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When we look at all the parts of James’s stroke, from fingertips to toes, several things stand out. His head is low – you can see almost all of it under the surface – and his hips are high. As a result (head low, hips high), he maintains a clean, horizontal bodyline.
From above the surface, you can see just a tiny bit of James’s cap during the breath, but then it slides beneath the surface during the rest of the stroke. The hips are visible as he rotates cleanly through the water.
But what REALLY catches our eye is how James drives his hand into full extension…on every single stroke. This extension is the defining aspect of James’s freestyle, and it makes everything else fall into place. It causes his body to rotate, it helps him achieve a horizontal body line. It lets him move forward with minimal effort from the kick and pull.
At slow speed, James has almost a catch-up stroke. If we freeze it here…you can see that the lead arm is still almost fully extended as the recovering hand enters the water.
From overhead, you can really see the catch-up nature of his stroke at slow speed. He swaps one hand for the other, maintaining maximum extension.
When James picks up the pace, the legs become more active and he lets go, just a bit, of his catch-up timing. If we freeze it here…you can see that the lead arm has dropped into the catch as the recovering hand enters the water. But notice that he is STILL focused intently on driving his fingertips forward and maintaining his bodyline.
At top speed, the legs are fully engaged, and James has moved away from catch-up timing. We can see that here… his pulling arm has connected and is well into the pull when the recovering hand enters the water.
We can also see it in this overhead view.
BUT…even as he approaches full speed, James still reaches FULL extension on every stroke. He remains laser-focused and true to this ONE technique point. He knows that, by reaching full extension…even if just for a moment…on every stroke…all the other aspects of a fast freestyle fall into place. His head will be low and stable. His breath will be low. His hips will ride high. His body line will be horizontal. He’s basically “getting out of his own way” and allowing his kick and pull to give maximum propulsion.
And in this overhead shot, let’s notice one more thing: the way his hands stay relaxed as they search for clean water and a solid catch.