This stroke analysis includes a moving sequence in real time, a moving sequence where each frame is displayed for .5 of a second, and still frames.
The following image sequence is in real time. It will play through 10 times and then stop. To repeat the sequence, click the browser's "refresh" or "reload" button.
The following image sequence shows each frame for half a second. It will play through 10 times and then stop. To repeat the sequence, click the browser's "refresh" or "reload" button.
At the end of the following narrative, each frame is illustrated in detail in a sequential collage.
Each frame is .1 seconds part. Agnes Kovacs' recorded a time of 2:24.92 in winning this semi-final race. Unfortunately, there is no available video record of her winning final swim. Her style represents a radical departure from any other form of breaststroke performed today. It provokes some interesting observations and questions and might suggest future technique attributes of this stroke.
- Frame #1: The swimmer is in a horizontal position, but one which is achieved only momentarily rather than being held for a noticeable period. The stretched forward position has the hands well apart rather than in the traditional position of being together.
- Frame #2: The hands are moved slightly further apart but with the hands not at any "angle-of-attack." There is no attempt to perform anything like an outward scull.
- Frame #3: The hands are approximately shoulder width apart. The wrists begin to flex in a manner akin to that of the initiation of a butterfly stroke pull.
- Frame #4: The upper arms are rotated medially and the elbows flexed supporting an "elbow-up" position for each arm. The head starts to rise. If this picture were viewed alone, it would be very difficult to distinguish from a butterfly stroke pull.
- Frame #5: The "butterfly-type-pull" continues. Power is developed by adduction of the upper arms with the propelling surface being the hands and forearms. The head continues to rise. The remainder of the body and legs remain very streamlined.
- Frame #6: The arm pull is completed when the arms are widest and adduction is maximized. The face and head lift preparatory to breathing.
- Frame #7: The arm recovery begins. The elbows collapse into the sides and the hands come in under the chest. The head is completely out of the water and inhalation occurs. The knees begin to flex but the thighs remain streamlined. There is no dropping of the knees.
- Frame #8: The hands are together in a "praying" position. The elbows are at the side. The knees continue to flex as the legs begin to be drawn-up to kick.
- Frame #9: The hands have broken the surface. The knees continue to bend and the ankles dorsi-flex and evert so that the feet will be better positioned to kick. This is the position of greatest resistance, the body and thighs being angled, and no propulsion occurring.
- Frame #10: The feet are fully everted and knees flexed ready to kick. The hands are thrust forward and downward. The hands are touching.
- Frame #11: The kick is executed with the propelling surface, as shown by the pocket of turbulence, being the feet and lower half of the shank. The hands are driven forward and down and the hands begin to part. The downward thrust produces considerable drag force that has both a substantial horizontal and vertical force component. The head is driven down and forward. These two actions serve to elevate the hips and keep the body relatively flat during an effective leg kick. With that body position, resistance is minimized.
The forward dive of the hands, arms, head, and shoulders will produce an opposite and equal force on the water contacted by the legs. Thus, the power of the leg kicks will be that produced by the leg movements themselves and the additional reaction force produced by the upper body, head, and arm actions. Thus, a contention that the recovery action would produce considerable retarding resistance is not warranted.
- Frame #12: The kick continues with a substantial horizontal force component but some vertical component. The hips remain high and streamlined. The head and shoulders have entered the water. The arms are fully extended. The wrists are hyper-extended.
- Frame #13: The kick is completed with the legs apart. In this frame, the legs have already begun to come together. The head, shoulders, and hips are aligned. The separated hands point upward and forward, providing sufficient force to slow the downward movements of the head and shoulders.
- Frame #14: The hips are very high producing a slightly piked position. The feet are low suggesting that considerable frontal resistance is produced. However, this position is but one stage of a rhythmical wave movement (not to be confused with the "wave" breaststroke described in the early 1990s), which could facilitate positioning of the body for good streamline later in the stroke. The hands are well apart.
- Frame #15: The body is "flattened" into a streamlined position. The hips are brought downward to a position of good alignment, that movement causing the feet to rise. The head looks slightly forward, although mostly downward, and the separated "pitched" hands support the upper body in its streamlined posture. These last three frames have produced a streamlined position with the hands separated almost ready to pull. The next action is that shown in frame #1, where maximal streamline is achieved, and the cycle commences again.
There are sufficient anomalies and innovations in Agnes Kovacs' breaststroke to warrant contemplating whether its features are good or bad and worthy of emulation.
- The overall stroke rhythm exhibits a wave-like action that emphasizes keeping the hips up. Previous "wave" strokes have moved all parts of the body. This one minimizes the hip movements, particularly depth, while allowing the extremities to move through the greatest ranges. Generally, movements are considered to create wave resistance because they move water. Energy that could be used for propulsion is lost to moving those large volumes of water. However, when moving body parts also generate propulsive forces or counter-balance actions that could be very detrimental if they were exaggerated, those movements are often necessary and can be tolerated. For a breaststroke swimmer, Agnes Kovacs moves her hips very little below streamline. The vertical movement components of the arms and legs can be tolerated because they:
- support the maintenance of the high hips (e.g., the leg kick direction),
- counter-balance non-propulsive actions (e.g., the recovering hands/arms stop the head and shoulders diving), or
- produce added propulsive forces (e.g., the arm recovery adds a reaction force to the forces developed by the musculature producing the kick).
The rhythmical undulation of the overall stroke also develops a movement pattern that "flows" with no obvious "stop-starts" or abrupt changes of direction thus, conserving momentum. For reasons other than the traditional "wave" action, which has been shown not to benefit breaststroke, this form of undulation and its exaggeration at the extremities should be tolerated.
- The thrust forward with the hands apart also defies conventional wisdom. It has always been proposed that the narrowest cross-sectional profile of a recovery produces the least resistance. To this writer's knowledge that assumption has never been objectively verified. The recovery in Agnes Kovacs' stroke follows a saucer path from starting out of the water to diving quite deep (see frame #12). The swimmer's recovering arms appear to only generate drag resistance in frames #10 through #12 (when the legs are kicking). That resistance is mainly nonconsequential because the reactive forces generated facilitate a better kick. Once drag resistance ceases, the hands/arms move in the profile-shadow of the shoulders and head. At that time, pitching the hands negatively accelerates the vertical dive of the shoulders and head. The hand movement removes the need for a traditional outward sculling action that takes time and produces no propulsion. One is set to ponder whether recoveries with the hands together along the surface really save that much resistance production? That too has never been objectively verified by controlled studies and is possibly a myth. So Agnes Kovacs uses her arms and hands in an unconventional manner to control the head/shoulders' dive and eliminates the need to perform a time consuming outward scull. This form of recovery seems to be as acceptable as a "traditional" recovery. One need not overstress recovering with hands and arms close together for there is little benefit to be gained from that movement.
- The use of a butterfly-stroke propulsive pattern produces stronger, more direct forces, that is, better propulsion. For more than a decade it has become increasingly obvious that the outward-inward-scull "old" pulling pattern was not as effective as direct drag force production in breaststroke. This has been a particularly prevalent movement pattern in top female breaststrokers, whose performances over the last decade have improved much more dramatically than male breaststrokers. Agnes Kovacs' stroke displays a complete absence of any outward or inward scull action relying solely on appropriately pitched hands. The value of a direct propulsive pull in this stroke is not a new proposition, but getting coaches to teach it has been very difficult. This movement pattern should be encouraged.
- The maintenance and exaggeration of streamline for a large proportion of the stroke is another outstanding feature. Hyper-extension of the lower back to keep the thighs parallel to the surface when the legs are being draw-up to kick is a characteristic exhibited by other top female breaststroker swimmers The angle of Agnes Kovacs' chest-to-knees in frame #9 is perhaps the lowest angle exhibited of any swimmer in the analyses on this web site. This is a feature worth copying.
Further refinements and alterations in the breaststroke are possible. However, in Agnes Kovacs' stroke, there are characteristics that increase more-direct propulsive forces and minimize resistance caused by the body. Those are admirable aims and accomplishments.
Agnes Kovacs' stroke provokes the following questions.
- Can the hands be recovered forward apart as long as they remain in the cross-sectional profile of the shoulders?
- Does recovering with the hands apart remove any need for an outward scull?
- Is the wave-like motion of this stroke superior to a stifling and traditional flat stroke or the "wave-stroke" of the past?
- Is the kick move propulsive because it recruits the reaction force of the head, shoulders, and arms recoveries?
Until these questions are answered, it is this writer's recommendation that nothing should be changed in Agnes Kovacs' stroke. Changes to make it more traditional are unwarranted.