View Full Version : freestyle stroke timing

September 24th, 2003, 12:02 PM
In Cecil Colwin's book "Breakthrough Swimming," the author writes that in freestyle the swimmer should "SEE THE HAND ENTER BEFORE TURNING THE HEAD TO BREATHE." He makes this point several times and refers to it as "a stroke fundamental."

Is there general agreement that this is correct? Should you actually be able to see your forward hand enter the water before turning (rotating) to breathe?

I understand that Coach Colwin is making a point that some swimmers have a tendancy to breathe too early in the stroke, but it seems to me that if you try see your hands as they enter and extend just under the surface, you must look upward, your head position then becomes too far forward and out out of alignment with your body.

Does anyone have any experience with this or an opinion about it?

September 24th, 2003, 04:02 PM
Hmm... I hadn't thought about that before, about how forward you can see if your head is in the right position.

In pools with bright overhead lights (or the sun), you can see your shadow on the pool bottom. So *obviously*, he meant you can see your shadow hand stretching out, before you breathe. :)

September 24th, 2003, 07:53 PM
I have a good rule of thumb about this. Try not to look too far forward or your head will ride high, and this will cause the hips to sink. Not good. The hand entry can be viewed but try rolling the eyeballs up, and keep that chin down.

Also, about the timing issue. The head should rotate back into a face down position before the elbow on the recovering arm has entered a "twelve o'clock position". Rather than focus on the recovery arm for your que to send the pie hole back into the water, focus on the underwater arm. Get the head back into face down position before the recovery arm has swept past your shoulder. Lean on that arm in the water to turn your torso and head. By the time this arm is moving past the shoulder, time is up. Get your face back into the water. Time to roll for the other side to take a stroke.

Streamlined swimming is all in the head. Both literally and mentally. If you think of your skull as the bow of a ship, you'll come to realize that the most efficent motion through the water is done with a steady head that holds your body line straight and provides minimal resistance. The head position can either puts the brakes on, or send you sailing along. Next time you're driving down the road, hold your hand out the window fingertips first. Lift it up as if to say hello, and feel the resistance. Keep it low, and flat, and and the air will flow. Same stuff in the pool with regard to your head.

September 25th, 2003, 05:36 AM
I have had the same problem and found it difficult to carry out what Cecil Colwin said.My way of dealing with it has been to wait until I feel my fingertips entering the water in front of my head.Then, when that happens,I slightly roll my head to the side to breathe.I always try to make sure that I have one goggle in the water so that I don't roll my head too much.:cool:

Gareth Eckley
September 25th, 2003, 06:20 AM
I have the Cecil Colwin book "Breakthrough swimming" and i have read that quote.

I feel that his views are not " up to date" on all strokes. He advocates pushing the chin forward on fly to breathe and makes no mention of the new " front end fly " technique. The chapters on Back and Breast also miss a few of the newer developments.

However, his chapters on " flow control" and hand shaping are excellent.

To do as he suggests on freestyle, watching the hand enter the water, is too have a very high head position.

There has been a fascinating discussion on " rec.sport.swimming" forum ( do a google search for it ) about this. Larry Weisenthal is a strong proponent of holding the head very high, arching the back to try to hydroplane and using a ' loping ' assymetric stroke, with a fast stroke rate. He feels that the whole TI paradigm of lowering the head, being horizontal in the water and emphasising long stroke length is incorrect.

I have been heavily influenced by the core- body, Boomer, TI paradigm but I want to fully examine alternative view points.

I coached a guest swimmer last month who was up from London. He had all of the characteristics of the head high, back arch, hydroplaning, loping stroke. He was also very fast, being ranked 24th in the 50 free ( 19 yrs ) in the UK. His 100m free was 58 seconds using only 29 cycles ( 58 strokes ).

Could he be faster if he lowered his head and swum horizontally through the water or does his technique contribute to his speed?

He also has big hands and feet and great ankle flexibility which leads to a great kick.

My initial views are that if you have a very propulsive kick then the high body position can work for you. The hips naturally sink if you raise the head and upper body. However a strong kick can keep the hips up.

If you have poor ankle flexibilty and hence a weak kick ( runners and tri people ) and tried to swim this way then your hips and legs would sink in the water, creating 20 % extra drag, and you would swim more slowly than if you kept your head lower in the water.

I am still evaluating all of this and seeing what works. At the end of the day if it works for some swimmers then use it, we can't force everyone to swim the same way. The elite swimmers tend to make the breakthroughs and we play 'catch up'.

September 26th, 2003, 02:09 PM
Thanks to everyone for the input and reality check.

It seems to me that if you try to see your hand enter, your face would either need to be way too far forward (neck craned upward)--which we all agree is a bad thing--or you would have to wait until the hand is lower in the water, starting the catch, by which time it is too late to turn and breathe.

Personally I follow a version of what Mark Varney outlines, doing it by "feel" and then "leaning" on the extended arm to initiate the roll to breathe.

Experts differ I guess. As Dylan said, "Don't follow leaders, watch yer parking meters."

Matt S
September 29th, 2003, 02:35 PM

You have proposed some interesting questions. I am suspicious of arguments in favor of the hydroplane approach for a number of reasons:
1) I too heard this line of reasoning in high school, in the 1970's. However, even world class sprinters would be hard pressed to exceed a speed of 8.2 km/hour (this is a bit faster than a 22 second 50 meters), yet most boats have to go substantially faster than that to get the hydroplaning effect. Given that, this argument sounds a lot like some pseudo-scientific explanation a traditionalist would trot out to justify doing things the way they have always been done.
2) As you note, most people don't have the kind of speed or kick required to swim this way. Teaching them to swim like this would be a bit like teaching your child how to drive for the first time in a high performance racing auto.
3) Even for the talented, at some set distance a race transitions from a long sprint to a short distance event. Are you trying to become such a drop dead sprinter that you want to learn this style, which in many ways is the opposite of the balanced body style, and confuse yourself for anything else?

On the other hand: if the balanced body approach is always correct, why can swimmers with a strong kick usually kick substantially faster with a kick board? Wouldn't artificially raising your front shove your hips and legs deeper and increase resistance?

As the Bard would say, "There are more things in heaven and earth than our philosophy." I'd be interested in seeing a comparison of the two styles for accomplished sprinters. This would need to be more than a couple of swimmers, and comparing more than simple times. If you fall into the "well the current world record holder does it this way, so that means it is better for all swimmers under all circumstances" trap, you probably won't learn very much. But, careful study might bring some insight.


Gareth Eckley
September 30th, 2003, 10:22 AM

All of my instincts lead me to feel that the horizontally balanced, symmetrical stroke is the best way to go. Even "Magaschilo" in "Swimming Fastest" seems to have come round to this view. I have trouble believing that you can hydroplane at speeds of less than 2 metres per second !

However, there are a lot of people who swim very fast with the other style, and coaches who believe in it. I will be studying the swimmers at the UK Nationals this month to see which styles the swimmers are using.

I guess i just want to fully understand all viewpoints, so that I can do a better job of coaching.

With the "elite" swimmers, some elements of their stroke may work for them because of greater than average flexibility, or for bio-mechanical reasons. Not all that they do should be emulated by the less blessed.

For instance, I don't think I will be coaching a straight arm recovery to my swimmers.

I do feel that swimmers with poor "plantar flexion" and hence a weak kick should keep "catch-up" to a minimum and use a higher stroke rate than others, which does seem to be an area that Ti does not emphasise.

That may be for the reason that one of the areas Ti is focused on is lengthening the stroke and the swimmers that they usually teach really need this advice. Perhaps telling them to raise their stroke rate would confuse them or they might not be ready for that advice.

I am, finally, going on my first TI clinic next month, so I will find out first hand where they are at !