HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
AN OVERHEAD VIEW OF REBECCA SONI'S ARM ACTION AT 45 m OF HER WINNING 50 m BREASTSTROKE B FINAL RACE AT THE 2010 PAN PAC SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Rebecca Soni's time for this 50 m B Final event was 30.68 seconds.
This unusual view of Rebecca Soni's stroke provides some insight into her ascendance to the top of women's breaststroke swimming. This writer has not viewed any adequate perspectives of recent men's breaststroke, other than the analyses of Kosuke Kitajima presented in this journal. Consequently, while the attributions of Rebecca Soni's stroke are likely to be appropriate for women's swimming, there is a possibility that they might not be appropriate for men's breaststroke (although it is difficult to comprehend why they would not be).
Only Rebecca Soni's arm action, specifically the locus of movement in the swimmer's frontal plane, is considered. The main features of the swimmer's arms are a reduction in resistance and a reduction in inertial lag.
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.
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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.
- Frame #1: As the swimmer extends forward with her hands together, her head and shoulders are lowered further into the water.
- Frame #2: When the swimmer is streamlined (and assumedly the kick is completed), the arms begin to spread apart.
- Frames #3 and #4: The arms continue to be spread. [It should be noted that in Frames #1-#3, the lower back and buttocks are clearly visible. In Frame #4 they have been covered with water. It is not possible to determine if the covering occurs because that portion of the swimmer's structure was lowered in the water or because the dissipation of the bow wave allows water to flow back into the following trough. It is not unreasonable to suspect the latter as the cause, particularly since the trailing turbulence from the submerged head streams over the previously exposed areas.]
- Frame #5: The elbows bend, and undoubtedly are accompanied by medial rotation of the upper arms and outward rotation of the lower angles of the scapulae. The hands and lower arms move directly backward.
- Frame #6: The elbows continue to bend to maintain the directly backward application of force by the arms. [The arms are likely to be angled in the vertical plane to support the raising of the shoulders and head in the breathing action.]
- Frame #7: The elbows continue to bend to bring the hands slightly inward. Some abduction of the upper arms has occurred to serve as a source of force production.
- Frame #8: The arm pull and abduction of the upper arms are completed. The elbows are at right angles to the shoulders.
- Frame #9: The elbows drop slightly. The hands are forward of the elbows and are likely to have been turned inward. The hands remain in front of the line of the head. The head and shoulders rise.
- Frame #10: The shoulders and head break the water. The hands remain apart and begin to be moved forward. [There is no inward sculling action in this stroke.]
- Frame #11: The hands continue to move forward and gradually come together. This feature is quite different from the traditional arm description of the full recovery forward being performed with the hands together. Inhalation has occurred.
- Frame #12: The head and shoulders are thrust forward and downward. The hands have come together in this final stretch.
- Frame #13: The streamlining of the body, head, and arms occurs.
- Frames #14 and #15: The stroke cycle is repeated.
The distinctive features of this aspect of the breaststroke pull are:
- The "long time" taken by traditional strokes that include an inward scull and a full recovery forward with the hands together is shortened. Rebecca Soni's hands make a small circular motion at the end of the pull and are then thrust forward and inward as the recovery. Usually, the inward scull is used to develop added forces that support an unnecessary very high head and shoulder lift as part of the breathing action. Rebecca Soni breathes much "lower" taking much less time than the current common action. The removal of the unnecessary inward scull and full recovery creates less turbulence than the normal technique, lowering one aspect of resistance production.
- The second feature of the hand movement path is that it shortens the time when no forward propulsive forces are being created, that is, the inertial lag of the arms. Rebecca Soni's hand-path takes less time and therefore facilitates higher rating. Because breaststroke is a double-cyclic action (arms followed by legs), reducing any deceleration between the two sources of propulsion is beneficial. Rebecca Soni's recovery does that although not to the maximum degree.
The hand path that is depicted could be improved by the hands not coming together until the very end of the recovery. That is a minor detail for one stroke, but when accumulated over 100 and 200 m, could produce a significant drop in event time. However, the removal of the inward scull and full recovery is a very positive improvement in breaststroke swimming technique. Coaches would do well to institute this improved breaststroke movement.
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