I had the opportunity to take a look at Connor’s stroke not too long ago, and I have to say that my first impression was a good one. Typically, when someone starts swimming in front of me, I can pick up on 2 or three things that need to be corrected within the first 25 yards. Connor though, has a good rhythm to his stroke and at first glance was doing all the things I look for correctly (or mostly correct). He’s a rising star in this sport and World Cup racing could be in his future if he continues to train hard and is able to get a stronger swim. For most who read this site, you’re going to look at his stroke and think that he is more than a strong enough swimmer to be a good triathlete. And you’re right. Problem is, you can’t be a good triathlete and race World Cup. And you certainly can’t be a ‘pretty solid’ swimmer and expect to survive a World Cup race. You are either in the first group out of the water or you’re sitting in the hotel room during the awards ceremony. But I digress. Let me beat up Connor’s stroke a little….
First thing that catches my attention is Connor’s kick. It’s fluid and functionally correct, but man he does a lot of it. In the videos here Connor is using a 6 beat kick for his freestlye, and while effective, it’s an energy hog. The two big reasons I see him using this are his head position and his stroke rhythm. If you look at the video where I’m filming from overhead, you can see that Connor lifts his head pretty significantly when he breathes. When you do this you tend to put a lot of downward pressure on the hips and if you don’t kick more, your butt sinks. So in order to stay flat on the water, Connor must kick a little more/harder, especially when he breathes. The other thing that I noticed is Connor’s rhythm. Notice that pause in his stroke on his breathing side. Fairly common among swimmers. You even see Phelps do it from time to time. The difference here is that the pause is often comes as he breathes. With Phelps and others, that pause comes during his glide, which is essentially a streamlined position. So take the fact that the head is being lifted more than it should with the pause during the breathe and you have a portion of Connors stroke that is basically applying the brakes.
The fix is not especially easy either. This is one of the things that becomes part of the habits of a stroke, and bad habits can be hard to break (Take note beginners, this is what a bad habit looks like. It’s subtle. What’s not a bad habit is struggling with freestyle because you only swim 1,500 yards per week of mostly drills in fear of forming bad habits). This first thing Connor needs to do is lower his head when he breathes. That will eleviate some pressure on his kick. Next he needs to work on a quick breath and a long glide. In other words, he needs to change where he puts the pause in his stroke. It’s actually pretty good on his non breathing side. Finally, when those two have been fixed, he needs to lighten up the kick to save energy for the rest of the race. I’m a fan of the two beat kick, but even dropping down to a 4 (which I don’t like at all) or alternating between a 2 beat kick and a 6 beat kick would help save the legs.
Beyond that there are some minor things that could be adjusted. I see Connor drops his elbow a little when he pulls. Not by a lot, but it’s still happening. As he gets better at the glide he could rotate a little more to get more bang for his buck. Again though, not a major issue, and more than likely something that will fix itself as he ramps up the yardage.
All in all a really good stroke, with some adjustments and a healthy dose of hard work (and VOLUME), he’ll be getting out of the water in the first pack feeling relaxed and well rested for that ever so quick bike and run. Good Luck!