Are Your Arms Paddles or Propellers?

For decades swimmers have been taught that freestyle, AKA “front crawl,” involves keeping their elbows high and using their arms to make an S-shaped pattern underwater.  Known as “sculling,” this technique was developed by Doc Counsilman and helped Indiana University win 6 consecutive NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships (1968–1973) and 20 consecutive (1961–1980) Big Ten Conference titles.  May of his swimmers went on to set world records and win Olympic gold medals, including Mark Spitz, Gary Hall and Jim Montgomery.  But in recent years, top level swimmers have started to modify their stroke, slowly abandoning the sculling technique in favor of the straight arm “deep catch” technique.

A recent Johns Hopkins study lead by Dr. Rajat Mittal, a mechanical engineering professor and devoted recreational swimmer, compared both swimming techniques using fluid dynamic models, laser scanners and motion capture video.  The study’s results indicates that if all variables are equal “…the deep-catch stroke is far more effective.”

Not surprisingly, the results of this study are likely to pose more questions than it answers.  In the meantime, read the article below and decide for yourself what style arms you have: Paddles or Propellers.

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2 Comments to Are Your Arms Paddles or Propellers?

  1. July 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Paul, this is interesting. Do you know if this tranlates better for sprinters versus distance swimmers, and is there added stress and increased injury to the shoulder with this new technique?

    • Paul Graves
      July 10, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      The study does not make many straight forward conclusions for the application of the new stroke. I would assume the deep catch stroke would more directly benefit sprinters as it requires much more strength and endurance. I’m sure time well tell if the stroke increases shoulder injuries, but swimmers are adaptive. We’ll see how many swimmers use the deep catch in Rio 2016.
      – Paul

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