Over the past few years, we’ve seen more and more of Ryan Lochte in the news. Asides from being a multiple Olympic medalist, Ryan’s hit major headlines for some good, some bad, and some very interesting decisions. Asides from all the lifestyle drama that seems to surround Ryan, we can definitely agree on one thing—he was the first to attempt dolphin kicking on his back doing Freestyle and IM races.
When Ryan first started executing the dolphin kick on his back, it caused an uproar in the swimming community—as the problem was, there was no rule against it. Ryan was working within a gray area.
To his credit (and his coaches), a lot of GREAT swimmers have pushed the boundaries when it comes to swimming. For example, you have Kosuke Kitijama, who started dolphin kicking during his Breaststroke pullouts (before it was legal). You have David Berkoff, who stayed underwater for more than 25m (on both laps) during his 100m backstroke at the 1988 Olympic games. And there’s plenty more stories like that to name.
So actually what Ryan did wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, he was hoping to get faster and find that competitive edge within the current rulebook’s stipulations.
As a stroke technique expert, I immediately was drawn to Ryan’s decision and wanted to learn more about WHY dolphin kicking on your back is FASTER than on your stomach. Here’s what I’ve found:
Gravity Helps Create a MORE Powerful “Down-Kick”.
When you look at the “down-kick” versus the “up-kick” while kicking on your back, the “up-kick” is more powerful due to the availability and firing of the quadriceps muscle. With this, when swimmers up-kick—they generate a LOT of force, but they are also pushing against gravity—which weakens this portion of the kick.
On the flip side during the “down-kick”, swimmers generates less power (as the hamstrings don’t generate as much force production), BUT this portion of the kick is aided by gravity—as the motion of the kick is in the same direction as the gravitational pull. By combining the use of gravity with the less powerful “down-kick”, it allows swimmers to generate more force and even out the force disparity between the two kicking motions.
Some swimmers are even available to generate more acceleration due to the help from gravity—making their “down-kicks” more efficient compared to their “up-kicks”.
When swimmers are on their stomachs, they don’t see the same benefit—as gravity helps make the “down-kick” even stronger and resists the weaker “up-kick”–providing an even larger force production disparity.
Kicking on Your Back ALLOWS Your Torso to REST on Your Spine.
When you put swimmers on their backs, their soft tissues (skin, muscles, ligaments, and tendons) sit against their spines—due to gravity.
If you flip swimmers over to their stomachs, all that soft tissue is now HANGING off their spines. What this does is changes swimmers’ body alignment and adds more drag. This increase in drag only affects swimmers when on their stomachs, and not on their backs!
Don’t FORGET About Wave Disturbances!
When swimmers are kicking on their fronts or backs, they cause surface water disturbances—which create small air disturbances. Obviously, kicking the air doesn’t help swimmers move forward, so we want to avoid that at all costs.
When you look at this pertaining to swimmers kicking on their back, we already discussed that swimmers are capable of making their “down-kick” portion of their dolphin kick FASTER by use of gravity. What is good about this is the “down-kick” motion is when swimmers are kicking AWAY from the surface. Whereas, on your stomach, the weaker “up-kick” is already resisting gravity and when the feet get near the surface it causes those disturbances. This not only further depletes the availability to generate speed during the “up-kick” motion, but it creates an even LARGER speed disparity.
In summary, it’s pretty evident WHY dolphin kicking on your back is FASTER. Not only do swimmers generate more force due to the help from gravity, they are also in better body position, and create less air disturbances while on their backs!
So while Ryan Lochte may have gotten a few things wrong over the past couple years, there is NO denying he got this right!
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“The so-called “Lochte Rule” is not actually a rule so much as FINA’s official interpretation of IM rules, which require an athlete to swim one-quarter (and no more than one-quarter) of the race in each of the four competitive strokes. FINA ruled that kicking on one’s back constituted backstroke, and doing so in the freestyle leg meant a swimmer was swimming more than one-quarter of the race in backstroke.”
When all is done Lochtes Swimming will shine through, what he did between 2004-2013 was incredible.
His consistency, versatility and journey from great swimmer to an elite game changer was a pleasure to watch.
2011 he was sensational.
Lochte got a lot right besides this. He’s a great guy and a great swimmer, and Team USA is worse off without him as is the sport itself. His one year suspension is a fine example of replacing brains with rules, and enforcing them as absurdum.
Over the past ten years, I’d say Lochte has been one of the hardest workers on earth.
agreed with that . He pushed the enveloppe so deep that he overworked it a bit too much somehow ….
Did a lot of hard work at that gas station in Brazil too, eh?
Probably not… that poster didn’t look like it needed much hard work to take down, and most of the rest of the time he was sitting.
He did however work hard to make the team, you know, the reason why he was in Brazil at that time…
put that story away Man – its about time u reflect on your youth / pre -adult days ( where i am sure u did a lot of crazy mistakes )
Even more hard work lying about what happened there.
There’s no doubt in my mind, RL worked twice as hard and three times as consistently as Phelps to get to almost the same level.
In 2009-2012 yeah, but Phelps wasn’t lying around in 2002-2008
Terrible analysis. How do you know that the gravity contributes more force to the downkick than it takes away from the upkick? When you’re on your back, gravity can still pull your hips out of alignment and create drag– why do you assume the spine prevents all of this drag?
If you’re trying to publicize your Black Friday sale, just make a normal ad and go. No need to cook up a poorly informed article.
If you’re going to disagree with something, why do you have to be so angry and mean about it? Why can’t you disagree on facts without attacking the core of the people who are sharing their information? Sure, there’s an ad attached to it, but Chris is a qualified person with a qualified opinion. No coach has it right 100% of the time, but comments like yours don’t help foster an atmosphere of discussion and learning that makes more coaches right more often. Do you think that being mean makes you look smarter, somehow?
Be better than this. Elevate your profession and professionalism, don’t be petty.
Where is the research? No journal articles cited, no scholarly worked mentioned. I’d like to see some more substance to go with this on your back is faster claim, regardless of the turn out.
During the downkick the lower leg is a class 3 lever with fulcrum at the knee creating a better mechanical advantage against fluid resistance at the foot than a longer lever with fulcrum at the hip.
The analysis of gravity and biomechanics was completely erroneous. I would not consider the author to be an expert on swimming technique based on what was written in this article.
Not so sure about the gravity argument. First off, maybe it should be called buoyancy. Second, how much does buoyancy help? Water is about 1 kg/liter and people are also about 1 kg/liter. This si not to say that his downkick is unimportant. I’m sure it is likely that it is an important part of his success. But this is not well explained by buoyancy imo.
Yes I agree with you. Even though the relationship between body density and water density varies depending on the water composition (salinity), most of the time, our bodies are equal to or less dense than water (hence why our bodies buoy up). Based on the formula for buoyancy, FB = ρf Vf g, when we are facing down, our “kick up” should have the help of buoyancy, making the motion “easier”, and therefore closing the gap between both kicks. I could be wrong but I believe that there is probably another explanation for it. Maybe something to do with the summation of the forces : buoyancy (up) + strong kick down (that moves the body up and forward) vs buoyancy… Read more »
I thought body density is not even (unlike water) and thus our buoyancy and balance in water affected by other factors (air in lung, and the teaching of swimming “downhill”). In any case, I would love that to be true cause I can’t float flat (on my back or on my stomach) without my leg sinking and I “float” vertical in the water 🙁
Yeah, my thoughts exactly. It’s just easier to stay under with the way human bodies are made.
I saw Misty Hyman go 15m on her back every wall of a 1000yd Fr at AZ SC Champs in the very early 2000’s
Wow that is amazing!
Her “fish kick” was a thing of beauty.
Oh yeah, it was amazing!
One thing about kicking out on your that I don’t like is that you have to continue to blow air out of your nose, causing more oxygen deprivation. But for elite swimmers I’m not sure if it matters.
I raced NCAAs next to Berkoff – and we did 99% of 100y back underwater, no 15-rule. My nose was (and is) too big to curl my upper lip under my nostrils. I hated wearing a nose clip, but it made all the difference.
Why didn’t you just turn your head, you goofy side breather.
In the NCAA is it 15m permitted underwater or 15 yards?
Who downvoted this? haha
You have to let just a liiiitle bit of water into your nostrils. It’s not comfortable at first – might need to use your upper lip to help plug your nose. But watch elite backstroke and you will not see them breathing out underwater.
Natalie Coughlin used to talk about the “upper lip curl” to prevent blowing all of your air out.
Just let the water go up your nose. Doesn’t hurt after the first wall.
Berkoff and Lochte were working inside of existing rules (or, at most, gray areas). Kitijama blatantly broke existing rules on pullouts.
Agreed! Cheating is not “pushing the boundaries”. It’s crossing the boundaries to gain an advantage illegally. Kitajima cheated and robbed Hansen of his legitimate gold medal.
If he deserved it he would have won. I’m all for Hansen he was a great swimmer but maybe him winning just wasn’t meant to be
well yeah, when someone cheats and gets away with it you tend to lose if you follow the rules
Let’s apply this logic to other sports controversies and see if it makes sense…*clears throat* Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs to help win the Tour de France 7 times, but if other cyclists deserved to win hen they would have done so…it just must not have been meant to be fore those other cyclists…you can use that type of logic to justify somebody “winning” anything regardless of the existing rules. Insert Barry Bonds name and you get the same thing.
Oh please. Jimbo. Really?
He didn’t blatantly break rules. The rule left a gray area, the body dolphin. Just like the other innovators, he pushed the boundaries and in doing so revolutionized the pullout.
That was no “body dolphin”! I saw the uw camera live and I remember thinking that he definitely did an illegal dolphin kick. He bent his knees and everything.