As per usual, the comments on a floswim video got my brain buzzing and I had to blog about it…
Ryosuke Irie’s recent backstroke world record video was posted and it was good enough footage that we all got a really great look at his above and below water technique. He is incredibly smooth and looks amazingly relaxed for a guy who just took down a very respectable record by a full second. The most noticeable thing about his stroke though, is his body position. He allows himself to “sit-up” in the water… and if you have ever coached age groupers, that is a pretty big NO-NO.
I remember hearing Gregg Troy speak at a convention once (with Ryan Lochte demonstrating drills) and he really stressed that they made a point of allowing a wide hand entry, with a focus on quickly driving the hand deep and palm down. When I swam I remember focusing on shoulder rotation and getting my arm basically behind my head (which I feel now was over-reaching) and entering pinky first (but never getting beyond that to palm down for a press.) After the clinic I came home and played around with it to decide how I wanted to implement it into my program. I felt that coach Troy was right in that it helped to relieve stress on the shoulder, allowed my tempo to be more relaxed and ultimately quicker, and gave me a better catch which lead to more leverage and power in the water.
Then I got Mickey Wender’s videos from Championship Productions (which are excellent, by the way) and he also stressed the palm down press and said it should be as early in the stroke as possible. This reminds me of an interview with the coach of Krisztina Egerzegi (I wish I could find a link) in which he said that what set her apart from other swimmers was her incredible range of motion that allowed her to pull completely under her body, which I feel would lead to an earlier press and gives Wender‘s advice more credibility.
On Wender’s video, he made mention of the Japanese developing a “new backstroke” where they were almost entering palm down rather than pinky first, which brings the press to it’s earliest possible point in the stroke, thus maximizing it’s benefit. I remember when I first saw this video, I could not imagine how anyone could do that without compromising their “leaned back” body position. I just thought the trade-off would be too much. I just assumed that the Japanese might be on to something but that it would lead them on the “path of diminishing returns” as Jonty Skinner would put it. Now we see Irie crushing the world record with what most would consider a compromised body position and more rotation than Lochte and Piersol.
So that takes me to my previous blog about the changes in sprint freestyle recently. Jonty Skinner’s point was that the suits might be allowing swimmers with what would normally be considered “inferior technique” to excel. I see a lot of swimmers who compromise body position when they are learning backstroke, because that slight “sitting up” position is more comfortable and often gives them a more powerful pull. We usually eventually break them of it over the course of their age group career because we know that not getting the head back and hips up creates too much resistance and can hinder rotation… but in the age of the technical suit, is that wise? Could that little bit of buoyancy put us over the edge of the diminishing return? Are the Japanese on the right track now that suits are part of the equation? Could the suits have nothing to do with it? Is Irie just that much more efficient? His line and balance are spectacular, so it is not inconceivable that he would be the world's best even without the influence of technology.
Like I said before, my brain is buzzing. Ryosuke Irie might just be pioneering the new direction for backstroke and changing everything I have taught my swimmers in the past. I have a lot of video analyzing to do.