Courtesy of Bridger Bell
In this video, Johns Hopkins freshman swimmer Gwynnie LaMastra demonstrates the “breaststroke connectedness” drill described in the article “What All Great Breaststrokers Do (that the rest don’t).” The drill consists of one-arm breaststroke with a stick, alternating arms, where the non-stroking arm is fully extended holding the stick.
Depending on the swimmer’s individual style of breaststroke, the I believe the optimum gap between the upper body press and the power phase of the kick ranges from ~0.1-0.3 seconds. I believe this drill can help train that timing.
On her first, uncoached, performance of the drill, Gwynnie swam flatter and more elongated, with a longer gap of about 0.24-0.30 seconds between the upper body press and the power phase of the kick. This is about the maximum gap you’d want to see and is probably not optimal for Gwynnie.
The second time through, I asked Gwynnie to use a faster tempo with the idea that she’d find the optimum between the two after that. Here, her gap ranges between 0.18 and 0.24 seconds.
The third time through, Gwynnie found her personal optimum gap of 0.21 seconds between the press and the power phase of the kick, and you see the power transfer back from the press through the kick with a resulting surge forward, i.e. her “connectedness.”
Watching Gwynnie’s full-stroke swim, if we’re being meticulous, we see a very subtle change on her third stroke whereby the recovery of her hands has lost some connection with her body. Her first two strokes were slightly better–you might even call them great for her right now.
On the first two strokes, you can see her “head leading her hands,” by which I mean that the head progresses on its own path slightly ahead of the forward progress of the hands, which is a good thing. But on the third stroke, her “hands lead her head,” meaning they progress forward faster on their own path than her head does on its path; this is a symptom of a longer time-gap before the power phase of the kick. It’s hard to tell unless you watch her elbows on the recovery. When her power phase is slightly delayed, she looses a bit of her connectedness, sinking slightly, as seen by her elbows dropping into the recovery. The first two strokes were pretty ideal for her right now.
Throughout the drill and swim, Gwynnie’s forehead crosses the surface of the water when she hits maximum lateral rotation of the feet, i.e. just when she begins the power phase of the kick. This aspect of the timing will vary by swimmer. Some swimmers begin the power phase with the head still out, others have the face fully in the water before the power phase begins. What I believe to be consistent across great breaststrokers is the timing between the start of the press and the start of the power phase of the kick. For Gwynnie, on the drill and subsequently the swim, it takes her 0.18 to 0.30 seconds from the initiation of the press to the power phase of the back-kick, with about 0.21 seconds being her personal optimum.
Thanks to Hopkins Head Coach George Kennedy and Head Assistant Nikki Kett for facilitating the filming session, to Gwynnie LaMastra for volunteering to demonstrate, and to the commenters on the original article for requesting the video and guiding its content.
Bridger Bell is in his first year coaching with Johns Hopkins and is also the head coach at St. Paul’s School in Brooklandville, MD. Prior to that, he coached at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, where his boys and girls teams each won Georgia High School State Championships.
Bell served for six years as the National Director of Collegiate Club Swimming for the American Swimming Association, presiding over its growth from four to sixty-eight teams across the country and holding over 40 regular-season meets, seven regional championships and a national championship each season. Bell has been a competitive swimmer himself all his life and was a USMS National Champion and USMS All-American in the 2-mile cable swim. He was featured as a coach in the July and August 2014 issues of Swimming World Magazine. In addition to high school and now NCAA teams, Bell has coached summer league, collegiate club, USA Swimming, Masters.