SwimSwam contributor Chris O’Linger is an assistant coach at the University of the Incarnate Word.
When it comes to distance pool swimming, no male athletes will be referenced more often than Sun Yang or Grant Hackett. Sun and Hackett have displayed domination for several uncontested years on an international stage. There are obviously subtle differences between these two swimmers and other elite level milers on cognitive and psychological levels, but there are many strikingly similar qualities of their physical freestyle stroke that sets them apart from the average endurance swimmer.
1) Vertical Catch:
Both athletes reach a high 90-degree vertical catch with the hand and forearm long before their elbows are at anatomical shoulder height, allowing them to begin their pull earlier and accelerate further into their push and extension at the back of their stroke.
2) Joint Flexibility and Range of Motion:
Both athletes have trained their elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles to be powerful under hyper-extended positions beyond that of other elite swimmers. This allows them to catch more water, produce higher hip velocity, and conserve energy from their major muscle groups throughout a race.
3) Hip Driven Rotation:
Sun and Hackett’s stroke derives from the torque their hips provide. Their uncontested torso strength and explosiveness allow them to take their extensions further in the front and back of their stroke, to conserve energy from their shoulders, and to hyper-rotate on breath cycles without hindering their forward motion.
4) Body and Head Position:
Both swimmers swim with a flat and natural postural stroke allowing for full range of motion. Their strokes prohibit the natural rising and digging of the shoulders, head, and neck, allowing them to constantly drive through the water at a comfortable and controlled pace. Their lower back and cores remain tense but unrestricted, allowing for the hips and shoulders to swivel independently and powerfully.
5) Constant Beat Kick, Stroke Count, and Tempo:
Both swimmers allow for three kicks on their intentional stroke (non-breath) and one kick on their recovery stroke (breath). At given points in the race, a balanced six-beat kick is established for speed, but the tempo and stroke count for Sun and Hackett are consistent throughout the initial 1400 meters. (Sun- 13-14 cycles per 50 meters @ 1.82-1.91 tempo / Hackett- 15-16 cycles per 50 meters @ 1.63-1.70 tempo).
O’Linger is an assistant swim coach for the Incarnate Word swimming and diving program. He swam collegiately at both the University of Florida and University of Tampa. He earned a degree in social psychology from Tampa. He is studying kinesiology.