When Vladimir Morozov swam 17.86 for the 50-yard freestyle during his leg of the 200-yard freestyle relay at the 2013 NCAA Championships (watch it below at 2:30 into the video), he arguably became the fastest man ever to move through water. Those who witnessed the relay race, as well as his 40.76 100-yard freestyle (individual event), said it looked as though he was swimming atop the water rather than through it.
What does the fastest man in water do to generate such speed?
Vladimir uses a straight-arm technique.
Throughout Swim Speed Strokes we have seen how elite swimmers use their hand/forearm as a large paddle to maximize the surface area upon which the propulsive forces of lift and drag act.
What if that paddle could be expanded even further, and include the surface area of the upper arm? How much additional power could a swimmer generate?
The answer: 17.86 for a 50-yard freestyle level of power.
Many people believe the straight-arm technique refers only to the over-water recovery portion of the stroke. It is true that elite sprinters who use the straight arm technique recover their arm overwater in a straight, rather than bent-elbow, position, but it is the straight-arm position underwater, during the catch, that is the most challenging aspect to master with this specialized sprint technique.
More and more elite sprinters are adopting the straight-arm technique for the 50-freestyle, and some are able to sustain it for the 100-freestyle, but the physical demands are so great that most do not use it for the entire 100. The straight-arm freestyle is most definitely not used by elite middle-distance to distance swimmers (200 meters and longer).
The following pages highlight the power of the straight-arm technique, but there is a caveat that goes with this appendix: the stress placed on the shoulders is immense.
This is not a technique easily or quickly adopted. A swimmer who wishes to use the straight-arm freestyle should have a comprehensive strength-training plan designed and monitored by a coach who is experienced in this technique. Otherwise, risk of shoulder injury is high.
Swim Speed Strokes includes an underwater photo sequence showing Vladimir Morozov’s full stroke cycle front below and in front of him. Sorry, but we’re not going to give that away here (please buy the book). Instead, we offer this tantalizing side view showing just how differently the world’s fastest swimmer catches the water using his straight-arm freestyle swimming technique.