eVOLution of the Backstroke Breakout: Tennessee Trying More Tricks to Maintain Speed

  32 Braden Keith | February 06th, 2014 | College, Featured, News, SEC

Some top-secret video from a Tennessee Volunteers practice has leaked out.

Earlier in the season, SwimSwam’s Amanda Smith was watching swimming videos, and noticed the peculiar top-arm breakout that the Tennessee Volunteers have been using. Read more about those here.

At the time, we were teased a little bit by Tennessee Associate coach Tyler Fenwick with a “wait until you see our backstroke breakouts.”

Well, now we can all see them, thanks to some more sleuth work from Amanda. This video, posted on the Coach’s Eye website, shows a Tennessee swimmer demonstrating their unorthodox breakout. Many, many coaches believe that kicking on one’s side is faster, but Tennessee has taken it to the extreme with swimmers actually surfacing on their sides before their breakout stroke.

This time around, Fenwick says that “we’re just trying to ride that line and snap into the breakout,” emphasizing the smooth penetration of the water’s surface, followed by a more pronounced rotation than normal on the first stroke.

“It’s allowed our swimmers to carry speed through the breakout more effectively,” he said of early results.

We haven’t been able to obtain any race footage of the Volunteers have been using it in the meets to see if it’s given them a visible advantage over their opponents, but Fenwick says they’ve been using it all year, and it’s something we’ll be watching for in two weeks at the SEC Championships in Athens, Georgia.

For what it’s worth, Tennessee’s women’s backstroke group has quietly been developed into a very deep and very impressive group. For example, Lauren Solernou topped defending NCAA runner-up Sinead Russell in the teams’ dual meets last weekend.

Leave a Reply

32 Comments on "eVOLution of the Backstroke Breakout: Tennessee Trying More Tricks to Maintain Speed"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
2 years 8 months ago

They better be careful of not being past 180 or else they should be DQ’d

I get it, but...
2 years 8 months ago

I understand the concept and the physics of it, but I have to agree with SwimFan. Officials are probably going to call this a DQ more likely than not. Especially at the age-group level where officials might not be as seasoned or in the know of what the purpose of this technique is (obviously not all, but many).

2 years 8 months ago

The exit off the start is legal. The exit off the turn is a stroke infraction (shoulders past vertical) right around the 18 second mark (right shoulder past vertical).
There is nothing illegal per se about the technique just can’t push it past vertical.
I’m sure the TN coaches are well versed in the rules and will have their swimmers trained to execute it properly

2 years 8 months ago

I saw them compete at a meet and their female backstrokers looked awful and the ‘new breakout technique’ wasn’t helping. Not sure if this breakout needs a serious taper too.

2 years 8 months ago

Wow, looks fast, but bizarre. It seems that she is taking a freestyle stroke whilst upside down prior to the breakout?

2 years 8 months ago

This seems a bit counterintuitive. Especially when she comes off that turn — wouldn’t she want to use the other arm to rotate more naturally to the surface and kind of pop/explode through the breakout?

2 years 8 months ago

Their philosophy is to hold a tight line for as long as possible, which means not popping through the breakout. Same as the way they break out with the top arm in the sprint free races. So it’s not counterintuitive, just requires a shift in the way you think about breakouts

Ole 99
2 years 8 months ago

Looked like she went over onto her stomach side.

Graham Murdoch
2 years 8 months ago

It’s something you might see at a junior meet. Is the body rotation helping attaining a streamline, I would question this?. I would also say that the water will be moving into adjacent lane from the kick. Would she want that back? I don’t think it helps, the fastest dolphin kickers I’ve seen stay supine. Can she get to 15 m in 5’5 secs, if not . Why is this posted

2 years 8 months ago

Garrr… newfangled ideas… keep them to yourselves!!! Sharing is bad. Just show us videos of stuff we do already!!!

C’mon SwimSwam… get your act together and shut down these out of control coaches who aren’t doing what I do!!! It’s becoming a real problem that they keep trying to innovate!

And get off my lawn, goshdangit!!!

2 years 8 months ago

Whipper-snappers always playing their rock and roll music too loud! Don’t they know I’m trying to watch Matlock!!!

2 years 8 months ago

Kredich and Boomer pushing the envelope..visually it makes complete sense THE EXIT (this is what they call it, not a breakout AND THAT makes even more sense linguistically & philosophically if you were able to listen to his presentation at ASCA)..the transition looks very natural and smooth.

Let’s remember that these guys are top notch coaches at a top notch school with top notch athletes, they don’t do things just because they “think” it will be faster; they theorize that, yes, but they test and test and test – and refine, refine, refine.

I would wonder if the kicks on the back are as strong as on the side, seems to be that they wouldn’t be…but they must be doing this for a reason. The ratio to net gain on the exit to any loss (if any exists) on the kicks must make it worth it.

Thanks Matt & Bill!

tall n wet
2 years 8 months ago

Unorthodox, yes. Effective? We’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps its some kind of drill used for race pace. But I am curious to know if tangible improvement is measurable, otherwise we may have been given a glimpse into what backstroke will look like at the next World Champs and Olympics

2 years 8 months ago

It really looks like when she takes that top arm pullout off of the turn that her top shoulder rotates past vertical to me.

2 years 8 months ago

I agree, but the rules say it is the position of the hips that determine whether the swimmer is on their “back” or “breast” and from that camera angle it’s tough to see whether the hips pass perpendicular.

2 years 8 months ago

This is very interesting. I am a coach of younger swimmers (a Senior Prep group), but I do have a 12 year old girl that is a 58.5 in the 100 back. She has insanely great underwaters and I taught her to FOIL kick this season. The problem is not all stroke and turn judges are familiar with FOIL; she was actually DQ’d at a championship meet because they said she was too much on her stomach (she wasn’t). If kicking on the side is faster, stroke and turn judges need to be well informed about what is legal and what is not. If a kid did this at the Tom Dolan Invitational this year at Dolan, just like my swimmer simply FOILed, they would have surely been DQ’d. I think that’s the only negative side of this if it is in fact faster.

The big reason I like it, and am willing to try it with some of my higher level swimmers, is that it may stop them from popping up out of the water during their breakout. Anything is worth a try, but I just think it needs to be executed carefully or that best time may just be a disqualification instead. Thanks for sharing!!!

2 years 8 months ago

Experimentation is certainly important when trying to find every means to be at your fastest…

My concern would be applying this to anything beyond a 200 medley relay or the start of a 100 backstroke. Unless the athlete has this hammered out perfectly, I can see fatigue causing a person to be short of perfectly on there side creating an awkward body position for that top arm stroke.

I am sure they thought of this as well, but my biggest concern is that top arm during the initial pull as fatigue sets in (like say the final wall of a 200 back). If you have created this velocity with your dolphin kick, you are sticking this arm out to start your swimming. Though you are using it to create propulsion, it has also created frontal resistance. That arm is almost perfectly straight, which means there is a lot of surface area for which the water to push against just prior to the breakout. As you fatigue, I could see as this arm sticks out grabbing the water and pulling you towards the breast (like she did off the turn).

Its called backstroke for a reason
2 years 8 months ago

No offense to Tennessee, but why do they believe they always know the fastest “breakout” to the long axis strokes. The breakout looks ridiculous and very sketchy, especially the second breakout. It is a freestyle pull during backstroke. The risk of getting DQ’ed is definitely not worth the hundredths of a second it may equate to if that. I would think maintaining your line o your back as you break the surface would be way faster than completely switching planes immediately. If it were faster don’t you think we would have seem Grevers, Franklin, Thoman, Coughlin, Peirsol, etc. doing it?

2 years 8 months ago

I mean, what’s with all this crazy dolphin kicking cap? Don’t you think if it was useful Rick Carey, John Naber And Roland Mathes would have done it?

It’s a risky fad, and since those guys didn’t do it, it ain’t worth thinking about.

2 years 8 months ago

And this newfangled tumble turn nonsense? What is this, free swim? Touch the wall like a civilized person… If Johnny Weissmuller didn’t see the need to somersault, neither do I.

And don’t even get me started on these “goggles”… quit your whining and grow up!!!

2 years 8 months ago

What’s next? A butterfly pull with a breaststroke recovery for the breaststroke breakout? CMON!

2 years 8 months ago

I hear ya… next thing we know we’ll just be Triple-Lindy’ing into the water on starts and wearing fins and jet packs. Where does the insanity end?!?!?!?!?!

tall n wet
2 years 8 months ago

Doing dolphin kicks while on your side isnt exactly new. If youre curious, go to YouTube and search for race footage of the mens 400 medley relay from the 1998 World Champs. In that video you will see Michael Klim of AUS dolphin kicking on his side before he pops up to do butterfly.

2 years 8 months ago

I realize that it isn’t new, but more swimmers are doing it these days and not all officials can recognize the difference between what is legal and illegal.

2 years 8 months ago

wonder why their best male backstroker doesn’t use this breakout?

Steve Nolan
2 years 8 months ago

But I am not at all curious why the best female backstroker does not use it. They’re basically playing a different sport.

2 years 8 months ago

Since I don’t see it mentioned already (if I missed it, I apologize), I wanted to mention that the water you would be pulling with that arm angle cannot be very beneficial for grabbing and moving forward. Water that close to the surface, especially if there is any chop from either her or neighboring lanes, would hold a lot of air and not give you the same pull that a deeper catch would.

That said, I guess each swimmer can try it and see the results. It is pretty easy to take a few 15m splits of each and find out whether or not there is a difference.

2 years 8 months ago

To be clear the relative position to vertical of the SHOULDERS not the hips determine legality. Excerpts below from both USA Swimming and NCAA rules. While the viewing angle of the video is not the best it is a very close call on the exit as to whether the top shoulder is past vertical towards the breast. If stroke is being judged from end of lanes vs sides shoulder position will be readily apparent to the official on whether it is legal or not. Tennessee swimmers are pushing the edge here clearly.

USA SwimmingTechnical Rules
.2 Stroke — The swimmer shall push off on his back and continue swimming on the back throughout the race.
Glossary Definition
ON THE BACK — position of the body when the shoulders are at or past vertical towards the back.
ON THE BREAST — position of the body when the shoulders are at or past vertical towards the breast.

NCAA Technical Rules
SECTION 2. Swimming Events Backstroke
ARTICLE 1.b. The swimmer shall push off on the back (i.e., with the upper shoulder at or past the vertical toward the supine position)

Coach john
2 years 8 months ago

I love it…look at number of responses, it gets us coaches thinking…something we need to do desperately as we go into rio!

Christian Hanselmann
2 years 8 months ago

From what I understand, the idea of the top-arm pulling is not about propulsion. It is more about keeping a streamlined position through the exit so that when the swimmers surface they can initiate propulsion with the bottom arm.
As coaches, we have the tendency to think that the fastest way to move through the water is creating as much propulsion as possible. Perhaps the concept of drag has gotten left behind somewhat. Drag is a limiting factor to any propulsion created by the swimmer.
Naturally, during a race it is not prudent to do something a swimmer is uncomfortable with. But anything that might be better is worth taking a look at. Misty Hyman’s coach said that dolphin kicking on your side is the way to do it (Swim Coach’s Bible). This isn’t a new concept, just one that is much less talked about.

top arm
2 years 8 months ago

The top arm exit works.


About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

The most common question asked about Braden Keith is "when does he sleep?" That's because Braden has, in two years in the game, become one of the most prolific writers in swimming at a level that has earned him the nickname "the machine" in some circles. He first got his feet …

Read More »