The Quest to Hydroplane: Nuances of an Elite Sprinter
Watching fast swimmers do freestyle is a thing of beauty. It looks easy but it is not. Hard and sustained training is an integral part of that formula but there are more pieces to the puzzle. At The Race Club, we pride ourselves in coaching some of the world’s best sprinters. There are five subtle adjustments we teach a sprinter at TRC to get closer to the ultimate goal of hydroplaning across the surface. When you see a great sprinter in real-time, you may not always have time to appreciate these important techniques.
1. High stroke rate
You won’t find sprinters that turn their arms over slowly. In freestyle, there are two main styles that are recognized by the swimming community. In hip-driven freestyle, one pushes the hand forward in the water after the entry, relying on big hip rotation, a strong kick and the Bernoulli (commonly associated with airplane wings) Effect to lift the body in the water. In shoulder-driven freestyle, the arms turn over much faster and work more like a propeller than a wing. Sprinters use their arms in this fashion to rise up in the water, even though there are only two blades in use, the right and left hand.
2. Attack from above
Sprinters recover their arms more vertically than distance swimmers. Whether the arm recovery is straight or bent at the elbow, virtually every sprinter gets vertical from the elbow to the shoulder as the arm passes through the air on the recovery. This high attack angle enables the sprinter to get into the propulsive phase faster and creates more body rotation to increase the power of each pull.
3. Work the lift phase
Once the hand enters the water, it will travel forward and down. We call this the lift phase because the motion and forces are downward, resulting in a lift of the body. The sprinter understands the importance of lift as every millimeter higher in the water the body gets, the less frontal drag occurs and the faster the swimmer goes. When the hand enters the water, the sprinter immediately pushes down hard with the hand and forearm.
4. Elevate the chest
Seldom discussed, this is one of the most important maneuvers that a sprinter will make in the water. By pushing the chest upward toward the sky or ceiling and hunching the shoulders slightly, the entire upper body elevates in the water. This motion also helps to lower the head and keep the body more in alignment, reducing frontal drag.
5. Sustained six beat kick
Most people know what a six-beat kick is, but few can use it like a sprinter does. The kick of a fast sprinter is hard, works in both directions, and is contained in a smaller area. In other words, the sprinter’s kicks are tighter, faster and relentless. This type of kick provides more propulsion, higher lift and keeps the athlete’s body speed at a more constant rate, obeying the immutable law of inertia.
Hydroplaning the human body in the water may be the hallmark of a great sprinter, but the quest for this desirable trait does not come easy. It is fun to imagine that perhaps one day we will see a swimmer someday so powerful that he or she will rise above the water. If we ever see that swimmer, I assure you that they will not only shatter every record, but will be swimming using all five of the techniques listed above.
Yours in swimming,