Body roll - Part 1
Let's move on now to the next triathlon swim myth and slay it, in practical and literal terms. We will discuss two of the greats. First up:
Sippy Woodhead USA 7 world records 3 x World Champion 1978 Olympic Silver 1984 200m
I first saw Sippy swim in 1978, while she was representing the USA before her huge exploits at the World Championships that year where she won 3 gold and 2 silver medals. Sippy taught me two distinct different aspects of swimming. Like all of us, I had been taught distance per stroke, long extension at the front and body roll. However here was a slip of a girl that had very little body roll. She sat flat on the water like a surfboard. Very high elbows and did not stretch long on the front, thus had a turnover of around 60 strokes per 50m. Her breathing was strictly bilateral, every third stroke. Sippy swam with a two beat kick for balance, which only looked strong when racing the 100m. However, as the distances went longer her kick got softer and softer to be simply for balance. She held American records from 100m to 9km during the 'first period' of her career. What we will concentrate on with Sippy is her body roll - or lack of it! Does Sippy have any body roll? The answer is yes. However her roll is only confined to the natural recovery of her arms. In practical terms she actually looks like she is lying on a paddle board and uses very little body roll.
Sippy winning gold in Berlin; 1978 World Swimming Championships.
Why show you this aspect of her stroke? 90% of all age groupers are using excessive body roll! Body roll is exemplified by so many 'coaches' as essential! 'More body roll, more body roll' is heard in every swimming pool. The reality is, the more that age group athletes try to emulate it, the more most end up looking like a snake wiggling in the water. Sippy is for all practical purposes as flat as a pancake. She also when at her fastest used a straight 2 beat kick as a balance to her feverish stroke rating. 1 minute 58 seconds for 200m in 1978 is not too shabby in my mind. Why do I mention this? Well Sippy changed coaches to the 'top coach' of the day who subsequently changed her two beat kick to six beat for the 1984 Olympics. Sippy never swam as fast as she did with her two beat kick, even in sprint events. The further the distance, the greater the disparity with her 2 beat times. It was not because she didn't swim as much, as the squad was famous for it's '20k a day' mantra. Her 200m was the closest to previous times but her longer distance times fell away. Let's not cry too much for Sippy as she still won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics. However her time was slower than her 200m world record set 6 years earlier in 1978 when using a two beat kick and higher rating stroke.
Do we use her stroke for age groupers? Yes we do. We use her old stroke for ladies that are over body rolling, and have a natural bent arm recovery with good shoulder flexibility.
As you can see, at Trisutto we are not all about the straight arm brigade. For those with the correct body structure and mechanics, a stroke with minimal body roll and bent arm can be highly effective for all levels of swim ability. If you cut down the need for body roll in your brain, you will improve your swimming immeasurably.