Breaststroke: Climbing to the Top
On July 7,2004, at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Kaitlin Sandeno swam a 4:40.39 400 IM to place second and earn a ticket to Athens, Greece. A month later on Aug. 14, she swam a 4:34.95 to take Olympic silver.
What happened in those 38 days to enable her to take 5.44 seconds off her personal best and to demolish the American record? “I really focused on my breaststroke, ” says Sandeno.
One of the things Kaitlin worked on was how she climbs toward air. Getting an effective breath in breaststroke involves more than just lifting your head up to air. It involves a combination of actions that are as simple as climbing out of the pool.
As you study this series of photos, try to envision a wall in place of the water, and imagine that Kaitlin is doing something familiar to all swimmers: climbing out of the pool.
Photo #1: Grab the Ledge
Kaitlin grabs hold of the water so definitely and precisely that it’s as if she were grabbing a solid ledge. Notice how everything is in placeright at the surface-to start an effective “climb.”
Her eyes are angled down, and her head is just starting to break through the surface. Her elbows are high, which will pitch the hands out and down toward the bottom of the pool. Her hips are very high, and are just under the surface of the water-so close that you can see the wave they’re creating. Everything is poised right at the surface.
Photo #2: Power It UP…er… FORWARD
This is where you really get the sense that Kaitlin is climbing, or lifting, herself out of the pool. But if you look closely at the pitch of her hands, you’ll notice that she’s not lifting herself up, but rather forward.
Kaitlin keeps her elbows high and in the “power” position. Her hips are still very high, and her head hasn’t really pitched upward much; it’s mainly just getting a bit higher as Kaitlin draws her hips toward her hands.
Photo #3:1 Can see Coach’s Feet!
Kaitlin keeps her head in line with the rest of her body as she continues to “hang onto the ledge of the pool” and draws her hips forward. She sweeps her hands inward to continue the pull.
Here, again, it helps to imagine where your hands would be as you make the final push to climb out of the pool. They would be closer together rather than far apart. Notice how Ratlin’s hips have stayed at the same level and have been drawn forward in a direct line toward the spot where her hands initiated the pull (i.e., grabbed the ledge).
Photo #4: Step onto the Deck
Notice how everything about Kaitlin’s body position says “forward.” Her head is still in line with the rest of her body, and her eyes are looking down and forward to the spot where she’ll re-enter the water. Her shoulders and back are angled forward, rather than up and down.
As Kaitlin gets her mouth clear of the water and completes the insweep of her pull, her hips have come as far forward as they will in this stroke cycle. She has drawn the hips and legs forward, and is ready to begin the actual kick. Her hands are close together, preparing to drive forward with a narrow recovery to limit resistance and maximize the effect of the kick.
Remember: if you want to practice a good power move in breaststroke, simply place your hands on the wall, and climb out of the pool. When you do this, your goal is to get your body, or hips, closer to the edge so you can get your feet high enough to step onto the deck.
In the water, the goal is pretty much the same: you set your hands in a spot, then draw your hips to that spot to set up for a great kick. The added benefit is that your shoulders and head have popped out of the water and you can get a clean breath.
Glenn Mills is Swimming World’s technical advisor. Check out his website at www.goswim.tu and watch for “Go Swim 4 Strokes with Kaitlin Sandeno and Erik Vendt, ” a new DVD coming in early 2005.
Copyright Sports Publications, Inc. Jan 2005
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