1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).
I am a swimming coach for Madrid Swimming Federation working with swimmers on the Junior National Team. We are based in the Madrid High Performance Center where we work together with the elite group of Olympic swimmer and coach Bart Kizierowski. Our swimmers have obtained medals at international competitions both at junior and senior level. I am also Associate Professor at the Faculty of Sport Sciences (Technical Madrid University, Spain) where I teach biomechanics and skill acquisition. In 2010 I received my Doctorate in Sports Performance at the University Castilla La-Mancha (Spain) and I am a certified national swimming coach (Royal Spanish Swimming Federation) since 2005. My main research topic is performance analysis in swimming.
2. You recently published an article on backstroke turns, what do we know about backstroke turns?
The turn segment is a major contributor to swimming races that could represent up to one third of the total race time, especially in the short course events. Coaches and swimmers should be aware that swimming turns have a crucial impact on swimming performance because they can compensate slower swimming phases, especially in the longer events where the turning skills are repeated every lap.
In backstroke, despite previous studies have reported that swimmers perform a long underwater kicking phase (Blanksby et al., 2004; Kennedy et al., 1990) and that races rely more on the starts and turns (Kjendlie et al., 2006), there is a lack of investigations studying the key kinematic variables for the turning performance. Some studies have shown that higher skilled swimmers cut the turning times by increasing head to wall distance at the beginning of the turn, by extending the legs (between 100 and 120º angle) at the moment of touch to reduce contact time with the wall (Araujo et al., 2010; Blanksby et al., 2004; Puel et al., 2012) and by kicking efficiently in the first meters after the turn (Zamparo et al., 2012). However, most of the studies focus only on the freestyle turn.
In competition, the faster swimmers have been reported to obtain shorter 15 m turning times (Arellano et al., 1994) but very few studies have analyzed the complete turning movements including the complete underwater kicking phase (Blanksby et al., 2004; Chow et al., 1984, Mason and Cossor, 2001). Therefore, there are plenty of unknown questions about turn performance: How far should be the underwater kicking phase for competitive backstroke turns?, Is there any critical variable of the competitive backstroke turns?, Do significant changes occur in the competitive backstroke turn as the race progress?, …
3. What were the main findings in your study?
Our research group in the Madrid Technical University developed a new method for race analysis in swimming based on direct measurements of the distance traveled by swimmers during the starting or turning movements (Veiga et al., 2013). With this individualized-distance model we analyzed the turns of national and regional level swimmers throughout 200 m backstroke races focusing on the underwater swimming parameters (Veiga et al., 2013).
Our main finding was to reveal the underwater turn velocity as a critical variable for turning performance and it relationships to the swimmer’s level of skill. In our research, the fastest swimmers performed faster but no longer turns during the 200 m backstroke races. Previous studies had related the underwater velocity to the start performance (Burkett et al., 2010; Cossor and Mason, 2001; de Jesus et al., 2011; Pereira et al., 2006; Vantorre et al., 2010) but, to our knowledge, no such finding had been ever reported in the turn segment.
Another important finding was to report that the fastest swimmers maintained their turning times at the end of the race by increasing the underwater velocity in the last turn. They subordinated the underwater distance in order to maximize the underwater velocity and, therefore, to obtain a gain of mean race speed.
Finally, 200 m backstroke swimmers in our study only swim for about 75% of the race and rest is being done under water. Therefore, a short course swimmer will do a lot fewer cycles than in a Olympic size pool in comparison with other strokes.
When approaching the wall, trained swimmers tend to lose stroke frequency as they pay attention to the timing of the rolling from the supine to the prone position before commencing the tumble turn. One useful tip should be increasing kicking power in the last strokes before the turn.
During the tumble turn, swimmers often do not approach their limbs to the center of gravity resulting in a greater radius of gyration and a slower angular velocity. Swimmers should simultaneously move a) the chin closer to the neck b) the knees closer to the chest and c) the heels closer to the hips. The hands propulsion should also help to turn faster by moving the arms from the sides of the trunk (initial position) to the hydrodynamic position (final position).
Finally, on the underwater swimming phase, trained swimmers rarely adopt a good hydrodynamic position with fast underwater kicking. They should move the shoulders closer to the ears in order to avoid any space between the arms and the head and they should control the hip position to avoid an hyperextension of the trunk during the glide. Regarding the underwater kicking, they should avoid long apneas with slow underwater velocity. The underwater kicking is only efficient when it is performed faster than swimming above water velocity.
5. What are the most common mistakes on backstroke turns in elite swimmers?
Despite elite swimmers have usually overcome most of the common mistakes presented in trained swimmers, they often present two weak spots:
During wall feet contact swimmers should place feet parallel and with the toes looking upwards. This would represent a previous fast forward (not slightly sideward) tumble turn and would allow them to push off forcefully with the maximum peak forces on the wall.
From the beginning of the legs extension during the wall push off swimmers should adopt a hydrodynamic arm position. Usually, swimmers only adopt a minimum resistance arm position when the legs are almost fully extended and this impede them to maximize their velocity out off the wall.
For elite swimmers, the underwater turn phase represent a huge improvement area as most of them do not explode their maximum potential. They should play attention to the following key points:
Many elite swimmers with fast underwater velocities emerge at distances from the 15 m mark, specially on the 200 m events, due to their lack of conditioning.
Other elite swimmers extend their underwater kick too much resulting in a loss of speed because they are moving slower than above water.
Finally, the transition of the underwater kick to the swimming phase of the race should be made with a perfect breakout. The frequency of the two first strokes should be higher than the average swimming rate and it should allow for the swimmer head emersion at the moment the first arm push is over.
6. How can swimmers improve their turns?
The turning skills must be emphasized both with specific drills and also during long training sets. It is very important to work on turns at race velocities and paying attention at the tactical strategies during competition. Coaches must provide swimmers with specific protocols regarding the number of underwater kicking depending on the speed (sprint, mid-distance or distance races) but also depending on the turn order (controlled speed throughout the race but maximum speed on the last turn underwater kicking). These underwater kicking protocols must be rehearsed on a daily basis when performing race pace sets in training. Of course, the approach to the wall and the tumble turn should always be FAST.
For example, on a typical Heart Rate Set of 30x100 on 1’40 (50 m) descend 2-2-2, the turn kicking protocols could be set as:
- 2 sets focusing on pushing off the wall and streamlined position.
- 2 sets with mid-turn race kicking protocol.
- 2 sets with last-turn race kicking protocol.
7. How can swimmers improve their dolphin kicks?
For coaches and swimmers, the dolphin kicking must be considered as relevant as any other competitive stroke and coaches should program specific drills and training sets to work on it:
At the early ages, swimmers must work on their dolphin kick when performing kicking with a board. Swimmers must seek for the maximum forward displacement on each kick and, at the same time, they must intend to maintain and stable upper trunk and head position. The vertical displacement up and down must be performed only with lower body. At these ages, the main emphasis should not be put on the apnea kicking as children have not developed yet their anaerobic capacities to a high level.
As the swimmers develop, their training programs should include some apnea kicking sets on a daily basis, specially for the backstroke and butterfly specialists. These sets could assisted with fins or monofin and should focus both on the upward and downward kicking as both phases can provide propulsion [check out Monofin Kicking Doesn't Equal Double-Leg Kicking!].
Another useful way to improve dolphin kicks in swimmers of all ages is to work vertical kicking which can be easily arranged as a progression depending on the parts of the body above the surface level (hand, elbow, one arm, …)
8. What progressions do you see for the future of backstroke turns?
Considering that the underwater adulatory swimming (if performed properly) can be one of the fastest way of water human propulsion, I see most of elite swimmers in the near future increasing distances they travel underwater up to 15 m in each turn segment throughout races. This will not only happen for elite but also for trained swimmers who are also taking profit of this skill to improve average race velocity. Data from our researches reveals that in the last two decades the underwater turn distances in 200 m events have increased around 1 to 3 m per turn depending on the stroke.
9. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
After having validated the new procedure for race analysis in swimming (Veiga et al. 2010), we are now focused on producing race parameters using individual measurements on different populations of swimmers (elite to average levels of skill, males and females, long and short course, …)
During last 2012 Paralympic Games in London we carried out an International Paralympic Committee research project in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University where we obtained race parameters using individual measurements of the swimming races. Sheet reports have been sent to all the team managers and we are currently establishing the effect of specific sub-groups on the race parameters.
We are also working with individual distance data from last FINA World Swimming Championships Barcelona 2013 obtained by Biomechanics Department of the High Performance Center Sant Cugat (Barcelona, Spain). In the near future, we hope to obtain a clear state of the art of the individual distance race parameters for different performance levels as well as providing an accurate feedback of improvement areas for coaches and swimmers.
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- Arellano, R., Brown, P., Cappaert, J., and Nelson, R. (1994) Analysis of 50, 100, and 200 m Freestyle Swimmers at the 1992 Olympic Games. Journal of Applied Biomechanics 10, 189-199.
- Blanksby, B., Skender, S., Elliott, B., McElroy, K., and Landers, G. (2004) An analysis of the rollover backstroke turn by age-group swimmers. Sports Biomechanics 3(1), 1-14.
- Burkett, B., Mellifont, R., and Mason, B. (2010) The Influence of swimming start components for selected Olympic and Paralympic swimmers. Journal of Applied Biomechanics 26, 134-140.
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- Kjendlie, P. S., Haljand, R., Fjortoft, O., and Stallman, R. K. (2006) The temporal distribution of race elements in elite swimmers. Portuguese Journal of Sport Sciences 6(2 Suppl), 54-56.
- Mason, B. R., and Cossor, J. M. (2001) Swim turn performances at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. In: Proceedings of Swim Sessions XIX International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports. Ed: Blackwell, J. and Sanders, R.H. International Society of Biomechanics in Sports, San Francisco: 65-69.
- Pereira, S., Ruschel, C., and Araujo, L. G. (2006) Biomechanical analysis of the underwater phase in swimming starts. Portuguese Journal of Sport Sciences 6(2 Suppl), 79-81.
- Puel, F., Morlier, J., Avalos, M., Mesnard, M., Cid, M., and Hellard, P. (2012) 3D kinematic and dynamic analysis of the front crawl tumble turn in elite male swimmers. Journal of Biomechanics 45, 510–515.
- Vantorre, J., Seifert, L., Fernandes, R. J., Vilas Boas, J. P., and Chollet, D. (2010) Kinematical Profiling of the Front Crawl Start. International Journal of Sports Medicine 31, 16-21.
- Veiga, S., Cala, A., González Frutos, P., & Navarro, E. (2010). The validity and reliability of a procedure for competition analysis in swimming based on individual distance measurements. XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics & Medicine in Swimming, 11, 182–184.
- Veiga, S., Cala, A., González Frutos, P., & Navarro, E. (2013). Kinematical comparison of the 200 m backstroke turns between national and regional level swimmers. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 12, 730-737.
- Veiga, S., Cala, A., Mallo, J., & Navarro, E. (2013) A new procedure for race analysis in swimming based on individual distance measurements. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31, 159–165.
- Zamparo, P., Vicentini, M., Scattolini, A., Rigamonti, M., and Bonifazi, M. (2012) The contribution of underwater kicking efficiency in determining “turning performance” in front crawl swimming. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 52(5), 457-464.