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Dare to be different - Total Body Force Swimming

When I think about athletic excellence what comes to mind is a perfect technique, effortless movements, speed without looking like working hard.

In swimming an effortless, ‘perfect’ looking stroke is usually defined as high elbow recovery, no-splash gentle entry, rhythmical kick, effortless slicing through the water. This is often called a classical stroke but is it a must when it comes to competitive swimming, whether in the pool, open water or first leg of triathlon? Obviously NOT!

I don’t really follow swimming but I was intrigued by a young Italian swimmer who I first heard about few years ago as he finished 5th in 1500m during London Olympics at the age of 17. Then he sky-rocketed to the European swimming scene after beating the European 1500m record during the championship in Berlin and winning World Championship in Kazan. I watched him race a few times and what amazed me was how different he looked compared with other swimmers in the race, how unconventional and different his technique was. Even Italian commentators describe is as ‘tecnica assimmetrica’. I was wondering how the hell he can swim so fast at the same time being so different?… I just thought it must be a freak and I continued practising my ‘high elbow’ recovery.

Since I stared working with Brett (Sutton) we regularly discuss the swimming technique nuances, different approaches to differently body shapes, different training principles, how to generate force under the water and how to develop and coach different athletes. A few conclusions are obvious and a few are less so, but I would summarise it in few points relevant to longer distance and triathlon swimming:

  • Swimmers can look different above the water and still swim fast as long as what they do above the water does not disturb the propulsion phase.

  • Good swimmers grab and hold a lot of water and then higher elbow comes handy but it is a high elbow below the water.

  • Good swimmers put power in the ‘right place’ – push water backwards with force, a lot of force.

  • Strong kick is not necessary in longer distance swimming, it is primarily used to balance the body.

Having worked with Trisutto squad for two years and equipped with both theoretical and practical knowledge I was excited to head to London Olympic Park swimming pool last week. Since London was hosting 2016 European Swimming Championship I wanted to see this unusually looking Italian swimmer in action.

Needless to day he didn’t disappoint! From first 100 meters he was in the front doing what he does best – swimming fast, applying the power in the right place, swinging his left arm forcefully across the water to allow right arm to push water back and all this pretty much without the kick, just light movements of his legs to balance his body. He won by almost 20 seconds beating the European record, 2nd fastest 1500m in the history only 3 sec under the world record.

Last week I had the pleasure of watching Gregorio Paltrinieri at the European Championships.

Some may say his swimming looks ugly, some may say it is unconventional or just wrong, however, it works for him. The same applies to all of us, it doesn’t matter how you look if it works for you, if you swim fast, if you enjoy swimming, if it is not broken don’t change it. At the end of the day being different is not bad if you are winning. Hats off to his coaches for not trying to fit him into a swimming template.

Why I have written this blog? Good question!

I wanted to share my experience with the community and tell you what I was thinking about when I was watching the race: If you asked me for the definition of ‘total body force’ as advocating by Trisutto I would have no doubt – this is it! Gregorio Pantrinieri, the total body force master.

Happy swimming!

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