Free speed- Introducing the Air Gallop for Open Water Swimming

Thanks to Eney Jones for contributing this story.

“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!”
Dr. Seuss

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Swimming is not golf, there are no extra points for the least amount of strokes taken. It is not diving, there are no extra points for pretty. Swimming is swimming. Whoever gets from here to there first, wins. Many coaches stress high elbows, bilateral breathing, flatness and symmetry. While this works there just might be something better.

Katie Ledecky, World Record holder says “My technique is kind of a loping stroke, not the prettiest stroke but the most efficient for me.”

Ledecky is coached by Bruce Gemmell. Gemmell also coaches his son, Andrew Gemmell, a premier distance and open water swimmer, (who also has an air gallop). Andrew Gemmell is seen here winning the Olympic Trials 1500 meter freestyle in 2012.

Bruce Gemmell says, “The gallop is mostly driven by the right tempo. Too fast and the athlete spins and loses any delay necessary for the gallop. Too slow of tempo and the athlete lags or drops too low between strokes and the advantages of galloping are lost. Each athlete has their own “best tempo”. It’s driven by their own anatomy, conditioning and stroke mechanics.”

Another example of air galloping or easy recovery, is shown in this next clip of Kane Radford, a New Zealand open water champion.

Now, that you have seen examples, the question that evolves is how can this be taught? How do you keep the integrity of the catch, without dropping the shoulder, staying connected left to right, and riding the surge for extra reach? One way is to attach the waltz 1-2-3 or air gallop to a mantra. For some triathletes I CAN SWIM, works. If they are a right sided breather, I can is on the left arm and swim is on the right arm the breathing side with the faster recovery,or vice versa if they are a left sided breather.

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fall_of_Phaeton_(National_Gallery_of_Art)

To explain the science of why mobility is important in the shoulders and upper thoracic in swimmers is described in the way a horse can gallop. Dr Alan Wilson, Professor of Locomotor Biomechanics at the College of London, said, “A horse’s leg resembles a pogo stick that uses energy stored in the muscles and tendons to propel the animal forwards and upwards. We have found that the stiffer a horse’s leg restricts how quickly it can transmit force to the ground and bounce back up again and also increases the chances of injury. The team has also found that fast horses can bring their legs forward quickly in preparation for the next stride but that this is more difficult and therefore slower for large and long-legged horses.”

While we strive for perfection, we often should just strive to get it done. Because nothing beats something that is driven by the heart. Reminiscent of 1979 song, Locomotion using “a little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul”; will go a long way!

Beat on.

Eney Jones has achieved remarkably diverse success as a leading pool, open water and Ironman triathlon swimmer, and is also a yoga instructor.

  • Masters National Champion 100-200-400-500-1500-1650 5k freestyle 2009
  • Open Water 5k Champion Perth Australia, May 2008.
  • National Masters Champion 200-400-1500 freestyle Champion, Portland Oregon, August, 2008.
  • Overall Champion Aumakua 2.4k Maui Hawaii, September 2008
  • Waikiki Rough Water Swim 3rd place 2006, second place Overall 2009, 3rd place 2012
  • European Record Holder and Masters Swimming Champion, 2005. Records included 200, 400, 800, 1500 m freestyle
  • Over twenty time finalist in U.S. Swimming Nationals, including Olympic Trials 1980
  • Gold medal NCAA 800 yd freestyle relay 1979, silver Medalist 200 yd freestyle 1979. United States National Team 1979-1980.
  • Professional Triathlete 1983-1991. First woman out of the water in every Hawaiian Ironman participated (6).

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