HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
BROOKE BENNETT AT 780 m OF HER GOLD MEDAL 800 m RACE AT THE 1999 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS IN SYDNEY
Each frame is .1 seconds apart. This sequence shows two stroke cycles, one with, and the other without breathing. Brooke Bennett's time for this race was 8:25.06, the fastest in the world for 1999.
Frame #1: Right hand entry occurs with the elbow flexed and without the more common preceding full arm stretch over the water. The left arm pull is at the end of adduction and initiating extension. The left elbow is leading the hand/forearm, which is less than desirable. No kick occurs in concert with the entry but the left leg is preparing to kick. The swimmer's body alignment is curved rather than being streamlined. The head looks forward and down, possibly in the 40-60 degree range.
Frame #2: Right arm entry is complete. The shoulder has continued to extend forward, an action that could set up a long effective propulsive arm movement. The left leg begins to kick to counterbalance forces created by the left upper arm's medial rotation and further flexing at the elbow. That combined movement is part of the repositioning of the arm to direct propulsive forces mostly backward. The left arm continues its propulsion through extension with the main propelling surface being the hand, since the angle of the forearm increases diminishing its potential for effect. The swimmer's body alignment seems to be "flattening."
Frame #3: Right arm propulsion begins powered by upper arm adduction. However, the hand/forearm-propelling surface is not vertical. Force components created at this time will be both horizontal and vertical. It is difficult to tell whether the resultant force is beneficial or a stroking fault. There is a hint that it is a fault. The right leg has exited the water indicating that a kick, or at least a leg movement, is about to occur. When the next frame is viewed, it can be seen that the right leg movement is brief, suggesting it occurred to counterbalance the vertical force components of this stage of the arm action. This is an instance of a leg movement not being a kick, but rather, being a corrective action. With the arm movement, it would have been better to continue the medial rotation of the upper arm before beginning adduction. The left leg has completed its kick. The swimmer's streamlining continues to improve while the head seems to be oriented further toward the bottom.
Frame #4: Right arm propulsion is mostly backward. The hand/forearm surface is nearly vertical and adduction continues. The right leg movement has stopped while the left leg rises. The left foot is angled downward, rather than being streamlined. This suggests that it is creating both drag and lift forces, the resultant force acting to counterbalance or correct some other feature of the stroke (possibly to stop body rotation to the left occurring too early in the right arm pull). The swimmer's body alignment is now in good streamline and the head is oriented directly downward.
Frame #5: Right arm propulsion continues with the hand/forearm surface being powered by upper arm adduction. Some drag turbulence can be seen (the milky area around the right elbow). The left arm enters at full extension. The head is almost completely under water with the eyes looking to the bottom or even slightly backward. Streamline continues to be good. No counterbalancing kick has occurred for the left arm entry. The lowering of the head could be a partial counter. Surprisingly, the left leg prepares to move downward.
Frame #6: Right arm propulsion continues through elbow extension and continued vertical orientation of the hand. The reason for the left leg corrective movement can be seen here. There is a notable vertical force component created in the right arm extension. When the hand depth in frame #5 is compared to the depth in this frame, it can be seen that the hand has moved upward. That movement would need to be counterbalanced and the brief downward movement of the left leg performs that function. The left arm is extended well forward on an elevated shoulder. The left wrist flexes as downward pressure begins to be exerted. The swimmer has rolled onto her left side much more so than in any stage of the right arm pull. The right leg commences to kick.
Frame #7: As a unit, the left arm is pressed downward. The previously flexed wrist has straightened. This is not a good movement as it puts great strain on the shoulder and only uses part of expended energy for a horizontal force component. The vertical component of this "downward press" is counterbalanced by a large right leg kick. No medial rotation is exhibited in the upper arm. The head remains down and streamline is sustained.
Frame #8: The right arm adjusts to change the downward press to a backward push. However, a poor movement pattern is displayed while doing that. Adduction of the upper arm occurs while it is outwardly rotated. This is equivalent to a "dropped elbow" action. When the position in this frame and that of the previous frame are compared, it can be seen that the elbow and upper arm have moved faster than the hand/forearm. That would result in a very sudden and close to total loss of force application. The resulting better position of the hand/forearm surface, being almost at right angles to the direction of desired force application, might be used as an argument for "value" in this movement. That perception might be incorrect. After the loss of force, an attempt to produce propulsion requires some time for the force to rebuild. In addition, adduction is close to completion and so the power that could be developed is diminished greatly. The left leg is high as if ready to kick, but actually, it is being dragged out to the side to keep the swimmer progressing directly forward. That drag most probably counterbalances some lateral force production combined in the left arm pull and the recovering right arm.
Frame #9: The left arm still attempts to propel but is in a weak position with the elbow leading the hand. Through frames #6 - #9 the swimmer has remained on her left side. That would produce an asymmetry in the swimmer's rhythm and would necessitate different actions and force developments and applications. The left leg is repositioned preparatory to kicking.
Frame #10: The left arm enters and the stroke cycle recommences.
Frames #11 - #17: The stroking cycle is repeated but with a right side breath. The breathing action exaggerates the body curvature disrupting streamline. Frame #5 is without breathing and streamline of the head and body is good, the head and right hip being in alignment. Frame #13 is almost the same stage in the stroke but the head is well above the right hip causing a curved shape to the body. Thus, the breathing action disrupts streamlining.
Brooke Bennett is a marvelous swimming talent, being the foremost female distance crawl stroker in this decade. However, she has some technique faults that might deserve attention and change. It must be realized that improvements in performance do not always result from technique alterations that are "better." It would seem that, at a minimum, the pulling action, the curvature of the body-head, and the prolonged side position during the left arm stroke might be worthy of alteration.
Stroking asymmetry seems to be a consistent feature of most top crawl swimmers, and could be construed as an area where advancements in technique and performance could occur. However, if breathing is consistent and bilateral, there is good reason to expect that arm actions and body rotations should be close to being similar and streamlining should be held for the entire stroke as a means of reducing resistance.
With Brooke Bennett, an age-old coaching dilemma arises. She is the best in the world at present. To tinker with technique might make her go markedly faster but it also could disrupt an established movement pattern if sufficient practice time was not available. If negative effects were to result from attempted changes, or she was not to improve given the limitations of her present swimming action, she might be vulnerable and open to defeat.
Brooke Bennett swims with a two-beat kick, but four leg movements. It would be erroneous to say she has a four-beat kick because only two kicks are associated with counterbalancing actions that will lead to propulsion. The other two leg movements are purely corrective and not involved with propulsion in any way.
Return to Table of Contents for this section.