Here’s Katie Ledecky doing a good demonstration of the high-elbow underwater pull to win at Pan Pacs. It works so well for her that she breaks her own world record!

I can’t believe how quick Katie’s stroke rate is on a 400. I counted 15 arm strokes in 10 seconds (compared to e.g. Camille Muffat’s 400 gold in London where for most of it she was only taking 10 strokes in 10 seconds). Ledecky also nails every turn and underwater even though she’s working so hard (4-beat kick all the way). Stunning.

posted 1 day ago

Comments (View)

For the last couple of weeks I have been trying out the high-elbow underwater pull on my freestyle, as described very well by Gary Hall Sr (and capably demonstrated by Nathan Adrian) in the video above.

The general idea is that as you do your underwater pull, the elbow is bent and kept near to the surface of the water (with your hand closer to your body), rather than sweeping down the arm straight in a semi-circle. This seems so counter-intuitive to me - I was taught as youngster that a deep arm pull was essential for two reasons: 1) getting more power per arm stroke as your lever is longer 2) making sure you were using the correct muscle groups to avoid injury, namely the lats/trapezoids (back and side) rather than the weaker deltoid (shoulder).

Apparently though, while you do get extra power with the straight arm, it’s much less efficient in terms of drag. So while a slightly straighter arm might give a slight benefit for a 50m sprint, the body will tire more quickly for longer distances - which obviously makes injury more likely!

So why did I get taught the deep pull?

1. Back in the early 90s my (excellent) coach Jason was very receptive to new ideas and techniques, and when showing us the deeper pull was likely watching the insane (in all likelihood steroid assisted) straight arm motion of Le Jingyi - she did straight arm above the water as well as below, and didn’t seem to tire at all. It worked for her, maybe it could work for us?

2. My freestyle technique was pretty damn awful when Jason started coaching me - my catch at the front wasn’t long enough, my elbows weren’t high on recovery, I didn’t push all the way back to my hips, and my rotation was horrifically uneven, to the extent that I badly strained my trapezoid anyway. ‘Drag’ was less of an issue than getting to the other end in one piece!

3. Keeping it simple. I was too young to really apply the theory and realise what was happening under the water. Imagining the Countdown clock sweeping round is a pretty good way to get kids to push the full extent of the stroke.

These days however, I’m not doing unthinkable amounts of knackering cardio in the pool, nor am I worried about the person behind catching me up if I do my drills too slowly. I am extremely aware of any uneven rotation as my thirtysomething frame complains loudly at me when I do it. I am a grown-up and I have all the time in the world, so can concentrate on getting my technique right. Happily I also seem to be able to do breathing-every-5 as standard (thanks to the going-slowly mentioned above) so I can pay attention to what the hell is going on down there under the water. And you know what? The high elbow pull is AMAZING. I’m going at the same speed for less effort! It feels like cheating. And not in a Le Jingyi way. Cheers Gary Hall Sr!

posted 3 days ago

Comments (View)
What a fantastic week of swimming in Berlin from the British team. They may not have been at full strength (10 of our Commonwealth medallists weren’t present) but nearly everyone who went along either got a medal or nabbed a PB*. Considering that this wasn’t the main season goal for most of the swimmers, they’ve held their taper pretty damn well. The numbers don’t lie - 24 medals and 9 golds is just brilliant. If I’ve counted up right, I make that only 5 races where GB had a finalist that didn’t get a medal (3 of those were 4th place finishes).

I was particularly impressed with the younger dudes’ technical aspects: starts, turns, underwaters. Ben Proud, Max Litchfield, Jay Lelliott and Adam Peaty all gained ground on their competitors off every wall. ‘Old’ hands Fran Halsall and Georgia Davies have noticeably improved their starts and underwaters as well - all the fine tuned sprint work they’re doing with James Gibson is clearly clicking.

My top British swims of the week:
- Adam Peaty’s 50 breast world record and its TERRIBLE finish (he’s great coming OFF the wall but not so great going into it maybe?)
- Adam Barrett’s staggering 50.69 fly split in the medley relay. Suck on that, France! For comparison, over in Australia Michael Phelps split 50.60 for USA at Pan-Pacs.
- Fran Halsall’s 50 back win. It wasn’t particularly fast, but she got her hand to the wall first and that’s what counts. That’s a bit of a wake up call for Europe’s full-time backstrokers.
- Jazz’s 400 free. Her 800 was dominant in the end but the 400 was really gutsy. She didn’t panic when Mireia Belmonte gained ground on every turn, but just dug in at 300 and held off Mireia and Sharon at the end. Throughout the meet Jazz can’t have been unaware of what Katie Ledecky was up to in Australia, but she kept her focus. 

Realistically, if Ledecky had been swimming in Berlin she would have obliterated everyone in the distance races (she would have gained twice as much over Jazz on every turn as Mireia did and swum just as fast as Jazz in between). But Ledecky wasn’t there, and there’s no guaranteeing that her form in Kazan 2015 will be as spectacular as in 2013/2014. By then she’ll have switched coaches and be adapting to college life (recommend reading Amanda Beard’s autobiography for what that can entail). Missy Franklin looked unbeatable for three years, then after a long season of NCAAs and US Nationals, she ended up with a back twinge at Pan Pacs, coming 4th in her best event. If Ledecky is at her peak, she is unbeatable. If she’s off the boil even a little (remember Duel In The Pool, anyone?), Jazz absolutely has the ability and the guts to challenge her.

*Poor old Andrew Willis was 0.2 away from a medal on the 200 breaststroke and did a seasons best in the 100 heats, only failing to get through to semis because of the 2-per-nation rule. He’s drawn the short straw at the last few majors now. At least he’s not getting DQed, eh Kevin Cordes?

What a fantastic week of swimming in Berlin from the British team. They may not have been at full strength (10 of our Commonwealth medallists weren’t present) but nearly everyone who went along either got a medal or nabbed a PB*. Considering that this wasn’t the main season goal for most of the swimmers, they’ve held their taper pretty damn well. The numbers don’t lie - 24 medals and 9 golds is just brilliant. If I’ve counted up right, I make that only 5 races where GB had a finalist that didn’t get a medal (3 of those were 4th place finishes).

I was particularly impressed with the younger dudes’ technical aspects: starts, turns, underwaters. Ben Proud, Max Litchfield, Jay Lelliott and Adam Peaty all gained ground on their competitors off every wall. ‘Old’ hands Fran Halsall and Georgia Davies have noticeably improved their starts and underwaters as well - all the fine tuned sprint work they’re doing with James Gibson is clearly clicking.

My top British swims of the week:
- Adam Peaty’s 50 breast world record and its TERRIBLE finish (he’s great coming OFF the wall but not so great going into it maybe?)
- Adam Barrett’s staggering 50.69 fly split in the medley relay. Suck on that, France! For comparison, over in Australia Michael Phelps split 50.60 for USA at Pan-Pacs.
- Fran Halsall’s 50 back win. It wasn’t particularly fast, but she got her hand to the wall first and that’s what counts. That’s a bit of a wake up call for Europe’s full-time backstrokers.
- Jazz’s 400 free. Her 800 was dominant in the end but the 400 was really gutsy. She didn’t panic when Mireia Belmonte gained ground on every turn, but just dug in at 300 and held off Mireia and Sharon at the end. Throughout the meet Jazz can’t have been unaware of what Katie Ledecky was up to in Australia, but she kept her focus.

Realistically, if Ledecky had been swimming in Berlin she would have obliterated everyone in the distance races (she would have gained twice as much over Jazz on every turn as Mireia did and swum just as fast as Jazz in between). But Ledecky wasn’t there, and there’s no guaranteeing that her form in Kazan 2015 will be as spectacular as in 2013/2014. By then she’ll have switched coaches and be adapting to college life (recommend reading Amanda Beard’s autobiography for what that can entail). Missy Franklin looked unbeatable for three years, then after a long season of NCAAs and US Nationals, she ended up with a back twinge at Pan Pacs, coming 4th in her best event. If Ledecky is at her peak, she is unbeatable. If she’s off the boil even a little (remember Duel In The Pool, anyone?), Jazz absolutely has the ability and the guts to challenge her.

*Poor old Andrew Willis was 0.2 away from a medal on the 200 breaststroke and did a seasons best in the 100 heats, only failing to get through to semis because of the 2-per-nation rule. He’s drawn the short straw at the last few majors now. At least he’s not getting DQed, eh Kevin Cordes?

posted 1 week ago

Comments (View)

…with one of the worst breastroke finishes I’ve ever seen! He could have easily taken another stroke. Well done that dude.

posted 1 week ago

Comments (View)
Great swim from Jazz last night. A PB of 8.15.54 leapfrogs her above Jo Jackson’s suited time from Rome 2009 to second on the GB all-time list. Now there’s just Becky’s 8.14 British Record to aim for. Jazz’s homecoming splits were 30.54 and 29.78 - that’s some real strength there. (For comparison, Becky’s final splits in Beijing were 31.20 and 29.66).

Great swim from Jazz last night. A PB of 8.15.54 leapfrogs her above Jo Jackson’s suited time from Rome 2009 to second on the GB all-time list. Now there’s just Becky’s 8.14 British Record to aim for. Jazz’s homecoming splits were 30.54 and 29.78 - that’s some real strength there. (For comparison, Becky’s final splits in Beijing were 31.20 and 29.66).

posted 1 week ago

Comments (View)
Bloody hell! Where did all those medals come from? Six finals, seven medals, plenty of terrible national anthem singing. Well done guys, keep it up. 

I’m really impressed with Chris W-H’s season so far - keep consistently hitting low 53s when it matters and the wins will follow. Siobhan is clearly a good influence on him! 

Meanwhile I hope Sophie Taylor hasn’t done her back in too badly. A lot of people were giving her grief for swimming in the first place this morning (and posting a time nearer to my own pitiful 100br PB than to her British Record) but if you feel ok and have a chance of doing well, you go to the blocks. Then if your back happens to go again when you dive in, the best you can do is try not to make it any worse. You might say a DNF would be better but I remember a poor old teammate (a top NAGer, way better than me) who had an asthma attack during a 100br at Southern Counties and had to stop at the 50m wall (Crystal Palace: awful for so many reasons). We were all worried she would drown or do herself a proper mischief  but her main concern was UTTER RAGE with herself for DNFing. Swimmers be competitive!

Bloody hell! Where did all those medals come from? Six finals, seven medals, plenty of terrible national anthem singing. Well done guys, keep it up.

I’m really impressed with Chris W-H’s season so far - keep consistently hitting low 53s when it matters and the wins will follow. Siobhan is clearly a good influence on him!

Meanwhile I hope Sophie Taylor hasn’t done her back in too badly. A lot of people were giving her grief for swimming in the first place this morning (and posting a time nearer to my own pitiful 100br PB than to her British Record) but if you feel ok and have a chance of doing well, you go to the blocks. Then if your back happens to go again when you dive in, the best you can do is try not to make it any worse. You might say a DNF would be better but I remember a poor old teammate (a top NAGer, way better than me) who had an asthma attack during a 100br at Southern Counties and had to stop at the 50m wall (Crystal Palace: awful for so many reasons). We were all worried she would drown or do herself a proper mischief but her main concern was UTTER RAGE with herself for DNFing. Swimmers be competitive!

posted 1 week ago

Comments (View)

Good profile of Ledecky and Franklin over at the NY Times.

posted 2 weeks ago

Comments (View)
European Champs start today in Berlin! Open water is up first, so here’s a quick shout-out to Germany’s 39-year-old Angela Maurer (competing in the 10k tomorrow AND the 25k on Sunday), whose first EC medal was back in 1999. Hardcore.

This is also an excellent excuse to peruse German Eurosport via Google Translate:


"Perhaps precious metal from the tower of men possible"
“I am pleased that it goes off,” said the year best in the 100m butterfly, Steffen Deibler (guys he is like 10th best)
“Everyone in the destination may feel victorious”


(I can’t actually remember which of the GB lot are even going, so no more predictions from me this year)

European Champs start today in Berlin! Open water is up first, so here’s a quick shout-out to Germany’s 39-year-old Angela Maurer (competing in the 10k tomorrow AND the 25k on Sunday), whose first EC medal was back in 1999. Hardcore.

This is also an excellent excuse to peruse German Eurosport via Google Translate:

"Perhaps precious metal from the tower of men possible"
“I am pleased that it goes off,” said the year best in the 100m butterfly, Steffen Deibler (guys he is like 10th best)
“Everyone in the destination may feel victorious”

(I can’t actually remember which of the GB lot are even going, so no more predictions from me this year)

posted 3 weeks ago

Comments (View)

Katie Ledecky’s 400m WR splits

Ledecky took down Pellegrini’s 2009 suited time last night. It’s been on the cards for a while, but before now Fed’s final (suit-assisted) 50 split was too insane to match.

Ledecky managed to solve this problem with her tried-and-tested tactic of Going Out Like The Clappers And Hanging On For Dear Life. Worked in the 800 at the Olympics, worked in the 1500 at Worlds. If it ain’t broke, etc.

2009, Federica Pellegrini
28.45
30.21 ﴾58.66)
30.31
30.45 ﴾1:59.42)
30.24
30.27 ﴾2:59.93)
29.86
29.36 (3:59.15)

2014, Katie Ledecky
28.03
29.71 ﴾57.74)
29.93
30.05 ﴾1:57.72)
30.23
30.45 ﴾2:58.40)
31.01
29.45 (3:58.86)

posted 3 weeks ago

Comments (View)
Still the best pool ever! I can feel my arms getting BEEFIER with every length I swim in it.

Still the best pool ever! I can feel my arms getting BEEFIER with every length I swim in it.

posted 3 weeks ago

Comments (View)