major propelling surfaces. As hyperextension of the back continues, tension is reduced along the body and legs causing the knees to flex slightly and the feet to come apart. The head is positioned for breathing.
Frame #8: As soon as the hand propulsion is finished, inhalation occurs, and the hands and elbows are brought into a position of streamline. There is no inward scull in this action. Some forces created by the forearms and hands coming into the bodyline produce further lifting to support breathing. The hips and legs still trail in a good streamlined position.
Frame #9: When the hands come together and the arms are positioned at the body's side, there are no more supportive forces created. That loss of force production translates into a counter-balancing reaction somewhere else in the swimmer. That reaction is a dropping of the hips and thighs, features that are demonstrated in this frame. Knee bending keeps the feet close to the surface.
Frame #10: Three things occur together at this stage of the stroke: The legs begin to draw up, the hands begin to be pushed forward, and the head and shoulders are pushed down and forward. Some hip flexion occurs to facilitate the positioning of the legs for kicking.
Frame #11: The legs draw tighter, the arms are extended further forward, and the head begins to be pushed forward in a controlled manner. The swimmer's flexible back and hip flexion support the high hip position. The feet begin to be turned outward.
Frame #12: Kicking begins. The feet do not appear to be fully everted, which suggests a limitation in ankle flexibility because there is no further outward positioning in subsequent frames. The arms continue a controlled forward drive as the head and shoulders are pushed down. The back flattens.
Frame #13: As the head and shoulders are directed down, the hips rise keeping the feet near the surface, producing a direct kick in the horizontal plane and reducing the frontal area of the thighs.
Frame #14: Vigorous knee extension associated with the kick causes the feet to be lowered. That action is counter-balanced by the arms not being thrust directly forward. Vertical movement components in the arms cancel out vertical movement components in the legs. This results in the hips and shoulders being streamlined ("flat"). The full extent of the kick has been reached with the feet well apart, indicating a direct kicking action.
Frame #15: A position very similar to that displayed in frame #1 is again attained to recommence the stroke cycle.
Simon Cowley's stroke is efficient and effective. It is characterized by a controlled smoothness and continuity, something that is rarely seen in other top breaststroke actions. The value of not having any obvious "forced" or exaggerated thrusts and contractions, or emphasized extensions for streamlining in the overall movement pattern, should be determined. For this swimmer, this approach obviously works.
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