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Erik is an exceptional distance freestyler.
He’s a four-time National Champion and two-time NCAA Champion in the mile, and the first American to go under 15 minutes for 1500 meters long course.
Kaitlin came to the 400 IM from a distance-freestyle background.
She has an Olympic Bronze medal in the 800 free, and anchored the world-record-breaking 800 Freestyle Relay in Athens to win Olympic Gold.
Let’s look at what they have in common.
In these clips, watch Erik’s head position and eyes. Notice how steady he holds his head, and watch how low he keeps his head and eyes when he breathes.
Watch for the same thing in Kaitlin’s stroke. Notice how there’s no unnecessary movement with the head and neck when she breathes.
And notice how her eyes, like Erik’s, are low to the water during the breath.
In these underwater clips, you can see that when Kaitlin breathes, she actually keeps one goggle in the water.
Here’s a breath to the left side, with one goggle still in the water.
Erik has the same, low breath. There’s no extra movement, just a quick, clean turn to air.
Let’s move on to the pull. In these clips, you’ll see differences in the way that Erik and Kaitlin pull, but notice the similarities.
Look at the reach – the extension – that Erik gets on every stroke.
Watch for the same thing in Kaitlin’s stroke.
Still focusing on the pull, notice how quickly and precisely Erik catches the water with each hand – on every stroke.
The hand enters…catches…and holds on to the water.
Watch here for the catch in Kaitlin’s stroke.
The hand enters and begins to grab water.
Another striking similarity between Kaitlin and Erik’s freestyle is how they use the entire forearm to grab water. Notice how high Erik keeps his elbows during the catch and during the entire pull cycle. This high elbow turns his forearm into a paddle.
You can really see this with Kaitlin’s stroke. She doesn’t extend quite so far as Erik, but she catches immediately and hooks in with her palm and her entire forearm.
Here’s another view of Kaitlin’s high elbows. But notice something else: the straight line that’s formed from the elbow along the forearm, through the wrist and all the way to the fingertips. Does Erik do the same thing?
Yes. Here you can see that he holds a long straight line from fingertips to elbow. Through the entire pull he has no collapsed elbow and no collapsed wrist. He pulls with forearm, wrist, and hand – all the way through from catch to exit.
Let’s watch that again with Kaitlin. She generates incredible power by pulling with as much surface area as possible – all the way through the stroke.
Here’s Erik’s pull from another angle.
One last focus point is the kick. Erik is unusual in that he can use a 6-beat kick for an entire 1500.
Let’s slow it down to see how he fits the six kicks into each stroke cycle.
Notice the pointed toes, the narrow kick, and the steady rhythm.
Kaitlin has an exceptional 6-beat finishing kick.
Again, let’s slow it down to see how she fits the kick into the rhythm of her stroke.
The answer: pointed toes, narrow kick, steady rhythm.
Kaitlin and Erik share dozens of the same freestyle skills. We’ve focused on only four, but if you look closely, and if you study them in slow motion, you’ll discover many more. Look for things such as high-elbow recovery, front-quadrant swimming, pointed toes, an early breath, hand acceleration through the pull, stunning balance and rotation, and notice how they keep the lead arm extended during the breath.
Let’s take a final look at Kaitlin and Erik’s freestyle. They share the same head and eye position…
They both reach full extension and have a clean catch…
They keep the elbow high and the wrist straight through the entire pull.
And they share a narrow, rhythmic kick.
When you watch Kaitlin and Erik…or when you watch any great swimmer, try to look past their signatures to see the common threads – the essential technique points that you can add to your own stroke.
Get an image in your head of how these world-class swimmers look in the water…
…and then take that image to the pool with you.
Swim with focus, and keep searching for the techniques that will make you faster.