HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
MARIA PELAEZ AT 135 m OF HER WINNING 200 m RACE AT THE 1998 GOODWILL GAMES IN NEW YORK (MISTY HYMAN IS IN THE NEXT LANE)
The time between each frame in this series is .1 seconds. The observations occur at 135 m into the race. This is a special set of images for it contrasts Maria Pelaez (Spain) with Misty Hyman (USA). Maria Pelaez won the race in 2:12.72. Misty Hyman went out very fast in her usual manner splitting at the 100 m with a time of 1:02.54. From there, she began to tire noticeably particularly in the fourth lap. Her final time was 2:15.26 giving her a second 100-m split of 1:12.72. The comparison then is of Pelaez who was not tiring and Hyman who was tiring in a dramatic fashion. Generally, when skilled athletes fatigue their movement errors become exaggerated. By looking at Misty Hyman, it is possible to observe points of technique that should be avoided when swimming butterfly.
- Frame #1: Maria Pelaez enters with her hands shoulder width apart but her hips and knees angled down. She has just initiated a kick. Her head is flat in the water looking directly at the pool bottom.
- Frame #2: The swimmer's kick pushes her knees and hips upward to produce a momentary streamlined position. Her hands, instead of being repositioned to produce direct propulsive forces, begin to scull outward in a typical breaststroke movement.
- Frame #3: As the kick is completed, the hips are driven higher than the shoulders, which are forced further down into the water. The hands continue to scull outward. It is hard to recognize any strong propulsive movement so far from this sequence. The arms have produced a resultant force, one that is greatly diminished from the actual effort applied to their sculling. The angle of the shanks of the legs is such that no force would be created backward but rather vertically and possibly even forward at the end. Consequently, the legs kick the hips up which in turn produces a reaction movement downward in the shoulders.
- Frame #4: Probably to halt the diving shoulders and further hip elevation, the swimmer begins to hyper-extend the neck. The hands continue the outward scull.
- Frame #5: The hands turn and begin to press primarily down powered by upper arm adduction. The forces created begin to lift the shoulders. The downward angle of the swimmer's alignment is neither efficient nor desirable.
- Frame #6: As the hands continue to press downward, the feet rise and break the water surface. The downward thrust also supports further elevation of the head, which is coupled with continued hyperextension of the neck. However, although the hand/forearm surfaces are oriented mainly downward there is a noticeable change that develops a small horizontal force component.
- Frame #7: The arms momentarily thrust backward but adduction is near its effective limits. The arms are very deep and up to this stage have pressed mainly downward. The head continues to rise and the knees bend resulting in the hips dropping down.
- Frame #8: The arms extend at the elbow, which lifts the hands and forearms upward. This swimmer's pull from a lateral perspective is a "V," a particularly inefficient locus of movement. Ideally, the hand/forearm surfaces should be pushing backward. However, the large vertical force component in the arm movement causes the hips and knees to begin to sink as a reaction. The head breaks the surface preparatory to inhalation.
- Frame #9: The elbows break the water surface as the arms are extracted. The hips and knees continue to sink. The knees bend slightly to leave the feet trailing on the surface.
- Frames #10 and #11: The arms recover, the body angle is accentuated away from streamline as the hips and knees continue to sink.
- Frame #12: The arms are carried forward prior to entry as the head sinks back into the water. The knees bend preparatory to kicking, the bending action causing them to sink even further into the water.
- Frame #13: The stroke cycle is repeated as the position in Frame #1 is attained again.
Observations of Misty Hyman in Extreme Fatigue
- Frame #1: Misty Hyman's pull has been down and at this stage is at the depth of its full "V-shaped" pattern. Her body is relatively flat and her knees are bent which allows her feet to be on the surface.
- Frame #2: As the arms are drawn backward and upward in a manner similar to Maria Pelaez at the same stage of her stroke, the hips and knees sink as a reaction.
- Frame #3: The hips flex to a minor degree which positions the thighs to be angled in such a way that drag resistance would be increased markedly since the cross-sectional (frontal) area of the swimmer has increased.
- Frame #4: The feet are kicked down which forces the knees upward. The hands exit the water to initiate the recovery.
- Frames #5 and #6: During arm-recovery, the torso remains angled.
- Frame #7: As the arms approach entry the head is lowered into the water. The torso and thighs are angled while the knees bend preparatory to kicking.
- Frame #8: The arms enter. The legs kick quickly but the resulting action is one of poor streamline. The hips and knees flex positioning the thighs at a very disadvantageous angle. The forward motion of the thighs at this moment slows the swimmer.
- Frame #9: The hands have entered the water but the diving head and shoulders have covered a greater distance than the hands since the previous frame. That movement of the upper body would cause significant wave drag as a very large amount of water would have been displaced. The position of the arms relative to the shoulders is one that is extremely weak at the shoulders and one that does not allow any action that would produced significant forward propulsion. From here arm movements will be dedicated to lifting the upper body rather than propelling it forward.
- Frame #10: The hands press outward. The hips rise further as the legs complete their kick. The size of the drag pocket (the mass of white water) following this extremely inefficient position exhibits a major reason why Misty Hyman is swimming so slow.
- Frame #11: The swimmer's arm movements are strengthened by bending at the elbow and the initiation of adduction at the shoulders. However, the path of the movement is vertical rather than horizontal. The arm press down commences to elevate the head and shoulders but causes the hips to start to drop.
- Frame #12: Still the arm action is downward.
- Frame #13: The arm action continues to be predominantly downward although a slight increase in the horizontal component of the applied force has occurred.
Both these butterfly swimmers exhibit a fundamental flaw in their underwater arm movements. Instead of maximizing horizontal force production, the V movement accentuates vertical movements. Both swimmers demonstrate excessive vertical oscillations of the shoulders, hips, and knees, the fatigued Misty Hyman exhibiting these features in an exaggerated manner. In addition, both swimmers do not employ the early part of the arm pull to produce propulsion after repositioning. The press outward in a manner reminiscent of breaststroke is a particularly weak movement for generating propulsion.
The absence of streamlining in both swimmers is noteworthy. Any time the shoulders drop lower in the water than the hands, mechanical efficiency is sacrificed. Misty Hyman in Frame #9 demonstrates a position that should be avoided at all costs.
There is a myth that has been perpetuated around the swimming world that "wave-like movements increase propulsion." Unfortunately, there is no such principle in fluid mechanics and that proposition must be treated with disdain. It has been proposed as being beneficial for both breaststroke and butterfly. Unfortunately, swimmers coached to perform a wave motion, similar to the exaggerated pattern of Misty Hyman, will not perform optimally nor excel in the sport. There is a fluid mechanics principle that emphasizes an increasing and accelerating wave that moves down a body that does produce propulsion but that effect depends upon the leading edge of the body being stationary. The leading edge has to be exactly opposite that displayed by both these swimmers with the vertical movements of their heads and upper bodies.
There is not much good that can be said about these two swimmers' strokes. At best, this series of frames can be used as examples of "what not to do" in butterfly stroke.
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