Introduction: He’s not only a golden bear, he’s the Papa Bear and he’s been around a long time to have a lot of cubs. Recently, when he retired as a head coach, he came back as a breaststroke coach. And when he came back as a breaststroke coach, he took a giant step forward. Nort has all of the credentials you might want in your career. He has been on the International Games. He has won multiple championships, coach of the year. He has been the president of this organization. He’s been in the International Hall of Fame. He’s done all that stuff, but what characterizes him the most in my mind is that he is a thinker, he’s an innovator, he’s a teacher. And I encourage you to listen carefully to what he would have to say about breaststroke.
Coach Thornton: Thank you. What I want to talk about today is the last – last few years that I’ve been coaching, actually retiring and then came back as a volunteer coach. After a couple of weeks of retirement, I realized that I wouldn’t stay married if I had to stay around the house. And so my wife encouraged me to go back and she thinks I’m crazy; I’m going back and doing the same thing for no money this time. Very little the first time, no money this time, but no, it’s great.
I go back because I love it and really would miss it and did miss it for a few weeks, but I want to thank Dave [Indiscernible] [0:02:02] for allowing me to come back on deck and do some things that might – I wanted to volunteer and the conversation was well. “What do you think – well what you want to do?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know what do you want me to do?” And I wouldn’t have any problems working as an assistant coach if you need any type, so I said, “Well, let me think about it.”
And I started looking around and what I realized was over the years – forget 30 plus years and the people probably got shortchanged except for the breaststrokers. They all end up swimming at the end of a freestyle lane and going on freestyle intervals and we have some distance breaststrokers, but it wasn’t in spite of me, because of me I think.
So, I said, “Why don’t I just look after breaststrokers?” And he said, “Great. That’s fine. That’d probably be the most helpful thing.” So the last 3 plus years, I’ve been pretty much just doing one stroke and so, it allowed me a kind of a whole new life in coaching, I’ve never had the opportunity of looking at one stroke only and not have to worry about the others and I think when you do that – it really makes a difference. You can look at it differently and you can try different things as you got more time to think about things. That’s the other part about when I retired. Now, I just go practice. They come on the pool deck and the coach and I go home. I don’t have meetings, I don’t have any budgets, I don’t have any recruiting and I basically died and went to heaven.
I’m doing what I – basically, I’m doing what I started doing it for. I didn’t realize that as I got into the job, we’ve all been to fund raising and all the other things that college coaching had become. And I still now, I get to do the things I really love to do, so it’s exciting. To me, when you look at something differently, I think that things – somebody said once, the thing you – when you look at things differently, the thing you look at changes. That’s exactly what happened with me in breaststroke.
I started it off as a high school breaststroker basically and pretty mediocre, but I got an excuse for that because I was swimming in the breaststroke and then they started going to butterfly breaststroke and after a couple of years of underwater breaststroke and I was just getting – I could swim fairly well and I had the chance to learn new strokes. I was in butterfly breaststroke for a couple of years and then the next thing I knew they went to underwater breaststroke and everybody swam underwater.
It was just like a series of pull downs basically and then after a couple of people passed out from staying underwater so much, they changed the rules, came back to surface breaststroke for the last two years of my career, I was back to where I started. The first two years, I never got the chance to really work at any one thing very often and very long so, that’s my excuse. That’s why I never was a great breaststroker, but what’s the old saying, if you can’t do it, you teach or coach and that was probably the best description of me and my career.
Now, I wasn’t short on desire. I just was short on talent and it was a matter of good chance to really explore one stroke in a detailed manner which is – when you worry about the whole team and all the strokes, it’s a whole different ball game. You can’t sit down and think about one stroke, but in breaststroke the last few years I’ve been able to do that and that’s really – it’s really been great.
First thing I did was I – when I have the breaststrokers, which is a couple of times a week, I have from breaststroke to warm up through the loosen up. It’s all breaststroke, 100% breaststroke. We don’t have any freestyle as at the end of the – in the lanes. We don’t have anybody that breaststrokes like a couple of lanes for eight breaststrokers and we just – we just go.
And what I told them the first day was, I said, “Look, breaststroke is the crown jewel of swimming, competitive swimming. So, you never want to be on it, bang on it, hit it, you just want to polish it up rarely and make sure it feels good. Because it’s – what I’m saying is – it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s a stroke that if you do too much of it, you lose your rhythm, you lose your feel for it and you have to try to re-find it again.
So, anything we do for aerobic work as you had done freestyle in the IM range, most of my group swims with the IM group in the days and I’m not in there, but when I am it’s all breaststroke right from getting in the water and it’s breaststroke – it’s all breaststroke intervals, it’s all breaststroke drills.
The one thing that I did do that I think probably helped a little bit is I just – most breaststrokers get the end of a freestyle lane, like I said, they go on a freestyle interval and they end up coming to by the time, they get to the wall. There’re probably people standing there and they can’t ever do a good turn because they have to slow down and kind of weave their way in between and I think that really is – really bad – you’re teaching real bad techniques. So, we ended up going with somersault turns the whole workout. We don’t do any breaststroke turns in practice and I do that for a couple of reasons.
As you’ll see later on, you’ve got to learn to swim, oxygen – with oxygen deprivation and that helps do that plus about the last 15 minutes of every workout, we do breaststroke turns and we do breaststroke turns by breaking them down into segments and we do all as fast as we can and we race them and they never do a breaststroke turn that is not all out or not perfect technique and I think that really in the long run at the end of season that both – that whole thing really, really does help.
But anyway, I want to really concentrate on the last few years and I think I’ve learned a lot of things. In fact, I probably learned more in the last three years than I learned in the 35 years before just because I had a chance to really stop and think about things and really look at things differently and I’m going to tell you – probably try to tell you everything I think I learned and I think it’s all true, 95% of it probably is, so don’t take – question what I’m saying, but I’m trying to be as honest as I can.
At this point, this is what I believe. I’m going to tell you straight out the way, the way I think it is and you guys need to question me – if you catch me around here during the day. I love to talk swimming so, stop me and say, I don’t believe what you said is right or I question it because that’s not how I learned. If I can’t explain why we’re doing what we’re doing then we probably we shouldn’t be doing and I’ve always maintained that philosophy and I just want to – like I say, I love to talk swimming and don’t feel shy about coming up and saying it and introducing yourself.
I mean you guys have the same experience. I’m sure you go to a party or cocktail party and somebody comes and says, what do you do and I say, I coach swimming. And right away they say, well, that’s nice and they’ll say, I’m looking for somebody who knows what they’re talking about. They don’t – so, it’s great to be able to talk swimming and go to a place like this where people enjoy talking about swimming.
And my wife goes crazy because my son, Richard, is a swimming coach and when we have family functions like Thanksgiving or something. She says, “Will you guys go out in the back, talk swimming for 15 minutes then you come back and no more swimming talk.” Because the rest of the family doesn’t – could care less about it, so, which is great particularly my wife. I realize now that I have – that’s her house and I get to live in one room of it and I have all the – I have all the swimming material in my room and the rest of the house that you would never know there’s a swimming coach who lived there, but that’s the way it is and I accept that, that’s fine.
I want to talk – I want to start talking about the wave breaststroke designed by Jozsef Nagy, the great treasures of Canada and now he was the guy that had Mike Barrowman and coached Mike to the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke. I had the pleasure of being on the Seoul ‘88 team. I had – Matt Biondi at the time and we are together for eight weeks and Jozsef had the room next to where we were and we shared the pool, so I got to see everything that he was doing and he was obviously a bright, really bright innovator and came up with a tremendous stroke and I think that’s where I want to start.
I want to start with the wave breaststroke and I think what I’ve evolved to is the new way of breaststroke or a new way of looking at the same thing and seeing it a little bit differently and you’ll see what I’m saying when I get around to the sport. I figured I kind of knew it but I was never as aware as I was when I started working at breaststroke.
I think the most important thing is your posture, your aquatic line and balance in the stroke basically. Those are the three things: Posture, line, and balance and if you’re doing all those things, well, you’re probably going to get pretty good success and – but most people, I don’t think figure out or at least I didn’t figure out for a while that your dry land posture has all these shock absorbers in your neck and at your waist, so that when you take a step is that you’re jarring your brain every time and this is dry land posture pretty much.
If I can – I can probably – I don’t know if you can see it at the back or maybe I’ll try to work with it on the drawing board over here. The – basically I have all these places where every time you take a step, you’re going to – you’re going to have shock absorbers. You’re going to be able to absorb the shock before it gets to your brain. And so, you’ve got all these angles and that’s not the way you want to swim. Honestly, this aquatic posture which is get them all lined up and so what you do in your aquatic posture is get everything in a line, so, you can eliminate some of the water dragging resistance.
And that’s totally different from – totally different from what you’re doing on dry land and so if you try to take a dry land approach to what you’re doing in the water, you’re going to be dragging a lot of water because every place where you’ve got behind the hips, you’ve got an almost 90-degree angle and you’ve just got a lot of places where you’re going to – where you’ll be taking a lot of drag with you and that’s not what you want to be doing obviously.
So, if you get aquatic posture it’s just a matter of trying to get your pelvis in underneath you, you’ve got your neck lined up and keep your skull on top of your spine. The biggest problem that most people, I think have is that – if you go in this direction, this is your head. Most people move their head around so much, that what happens is as you lift your head up or down, it doesn’t matter which way you go. Your center of gravity is somewhere in and around the navel. You’ve got air sacs up in this area. What happens is if you move your head on your hand, it’s like a teeter-totter. If you saw the end off a teeter-totter, what happens? The other end drops down. So what happens is, when you lift your head up or put it down, it doesn’t matter which way you go, your body goes vertical in the water.
And this is what happens to most people when they get towards the end of a race as they start getting tired, they start moving around a lot. They lose their streamline ability and they end up going vertical in the water and they end up creating a tremendous amount of drag because you’re swimming up and down rather than forward. So, that’s the biggest problem with I think understanding how you align your body and it’s very, very important. I mean its seconds off a lap can be if you’re having problems with that.
So, you want to have an aquatic posture and you’re going to be able to maintain that, so usually it comes from – from looking forward. Most people, it’s amazing, I mean people swim looking at the end of the pool. I think that’s – they’ve got to see where they’re going and they don’t realize there’s little lines and T’s on the bottom that will tell you where you are and so, you have to reeducate most of these guys. And if you don’t, it doesn’t matter.
We had a – we had a kid this year that was a freshman in our group and he was and got down about 2:06, 2:07, 200 breaststroke. It came down to our last meet and he wasn’t going to be going to the Pac 10s because he was the slowest guy in the group and we had about eight people in the group. So, we ended up having him go to the final meet – the Stanford meet, which is our final meet, the big meet.
I said now look, I said, “Just keep your body in line and don’t be lifting your head up to see where you’re going and see what happens.” And he says, “Yeah, but I got to really pull the water.” I said, “No, you don’t really have to pull the water. You just have to keep your body in line.” And so he said – I said, “Just try. What have you got to lose?” He said, “Okay, okay.” So, he did. He gets to the final. He’d been a 2:05, 2:06. I’m like he gets to the wall and he looks up and he says, “Clock broke.” I said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “That’s what you did.” He says, “Well, it’s says 1:59 up there.” And I said, “That’s what you did.” And he said, “I can’t believe that.”
He fought. He wouldn’t listen to me all year about doing it and finally after that happened; he followed me around the rest of the season trying to ask what he could do now. So it’s – basically, it’s just a matter of keeping your body alignment going and he felt like he had to get a lot of pull and he was coming up and really getting vertical and he just – he said, “Well, that was easier.” I said, “I’ve been telling you that all year. You just haven’t heard me.” So, it was nice. Now, he asks me everyday what’s next, what do I learn next. So, now he’s in the learning mode which is nice.
But anyway, I think the biggest – I get too far away from my notes, I get lost here. I think the water is about 800 times thicker than air and you have to take that into account as to what you’re doing in the water and the effort you put into the water has got to be pretty – you need to be careful about what you’re doing and one of the things that we ended up doing was eliminating the out sweep.
Most breaststrokers, I think, want to – they want to pull, they want to get in and pull the water and they ended up out here somewhere and they say, “Well, yeah but I get a lot more pull.” I said, “Yeah, however look what you’re – look where you end up. All the surface area is just drag. So you end losing more than you’re gaining and you’re working harder and getting less.”
So, the first thing we figured out was if we take the – we eliminate the out sweep and just, basically just slide the hands out. You don’t want to get too far outside of the body line and then from there, rotate the hands over and work the in sweep. So, what we are doing is really in sweeping and this is the thing that most people have trouble with and they want to feel like they’re pulling something. You can get a lot more pull, but then you end up with the extra drag and so much greater than what you get out of it, you end up going slower in the long run. You’re working harder and going slower; it doesn’t make sense as far as thinking about where the payoff comes; that’s not the way you want to go.
And so, we ended up doing was just cutting our guys down to eliminating the out sweep, getting the hands about shoulder width or maybe a little bit wider, so you can get a little more – cheat a little bit, get a little bit of in-sweep working, the hand in-sweep, getting as much in sweep as we could and I’ve got a theory that I’m not sure is right, but I think it is. I think what happens is you pile up as much water as you can on the in-sweep and then there’s like a bowl of water in front of you that you’ve accumulated. What you do is you try to get out of there and get over the other side of the bowl and body surf the front side of that wave before it dissipates and pushes you forward.
I think it’s a matter of riding the wave more than it is pulling water. I don’t think you pull. I think you in-sweep and build up that amount of water and you’re going to jump over and slide down the front side of it. That’s the picture I try to get the guys to keep in their mind as to what they’re doing. When the guys get so that they can do it, they say they really feel – you can feel a difference. They can really feel the water surging them forward.
So, basically that’s – since the water is so much thicker than the air and you end up spending less time, pulling once you’re out here, you got all the surface area to push through the water. You want to get into it. As narrow – keep everything inside the line of the body as much as possible and that’s basically the direction we’re going.
We get here and then we try to – once the hands got the water moving in, we let go of it and we try to get the elbows in behind the hands and get over the other side of the wave as soon as we can. So, you have a picture of an amount of water in front of you, you’re trying to slide down the other side of it. And that’s basically what we’re doing.
And we’ve had pretty good success of the eight guys in our group. I think we had – oh, well, we had 100% improvement, but we had the greatest improvement for a 100, it was about :55 to :50, about 5 seconds. The slowest guy in the group only improved 3 seconds in his 100 time. This changing to this other style and working in this direction and it’s hard for guys to let go of it.
Breaststroke is like – the technique is like different than any other stroke. If you pound on it and do it all the time and get tired, you lose your rhythm and what I tell them is good breaststroke or great breaststroke is like a gem or a jewel. You’ve got to take it and just polish it all the time. Don’t beat on it, chip it up and everything, just keep it smooth and so we do a lot of things.
We do all of our – all our workout is breaststroke oriented. We do very little of just pure breaststroke. We do a lot of arms only, a lot legs only or different parts of it and put it all together. It’s basically trying to keep it sharp and polishing it up all the time. It’s not like this one and this and just start banging away. You do that with the breast and you’ll have some pretty rotten looking breaststrokers that are feeling terrible.
And so once you’ve got the rhythm, a set real rhythm stroke, you have to really be able to keep it polished up so that you could finesse what you’re doing. It’s a real finesse stroke. There’s no question about it. I think it has to be coached differently and the biggest problem of breaststroke is just think about your own group. You throw them in with all your other swimmers and you end up at the end of a freestyle lane and they’re trying to swim around. People are – they came into a wall and there’s never a clear wall where they can do a turn because they have to slow down and dodge people getting into the wall if they ever get there.
So it’s a stroke that gets neglected I think, so I get – basically I get just lanes just for pure breaststroke and we have few enough people where they can spread out a little bit and it’s finesse and technique is really the key because the timing is huge and if you can – it’s like in a highly tuned sports car. If you let it go and the engine is out of tune, it can run pretty rough and that’s what happens to breaststroke.
And particularly if they’re trying to do freestyle workouts and just swim breaststroke at the end of the lane and they get – they can never even get to the wall because there’s so many people by the time they get there. So, it’s – we had our own lane, we do all breaststroke and breaststroke sessions and that’s, I think, that’s the secret to having some success. You could really concentrate on it.
If you fight the water at all angles and some figures here that I pulled out, it creates extra waves and your actual effort is squared. You didn’t notice what you’re doing; it’s twice as hard because you’re working against yourself while creating too much splash. There’s got to be a smooth, rhythmical type stroke. And if you really fight the water, it actually goes up to cubing it with the amount of effort that you’re putting into it.
So, it’s really important to stay with a good technique and if you get to the point where you can’t break, to start down or work at it in sections, you try to do too much whole stroke, you end up losing your rhythm and then you may as well go do something else because swimming breaststroke once you lost your rhythm is just like a car that’s out of tune. You just don’t go and all you do is get tired and then you get worse so it’s a – most breaststrokers I find, they get to point where it’s downhill spiral, they lose their rhythm and they get tired and worse and they sometimes it takes forever for them to get back and sometimes they never find it for the season.
So, it’s very, very important to have a breaststroke lane or a breaststroke section where they can actually swim breaststroke and not swim so much of it. They’re going to get beaten up to the point where they – I don’t think there’s any other strokes that are like that. You could swim other strokes and you get a little tired and maybe lose your timing a little bit but breaststroke, once you’re tired, boy, it just goes. And so, you just got to reallycareful with the technique.
If you do other things or do segments of it, but don’t swim a lot of breaststroke because it just doesn’t-I think the most we ever do in a set is – oh, I’ll go a set of 100s, usually it’s 50s or even 25s and we do a lot of drills and we seldom ever go more than 20 of anything. I mean, it’s just like a jewel or gem you’ve got to get, polish it up, keep it nice and shiny. When breaststroke goes, it goes more than any other strokes, I believe; at least that’s what I’ve seen. So, the technique work is huge and you don’t do too much or you lose it.
I think probably the most – the quickest and most dramatic way to improve breaststroke is to be concerned with the dragging resistance in the water. You’ve got to find a way to move through the water where you’re not going to be dragging a lot of water with you, so, eliminating dragging resistance of it, too. Of course that’s true of all the strokes, but it seems more dramatic in breaststroke. There’s more flat surface. There’s some things that once you get in the wrong place, start pushing water. There’s a lot of space to push water. And once you start pushing water, you’re going to go the wrong way as far as time goes.
You got to eliminate dragging resistance in any way you can. That’s one of the first things that I did and didn’t believe it, but I found out to be true. I eliminated the pull. There’s no – I don’t even use the word pull. I won’t let the guys talk about breaststroke pull.
So, once you get out in here, once you’re outside your body line, anything you do is powerful, but then once you’re here, you’ve got all the surface area and you more than lose what you gained in the actual pull. So, what we do is we just stay just inside the body line and keep everything in tight and so we don’t really pull, we just work the in-sweep, more than anything or there’s no out sweep or very little – the out-sweep is sliding the hands out to the position you start. I believe the breaststroke arm stroke starts out here where you rotate the hands over and catch water. And it’s usually about shoulder width for the weaker, new breaststrokers, but as you get a little stronger, sometimes you can cheat out a little bit and get a little more in-sweep, so the only reason we’re getting a little bit wider is because you can get more – you move more water in. What I believe you’re doing is you are just piling up; you’re sliding that water in. You’re making a pile of water in front of you. You want to try to jump over there the side and slide down the other side of that wave. So, you’re creating a bubble or a wave in front of you and you’re trying to get on the other side of it as fast as you can.
The worst thing you can do is pull the water back and then what happens is you’re here. By the time you get to your recovery, you’re stuck against your sides and it’s just – you just – you come to a complete stop. A lot of breaststrokers will do that and that’s true, the legs, too. I’ll get into that later. But you need to just get back and get in front as quick as you can and get over that wave and get in front of it, so you can body surf the front side, but you could feel it when you catch it. When you catch it, boy, it’s really easy and it’s a lot faster. It’s – make as big a wave as you can, use your whole arm, bring it all in and get lined up and get in front.
I actually have the guys actually once they get the water in, release it in here because it doesn’t do any good to keep coming in once you’ve got it moving. I just have them turn the palms up, look what happens to the elbows. And so if their palms go up, the elbows come in, it’s easier to jump and as you’re going over, you could straighten them out again but that’s a good way to get your elbows close together.
If your elbows are out here, you’re plowing the water. So, I really believe that it’s good to turn the palms up. A lot of them goes and say, no, that’s not good, but I think if you can get it up or if you can just get your elbows to come in without the palms up that’s even better.
So, I think getting as tight a line as you can is the key. You can’t – it like having a kayak or something that is cutting through the water. It’s narrow and really gets through there. As opposed to a barge, it’s out there plowing water. When you get out in here in a wide stroke, you’re plowing water basically. You’ve got all this surface resistance you’re pushing and it’s basically, I don’t know what the exact numbers are.
I think there’s about 800 times slower to come out in here and try to come forward this way. And it just doesn’t make sense to me; that’s a big number. You can get awful tired, awful fast. And you’ll not be able to finish your race whereas if you come in here, you’re moving all the water in. I had a guy, a strength coach one time told me, he says, the ring finger and the index finger have a nerve that runs up through your elbow and through your bicep in your armpit and activates the lats and the scapula. He said, “If you can pull those two fingers and just work the in-sweep, you can get a lot more out of it and you gain, using bigger muscle groups to be able to move the water.
So, here’s the answer; whiffle balls. Take one of those and hold them in your index finger and your thumb on each hand, it activates the ring finger and the little finger and swim with that. It puts all the pressure in here, goes up in here through your armpit into your lats and back and you get a much more powerful movement. And if you can learn to swim with those muscles, you’re way ahead of the game. If you don’t – if you’re pulling with your pecs and your arms, you may be good for a 50 and maybe a hundred if you’re strong; good luck on the 200.
What you need to be able to do is to move all that energy up into your back and into your larger muscles and you have more power and you’re in a better position to be streamline and you’re activating larger muscle groups. I think that’s the key to good breaststroke or arm pull and so that’s something I just happened to stumble on it. I was wondering why I was coaching before I had a guy I met named Matt Biondi, someone you may remember.
He used to complain the first week or two about when practice would start, saying, “My little finger and my ring finger are cramping up on me.” And I’d say, what about the other two?” “No, just these two; the little finger side in my hand.” And I said, “Well, let’s get some power put in and you can start building that up. You’re just weak.” He comes to find out that there it was right here. I found out years later that now Mattie had helped me. He was doing it right, so, he was getting tired in the ring finger and the little finger.
So, that’s where you’re – you could even make the okay sign in your hands to move the water through that and you can get the same action in the same fingers. So, there’s a lot of little ways you can do that, but that’s – that was a big revelation to me that mostly using the ring finger and the little finger to get through the bigger muscle groups in your back. So, I think that’s tidbit number one, you can file away for your use. But I think that really made a huge difference. Now, I understood why Matt always complained about his ring finger and little fingers cramping up at the beginning of every season.
But with the breaststrokers, every one of these guys has two of these in their bag and we do a lot of work with that and it makes a difference. It puts the pressure in the right place and it’s the – moves it in the large muscles in the back rather than in the small muscles and the arms in the front. So, it’s something you might want to think about. Plus if you’re doing it right, the water is flowing through that okay sign and always going the right direction which uses the right arm action.
If you can get technique, I learned this the hard the way over many years, if you get the right technique, your 10% improvement in technique is usually worth about a 10% improvement in performance. So, if you can get your breaststrokers to stop pressing water out and pulling back and getting way out of line, you can be swimming about 10% faster.
So, if you improve the little things, it makes a big improvement in the time, and I think probably if you’re going to figure you’re going to build up your muscles and get stronger that you could go work on getting stronger, you could probably go it – it probably takes about a 50% improvement to get a 10% improvement at a time. So, that’s not the answer first. Obviously, you’ve got to work on the little things that make the biggest difference and technique is huge in all strokes, but with breaststroke particularly.
I think the other things are; you kind of need to get more comfortable without air underwater, just to a certain extent, because most people lift their head up and they – what happens to the head is when you lift your head up, you’re like sawing the first foot off your kayak. What happens, the other end drops down because you lost the balance. And so what you’re got to be able to do is keep your head stable and like that drawing over there, it’s got to stay on the neck and what most paracyclers do is they look up or even look down.
Either way, it doesn’t matter if you drop your head down or lift your head up; you’re shortening the line of your body. What happens when you cut a foot off of a boat, the other end is going to sink down. It’s just the way it goes. So, if you’re going to lift your head up or hold it too high, you’re going to swim vertical in the water. You swim vertical, you’re going to drag a lot more water. It’s going to be more effort in. It’s going to be a lot slower obviously. So, it’s harder and slower and that’s a bad combination, so you want to really be alert to the fact that you want to keep your body aligned.
So in breaststroke, it’s really important to, as I sketched over there, keep your head on top of your neck and you want to be moving it around. Most people want to look up and what’s that do to your feet? It pushes them down. What does that do to your drag? It builds a tremendous amount. So you want to be able to keep your body aligned as much as possible.
And there’s also – every swimmers got a different floating position in the water depending upon their body buoyancy and everybody is different. So, you can’t just – it’s not one size fits all. You’ve got to find where they could balance. Some people are more dense and set a little lower in the water or if really lucky, they float like a cork and they displace about an inch of water and they’re way up on top.
But if you start lifting your head, your legs are going to go down and it’s going to create a lot of drag. So, when you’re – what you’ve got to be able to do is find out how to maintain your body position – most people, they want to look and see where they’re going. So, they lift their head up and what happens is they drop their feet. So, they’re swimming uphill most of the way.
You’ve got to be able to look at the bottom, that’s why they put the line down there. When you get to the end, there’s a T. You could pretty much tell you where you are, but a lot of guys don’t believe that, I guess, because they don’t want to look up and see where they are. So, getting the spine aligned right is important because as soon as you lift your head up or bury it, your feet are going to drop and once your feet drop, you got a lot more to drag.
So, the body position is really key and the head position is the biggest problem you’ve got to maintain. You’ve got to maintain a pretty flat, as flat as possible position. And everybody is different. I mean, you can’t help buoyancy by swimming up on top of the water. Something’s got to go down to maintain the higher upper body.
So, what you’re looking for is where can you float and since the lungs are the most buoyant part of your stroke, what’s going to happen is the upper body is going to go up and your legs are going down if you lie there without any way to balance that. You’ve got to be able to put pressure. You’ve got to have a body that is connected. You’ve got to be able to put pressure in your forehead and your chin and your chest to press that front end down to get that back end to come up. So, there’s a certain amount of tension that’s got to be held in the body to maintain that position.
So, the first thing that you’ve got to do is figure out how to get flat in the water and then you’ve got to figure out how to swim maintaining that body position. You could say you’re pretty much natural after a while, but it’s a matter of trying to always keep working the front end of your body down, so you’re – from the navel down stays up on the surface, because you don’t want to be swimming vertically down the pool which is what happens to a lot of people particularly late in the race when you start to get tired. You see them starting going from a nice stroke to more of an up and down type of stroke.
So it’s key–really the key to be able to maintain that body position and head position and balancing the lungs is really important. Now, there’s something I want to put on the chalkboard. I’m not sure everyone will be able to see it in the back of the room, but its key.
Basically, in working the body in two ways and it’s a matter of balancing, it’s a matter of utilizing your buoyancy to get moving in the water. It’s like gunnelling a canoe if you’ve ever done that, stand up on one side and just keep bouncing until it starts moving forward. That’s kind of what you’re doing with your body. It’s not a matter of pulling or kicking forward so much.
And if this is the head, you want to try to drop the – well, there you go, two thighs on there, okay. What we try to do is to drop the pressure on the front part so your body kind of winds – it’s more like this. So as you sink down, your arms are extended out in front. As you sink down, it’s a matter of putting pressure up on the forehead and the chest and pressing down and what this does is elevate the hips and then as you undulate, what happens is, this part goes down and that part comes up basically. So, it’s matter of undulating through the water, porpoising it, or whatever you want to call it.
So, it’s – you’re really only doing two things. You’re moving your body down into position and then you’re allowing it to come up and then from there, it’s a matter of diving forward and how far you can move your hips from the first position to the second position determines the distance per stroke, but you’re going forward. The farther you can move your hips by the body undulation, the faster you’re going to be. If you just – if you don’t get that either, you’re probably going to spend a lot of time in one spot.
So that’s basically the key. There’s setting it up and then there’s working the body undulation and then diving into your next stroke. This is where you dive over that wave. It should build up in front of you and it’s – it doesn’t – it’s not lot of, I don’t think of it as kicking and pulling, it’s basically undulating your way through the water and I think that gives you the body flow.
You don’t get parts out of position that much, but it’s a matter of pressing the lungs or the air sacs in your body and that part of your body is good. If you stop moving, that part is going to go vertical and your feet are going to drop down. It’s just the way it is – you’ve got to keep pressure like somebody is pushing on the middle of your back and keeping the lungs in line and once you get your line set up and you’re in pretty good shape, you could usually propel it forward.
But the biggest problem for breaststroke is pulling as one, probably even bigger is people want to kick and so, they bend at the waist and they bring their knees out or under them to create a bigger kick, well, that just creates a tremendous surface area and is like throwing the brakes on. You can’t bend at the waist, you’ve got to undulate the body and I’ll get more detail on that after a while. Then you use the air sacs in your body and your lungs to float you up and then you dive back down it against you.
You’re just taking the most buoyant part of your body, allowing it to come up and then press it down, allowing it to come up and press down, you start getting a momentum going that way. The biggest problem is creating an L-shape which is at the hip joint, bringing the knees down under you or even out, but anytime you bend at the hip, you’re putting on the brakes. You basically – some people actually come to a complete stop at that time. So, you’ve got to be able to eliminate very little motion in the hips because what you’re doing is you’re undulating, but you’re not bending there, so eliminate any hip or moving it right, bringing the thighs up. So, we’ll say, it creates an L. You want to get the L out of there, so.
And the other big problem is most people look up to see where they’re going or look down and by effect, sawing the first foot off your bow of your kayak off because what’s happening is by moving your head around, you’re shortening the line and it pushes everything back and on other end, it’s heavier and it drops and so you’re in trouble.
So, you don’t want any sharp angles is what I’m saying specifically. So you try to just try to keep everything moving by under laying the body and utilizing the air sacs.
Okay. I’ll just kind of go through what we did with our team when I first started working breaststroke rhythm. I said, “Look, we’re going to give you a warm up” I said, “We’re going to go –,” it’s the first day of practice. I said, “We’re going to go 25 yards as fast as you can go. The only rules are you start from a push and finish to a touch and you’ve got to stay on your stomach. You’re underwater, you’re going to the surface any way you want to do it.” They said, “Oh, okay, great.” And I said, “Now, the object is to get the fastest possible time you can.”
So, a lot of them wore a pair of the short fins that we had there that day, so we ended up – everybody took about six tries or so and it’s amazing. They swam freestyle, butterfly, they swam underwater and it turned out that the fastest way they could move was to streamline their upper body and take a tight dolphin kicking action and just go on right on the surface and just go. And that every one of them got down to low 10s or under 10 doing that with the short pair of fins on.
And that was faster than the freestyle, faster than anything else they could do and they all did at least six tries to get the fastest one and everyone ended up doing the same – fastest way doing the same thing, streamlining with a dolphin kick.
So, I said, “Okay, you guys wanted any more tries?” They said, “No, that’s the best, the fastest we can go.” So I suddenly had an idea, so I hopped out on the deck and I said, “How can you go faster just kicking than you can using your arms swimming freestyle?” No one seemed to know. I said, “Well, think about it. How are you going to-.”
I got them to appreciate eliminating drag and resistance. That’s what I was after. I think that’s the biggest secret to most strokes. Good strokes are they don’t create a lot of drag and resistance. So, if you want to eliminate drag and resistance, you’ve got to keep a tight line. You’ve got to keep running narrow. The water has got to be able to slide by, doesn’t want to hit any right angles anywhere or too much surface area.
So, that’s basically what we did. I got them to understand that, at least they all were shaking their head, yeah okay. I said, well – and I handed out a page and I said, “These are the breaststroke rules. This is right out of the rule book. Take a look at them. What can you do to that fastest 25, you just swam just using it in a breaststroke race, where you won’t get disqualified.” And they said, “We can’t.” I said, “Yeah, you can.” “How?” They’re all looking at each other, “Well, I don’t know, how can we?”
So, I finally had to explain to them. I said, “Look,” I said, “the first thing you want to do is not break the line. That’s going to slow you down.” “So, well, we’ve got to kick.” I said, “Yeah.” They said, “Well, will we be bringing up our knees?” I said, “No, you don’t bring your knees up. You dolphin kick. You just got to do exactly what you did on the time trial for that 25, but what you do is you just turn your – you don’t bend anything, you just turn your feet out at the end, make it legal, so the judges won’t disqualify you. So you make it a breaststroke kick instead of a dolphin kick. So body dolphin with a breaststroke kick, that’s basically what it is.” “Oh, okay, okay.”
They kind of bought that, so, I got them thinking about that and then they said, “What about the arms?” And I said, “What about the arms?” They said, “Well, how can I keep my arms in close when I’ve got to pull.” I said, “You don’t have to pull.” I said, “Why do you pull?” They said, “Well, that’s where I get all my power.” I said, “Yeah, but look where you are when you’re done. You’ve got all this surface area out here and you ended up pushing water with all that area and you lose – you lose all that power you generate to get there. So, you end up losing ground and getting more tired and going slower.”
They weren’t buying that quite so much, but they kind of agreed and so I said, “Well, how can you use your arms and keep it inside the line of your body?” And they said, “Well, I don’t know.” I said, “Yeah, you think about it again, you’ve got to think a little bit.” It’s kind of tough those guys come out of a whole day of classes and they come to pool and they think that’s the time to turn their brain off and sit there and let me do all the work. I said, “No, you’ve got to think about this. It’s your stroke, your job.”
So I got them thinking a little bit and finally they came to the conclusion that if they keep their hands inside their body line, they can get less resistance and drag and they don’t feel like they’re working as hard, but they’re actually going faster because a negative drag isn’t overpowering all the positive force they were generating.
So, I got them – I finally got them to try it and basically what we’re doing is we’re just separating the hands. I slide the hands out to about shoulder width. There’s kind of a trade off here. You can go a little wider, so you can get more in-sweep, but if you go too far out then you’re screwed. You fall off the cliff.
So, you get them out here just outside your shoulders, turn the little finger down again, remember? Use the inside of the arms all the way up to the elbows and connect the end of the armpit and get an in-sweep, a powerful in-sweep. I want to push as much water and pile up as much water as I can in the front of their body and then jump over that. It’s like, what I’m telling them is okay. You get the biggest wave build-up there and then you could dive over and body surf the front side of the wave. So, it’s much easier.
All you’ve got to do is just body surf it. Let the wave do all the action. Let it push you down the pool and you’re basically just getting in front of the wave. But what happens – you guys have all done some body surfing, I’m sure. What happens when you get behind the wave, the wave goes on and you stay there. Why? Because you didn’t get enough of your body in front of the wave to push you, so what you’ve got to do is get your elbows in and get in front of that wave as quick as you can. So, you don’t want to get back here. If you get back by your ribs, you’re so far back, there’s no way you can get in front of the wave and the wave goes on and you mush down the back side of the wave.
So you’re – I believe the breaststroke of the future is creating the biggest possible wave and body surfing the front side of it. I believe that’s what it’s going to be, that’s going to be the fastest way. When our guys catch it and they start feeling it and really getting into it, they fly down the pool. It’s unbelievable. I’ll give them a pair of fins and they learn dolphin kick and see if they can surf the wave and they do some amazing sub 10 times, just lying there 4 or 5 strokes per 25 and they’re just riding that wave. So we call that surfing, that’s one of the drills we do is surfing.
Anyway, that’s where I think the stroke is going and I may be crazy and some of you have probably figured that out, but that’s all right. I think that’s the way it’s going to be in the future. It’s going to be riding up, surfing more than anything else. You’ve got to get in front of the wave. You’ve got to get the biggest wave you can, use as much arm space as you can and get it there and then get – let go of it and get over it and get on the front side.
If you got your head up, you’re screwed. You’ll probably try to body surf with your head up, you go at the back side of the wave because you can’t maintain it. You’ve got to get everything down. You’ve got to get your chest, your forehead and everything in the front side over the wave and let it push you forward. Once you feel it, it’s just amazing. You can get in there and just – once you catch it, you can really feel it. It’s an interesting concept.
But, anyway that’s – I think that’s going to be real – really interesting if anybody can ever get the point where they’re doing that. But if you-
Female Speaker 1: So, when you’re with beginners… [Indiscernible] [54:30]
Thornton: You’ve seen my team.
Female Speaker 1: Do you start with – do you do a lot of the dolphin kick with just either non-fins or fins on? [Inaudible] [0:54:46]
Thornton: Yeah, dolphin pelvic kick with fins on to get the push going so you can get the feel of the upper body action.
Female Speaker 1: So, you just do it like a short little scull at the top [Inaudible] [0:54:55].
Thornton: What I do is I slide –.
Female Speaker 1: So, you put those on [Inaudible] [0:55:00]?
Thornton: Yeah, we slide – slide the hand down. I want them sliding across the water with as little effort as possible, get them out at about shoulder width if they’re young or maybe a little wider if they’re big strong men and then turn their hands over.
Let me show you a little toy that I haven’t really had a chance to try, but I think it’s going to be good. This is – this is something I got from Bill Sweetenham in Australia through [Indiscernible] [0:55:27] and his paddles and Dick’s tried them and I haven’t but I’m jealous. You end up – you have surgical tubing which fits underneath the paddle where you put your fingers in the paddles and what you do is you just slide them out.
This is set up for a younger swimmer. You just slide them out and when you get to the point where you can’t get them any wider, which is about shoulder width, they actually turn over because their attached from the bottom and they get in a pretty position and then they quickly come in and then once you got the thing is moving, you don’t want to – you want to get it in front, you could streamline as much as possible.
I think the key again I say is to get guys to move their elbows in and then when you get to about here, just kind of let up on it and because it means we could take it all the way in, turn the palms up and look what happens to the elbows. They all come in together and you can’t run the other side of the wave. Cruise as possible. Yeah?
Male Speaker 4: How deep are you up front?
Thornton: Deep enough to catch the water. On the out-sweep, probably an inch or two.
Male Speaker 4: Diving forward, streamline?
Thornton: Pretty much straightforward, a couple of inches on the surface.
Male Speaker 4: It’s just pretty shallow.
Thornton: Yeah, pretty shallow.
Male Speaker 4: Nort, it doesn’t look like you’re getting your fingers pointing towards the bottom of the pool, which some coaches advocate. Talk about that if you would?
Thornton: I’m not strong enough to pull thing apart, that’s why.
Male Speaker 4: But how about your athletes, are you having them point their fingers towards the bottom?
Thornton: Yeah, I tell them to. I don’t think they all do it that much. I’ll show a few pictures up in there in a few minutes. Yeah?
Male Speaker 5: Could you focus on the line, the aquatic posture [Indiscernible] [0:57:05] first before [Inaudible] [0:57:06]?
Thornton: Absolutely, if you don’t have – if you don’t have a canoe, you’re going to be in a barge, so. It doesn’t matter what you do with a barge, you’re not going to be very fast. So, you’ve got the line as key, but you do – everything has got to stay within the line.
Male Speaker 6: Mr. [Indiscernible] [0:57:23]?
Male Speaker 6: How do you control or teach the undulation and motion that they’re doing in the breaststroke?
Thornton: Just put a pair of fins on them and dolphin kick.
Male Speaker 6: [Inaudible] [0:57:37]. How do you judge how far should you go under [Inaudible] [0:57:42]?
Thornton: Well, what I found when those guys did the 25 time trials, they didn’t go very deep. It was a pretty tight undulation because the more – the deeper you go, the slower it is. So, as long as you can put enough pressure on your upper body to get it over the hump and to get it to go forward, I don’t think you have to go too deep or you shouldn’t go too deep.
Male Speaker 7: Do you use any snorkels on that or just?
Thornton: No, not necessarily. You can. Yeah?
Female Speaker 2: [Inaudible] [0:58:10] breaststrokes quality and then also what your top 3 breaststroke [Inaudible] [0:58:17]?
Thornton: Okay. Well, my – take me one at a time. I’m a slow learner. The first one was what the-
Female Speaker 2: The breaststrokes quality? [Inaudible] [0:58:32]
Thornton: You see, I believe that you don’t pull at all at breaststroke. I think you just slide your hands across the surface of the water with a little effort as possible, so – because I think this dissipates itself. I don’t think it does you any good. I think you just get out of there without any effort and once you get to the – like at the catch point, I think the catch freestyle is here and breaststroke is out here. Once you get catch and you rotate thumbs up and little finger down then you hold the water from that point on, but until to get out to the catch, it’s like wiping it off at the top of the table, just sweep it out with as little effort as you can.
Male Speaker 8: Do you want to show the video?
Thornton: No, not yet.
Male Speaker 8: Okay.
Male Speaker 9: What are your thoughts are on the pull-down, you didn’t mention that.
Thornton: I’ll get to that, but we don’t – I don’t-.
Male Speaker 9: Well, I just know something. It just seems like something the elites are bringing their pull down in close to their body instead of out to the side.
Thornton: Okay, I’ll jump ahead. I believe you don’t do that at all. You see, I believe the most – the spot where you can eliminate the most drag and resistance in the breaststroke race, where is it? At the end of your pull down, right, where you got to get back over your head.
Why get there in the first place? So what we do is we just kick off, go off the wall, take a dolphin kick and then, you’re underwater we take a surface stroke and then frog kick it back to the surface and we’re up. And that’s from 3/10 to 5/10 faster per turn. You come up earlier, so you can take more strokes per lap, but you also come up quicker and you’ve got a rhythm going, you’re right into your rhythm much quicker.
Male Speaker 9: [Inaudible] [1:00:02] did at the World Champs?
Thornton: She did on her last turn in the 200.
Male Speaker 9: That’s the end of 50-50 brush, too. [Inaudible] [1:00:07]
Thornton: Yeah, yeah. That was something, too, we gave to them and we were doing it. My guys were scared to try it, but changes comes tough, but it’s definitely faster. There’s no question about it. Every one on my team is at least 3/10 faster and to our best breaststroke was 5/10 faster, so.
Male Speaker 9: [Inaudible] [1:00:25].
Thornton: But they wouldn’t do it, basically, they refused to use it. We did practice work on it and time and everything we did showed it was faster, but they were – starting this new stroke where the in-sweep and the turn change, I found out I was getting disqualified. People were seeing some different, they’re going, hand was going up.
So I had to print out a sheet, explain exactly what we’re doing, take it to all the officials before the meet started, and explain it to them so that they knew what they’re looking at. You don’t want to catch any officials by surprise. It’s not a good deal, believe me, and you’ve got to go back and reverse a call. They don’t like to do that.
So, that’s the first thing I did at every meet is I take a page up and show them this is what we’re doing and this is why we’re doing it and I want you to be alert, so and once they understood it, it was fine. It’s legal. Yes?
Male Speaker 10: What are you doing in terms with fins, swimmers tend to throw their head up and down, especially on speed 25 to 50s with the butterfly. What do you have the kid do to breaststrokers in that position? Do you have them hold their breath?
Thornton: Not to do it. We do it as a whole unit. Whenever we press down here, it’s got to go to chest as well and if they won’t stop, I go out get one those neck braces they have at the backboards and they’ll put that on and say, you can’t move and they don’t like that so, they start doing it. You’ll see. I’ve got some pictures up; you’ll see some of the stuff. And they cheat a little bit, yeah they all do, but basically, we’re trying to keep it as one unit. Yeah?
Female Speaker 3: Can you review that pull-down again?
Thornton: On the – okay. What we do is we push off the wall and we do a dolphin kick. Now, the rules say, you’ve got to be part of your pull. So you’ve got to separate your hands and one thing I did was I stacked one hand on top of the other and so, you’ve got another 4 or 5 inches of movement before you separate them, so you can just see the movement and you get your dolphin kick in here and then you stay into a regular surface stroke and then you throw a kick back to the surface which is also a dolphin kick with a feet out and you come back to the surface and you’re up and going.
And the beauty of that is, it’s – you hit the first stroke full speed, but you don’t have to find the rhythm again. You’ve already got one stroke with the rhythm before you hit the surface. Yeah?
Male Speaker 11: You found any differences from short course to long course this summer? Was it harder to do that over long course or before?
Thornton: Yeah, for my guys I was, I quit fighting with them. I just didn’t have them do it. I mean, we practice everyday, its part of the practice, but they literally are scared to change it. Change comes hard, it’s something to-.
Male Speaker 11: Actually, I meant the stroke itself, was it?
Thornton: Oh no, it’s the same – same thing. I think its better you don’t have to break up the rhythm, so much, you can get the full straight away to get it going. Yeah?
Male Speaker 12: You mentioned that you do a lot of separation of the arm, with the arms or the legs; can you give me an approximate percentage of legs versus arms versus both?
Thornton: We start out every practice with dolphin kicking, just to get the undulation going. Then we bring the regular breaststroke kick in, but I would say that – I would say what I’m doing is hardly kicking; it’s mostly body undulation. So, I’d say it’s a much greater percentage of body, upper body stuff then it is kick. The kick just kind of follows the upper body and it’s probably 30% would be thinking about kicking.
Male Speaker 12: Thank you.
Male Speaker 13: What did you say all that work, about a year?
Thornton: We’re here.
Male Speaker 13: Thirty percent on the kick?
Thornton: I’m sorry.
Male Speaker 13: 30% on the kick, is that’s what you’re saying?
Thornton: Yeah. It’s probably less kicking. Everything else we’re doing is all body involved, so it’s just a matter of just turning the feet out on the kicking part of it, so, and I’ll do a lot of breaststroke swimming with the dolphin kick anyway because that’s what we’re doing, so.
Male Speaker 14: [Inaudible] [1:04:42]
Male Speaker 15: Are you more concerned with distance per stroke or tempo?
Thornton: I like distance per stroke because that determines how fast you go and I think the distance per stroke determines your speed. You can try to turn over fast, but it’s like taking a lot more little steps. I think you got – this is where stroke comes from how far you could slide your hips forward in a single stroke.
So in other words on that in-sweep, your connection is to your hips and then forward. You can get your hips to come forward. The more distance per stroke you get, the fewer strokes you have to take. So, I just think that’s huge. That’s where speed comes from, I think.
Let me see here. So, basically back to then when the guys sit on the deck, I just basically want them to figure out what they could do and what I was doing is, just pure and simple. Rather than teach them how to swim breaststroke and try to make the strokes faster, I gave them speed and I tried to build the stroke in the speed. I just reversed the process. I think that’s to me, that’s the key.
You don’t get – you don’t get medals for style points, you get rewarded for getting to the end of the pool faster. So, the faster you can get there, the more speed you can generate the better. So, I was more concerned about – I didn’t care how pretty it was, what’s going to get them there faster. So, I was – my thinking was let them design a stroke that’s going to fit into their speed rather than try to find a stroke that’s pretty and then try to make it faster, so I tried to reverse the process. And I think it really did work.
In our group of six people – six breaststrokers, we ended up having one guy go 5 seconds faster in a 100 and another guy went to about four and then a couple of guys at 3. I think the slowest guy was 2 seconds per 100 faster with a different stroke.
And so, it’s just a matter of getting in to figure out how to eliminate drag and resistance and so that means, that everything has got to get in tight. The tighter the body line, the better. The more you can keep your head in line with your body and use your pressure on your lungs and your head to the lightest and heaviest part of your body, to keep the body line where you want it, that’s the key I think and try to get them to use the rhythm of the stroke rather than muscle.
I always tell guys that breaststroke is crown jewel of the competitive strokes. It’s a – you don’t want to work it real hard, get it tired or chipped up or banged up, you just take it everyday and polish it up a little bit and put it back and admire it. That’s exactly it. The more you can get to the point where you can’t even swim breaststroke. You get so tired and didn’t take that much. So, its matter of what you do, do it right and figure out how to do it.
The first year I changed these guys over, we had a lot of problems with them because they’re still fighting me on their old techniques and since they got tired, they started going vertical.
I have a story about Sean Mahoney. Most of you guys probably know who Sean is. He swam one year at, where was, where, back in West Virginia and he was from our area , swim for [indiscernible] and he basically is one of these guys, as far the football coach and Rey is a great coach, but he’s a hardworking guy. He likes to drive. So, unfortunately he had no choice. He was a hardworking driving type of guy and the way he wanted to go faster was to work harder.
I said, “Sean, that’s not going to help you.” So, by the end of the first year, we got Sean so he could lengthen out and use a more rhythm type stoke and he went to Trials at NCAAs and he goes really well, qualifies first. And I then I said, “Sean, you just got to relax and take it easy. Come back and do something better tonight.” And he says, yeah, okay.” So, he goes home and I can see Sean’s mentality. Yeah, better is harder, you’ve got to work harder. He came back at night and he just took about four or five strokes more per lap and he was just basically 3 seconds slower, got the third instead of qualifying first. He just went back to his old style.
It took him a couple of years to – actually, he’s getting a lot better at it now, but you just can’t fight the stroke. You’ve got to – you’ve got to stay loose and relaxed. It’s not a – it’s a finesse type thing. I told Sean, it’s a good thing he didn’t want to be a jeweler because he’d be breaking up all his watches because he’s just, he’s one of the intense type of guys, but – and he’s a big strong guy. I said, the harder he works, the worse he gets.
So anyway, it’s a finesse stroke and you just don’t want to do too much of it. It’s just take it out and polish it everyday, put it back and admire it. You just got to – you can’t do a lot of breaststroke. You can do segments of it and that’s one way you’re going to get anything done is to just do a little pulling, do a little sculling, do a little kicking, do a little body position, but don’t get out there and bang and hit and ship on it; otherwise, you’re going to have a mess. It’s going to fall apart and you’re not going to have anything.
So, fatigue is a real problem for a breaststroker. You want to do other things to get in shape, but not breaststroke. You’d do it in segments or you can kick, do a lot of kicking or freestyle distance or whatever you want to do. You’re in trouble if you did a lot of breast – actual breaststroke to get in shape.
I’m trying to think. What else we’d talked about. After we got them out on the deck and we talked about finesse, we wanted the guys to – it’s a finesse stroke, really more than any other strokes. You lose your body position, you’re in trouble. If you try to work things too hard, you’re in trouble. It’s a matter of keeping everything in line and you can’t just finesse breaststroke by muscling it. You can, but it’s not pretty and it won’t be pretty very long, that’s for sure, so it’s a matter of just trying to keep the rhythm going. It’s a rhythm stroke basically.
One of the things that I noticed with breaststroke is that you want to try to create what I call a rhythm that’s utilizing your large muscles and you want to try to stay as streamlined and as long and thin as possible in your stroke. And if you can do that and maintain balance, you’re going to be doing pretty well. You don’t want to – you don’t want to overwork anything. It’s a finesse type stroke. It really is.
The arms and the body within the leg is really basically what I tell people about, they say, well, how do you kick? I say, well, you just kind of dolphin kick but you let your – as you finish your dolphin kick and you don’t get disqualified, you turn your feet out and you get a little whip. That satisfies the rules, so if you just dolphin kick with your toes then you’re going to get DQed. So, you get a little of a kick at the end and we do a lot of undulating, a lot of body dolphin. And that’s basically what we’re trying to do.
Let me see what else we – the line and the balance, I think, are the key things. You’ve got to be able to maintain line and balance in your stroke and the head is something and you can’t come out of line or you’re going to lose your balance and you’re going to drop the hips down, the legs are going to go down on you and you’ve got problems.
We do a thing where we do a lot of our kicking and body action with our hands at our side and just work on undulating the body, getting the chest and the forehead to go down and press water and then undulate the hips under. You want to drag the hips as far under as you can as you come on the up-sweep and that’s where you get your propulsion from.
And then you do it with what I call a hesitation drill, put the hands out. You start your hands on your sides and you get it so that you can do it with your hands over your head. We have a hesitation drill where you slide your hands out about shoulder width, take about a four count or five count and then you work, rotate the little fingers down, engage the back muscles and you work the in-sweep by – I got an arm paddle that I can show you that I think works really well.
You put the – I got a hand paddle and arm paddle together. What you’ve done is work the in-sweep. You press water all the way up to the elbow, the rest of the forearms and then once you’re here, you rotate out of it and before you get all the way, and I’m working the whole arm and this gives you more water surface.
This is a combination of a hand paddle which we also use. This hand paddle has got the little fingers side over here on the side where the greater surface area is because I want people pressing with those index finger and the little finger, that’s where you activate your larger muscles, so work the outside of the hand and that’s the hand paddle and I just put an arm segment on with it and that helps him push more water. The more water you can pile up, the more you can surf down the front side of it. So, that’s what we’re looking for. So, those are the two paddles, that’s basically what we use.
Here’s what I call a tick tocker, strap it on your back and I want to get the body angle going so as we go forward, I want it to – I want the ball to roll forward and then as we come in and start to come up in the water, I want the ball to roll back, so the quicker you can get that ball going, the better rhythm you’ve got going. It’s a matter of – so you can tell if you’re undulating enough and you don’t do it by raising the head or lifting it, you do it with your whole body, so that’s something you had lying in the backroom for a few years. You can use it with freestyle. You can use it with a Matt Biondi, you get his hip rotation. Now, I use it for breaststrokers to get their body undulation. There’s lots of uses for these things.
And I think that’s pretty much all the gimmicks, but we use a lot of tools because they can feel them and it works pretty well, so we try to get the click up, get into your chest and head down as quick as possible, get the thing to roll forward and click and then work the in-sweep and you’ll come up and it will click back and it’s [clicking with tongue]. You can actually hear it all over the pool and on some of the video I’ve got it does – it talks about it, so.
The hesitation drill is four count out, rotate with the catch and then work the in-sweep and recover and we do that to set up the stroke of the body and then we’ll do, what else, I guess the – we work that into the hand speed with pulling and then we’ll do, roll that in, in a dolphin kick, kind of building the stroke where we go from the arm speed, arm pulling then we go into a dolphin kick with it and then we’ll get into a dolphin with a little ankle frog at the end, so work the turnover.
See what else they’ve got to do here – maybe it’s time we can start looking at some of these. The first segment I’ve got is – that’s, can you stop that right there? Those are – I don’t know if you can go back or not, yeah. Those are the top six guys in the NCAAs and we were lucky enough to qualify first four guys because they had such big drops, it was – one of those guys was shaved I think. The – yeah, I think [indiscernible], number four, he shaved to get there, but the rest of the guys all did it unshaved.
Okay, go ahead. Aquatic posture is, as I was talking on the board over here, you want to get it lined up so everything is in line. You can see him – you can see him sinking the chest down in to get, there’s probably a little exaggeration here, obviously, but it gives them – One of our swimmers [Indiscernible] [1:18:17]. He developed a suit which has my picture on the back, so every time guys go by and get their reminder to get that good ol’ rock.
Try to keep everything in line as much as possible, try not to let the knees to drop. I think one of the biggest problems is dropping the knees down and creating a surface area to drag on the thighs and so, we try to drop, angle the whole body, so you hide your thighs behind your legs. Most of the guys do a pretty good job of it. First year was kind of – we’re basically just learning how to swim. They got better each year and the suits came and changed everything.
So, you press your forehead and your chest down at the same time and that gives you the hip lift. You can do a kick board under the stomach supposedly. Some of these guys like to slide down a little bit, but the object is to learn to get pressure on the upper body to help elevate your legs in line.
Once guys figure out how to put pressure on their forehead and their chest together, it goes down as a line and they’re in pretty good shape. Here’s just a kicking drill. We try to bring the heels up and get the whole legs hidden behind the thighs and the knee. So, what we’re trying to do is keep a straight line from the top of the head all the way to the knees, which obviously, they don’t seem to do. It’s taken a couple of years for some of these guys; a big change for a lot of them.
So, I think this is all you need, dolphin and a frog, keep the same body position, but just change the kick. I think it’s a natural reaction to want to take bigger pulls because they’re strong guys and they want to use their muscles, but its huge drag, it’s huge. It’s like a barge going in the pool.
Male Speaker 16: Nort, do you only do these as 25s or do you them as longer distances, 200s?
Thornton: This is in a 50-meter pool I think, but it was done just for the film. This is a surfing drawer where you push as big a wave in front of you as you can and get over in front of it and try to get over the top of it. Some guys can really do it. Some guys have trouble with it. I think the farther back you pull; the harder it is to get over that wave. You guys who know how to body surf, you know what happens when you lift your head up, you lose the wave, then slide out the back.
They’ve got to get their legs going and get over in front of it as quick as possible, which is – they’ve got the tick tockers on, that gives them a chance to – we developed those for Biondi years ago. We changed them by turning them sideways, so you could get the hip rotation from side to side and now, we just use them straight ahead for breaststroke. I knew there was a reason I kept them in my closet for so long.
It’s kind of a hesitation drill. They’re letting their hands slide out and then turning them over and catching them and bringing them in. They’ve set themselves up here and then doing a couple of sculls and then going. Three goggle drills, well, with that is that you first, you don’t get your goggles out of the water, so you can’t breathe. The second stroke, you put your goggles just as service, so still can’t breathe and the third one, you come up and you take the shallowest, feel the water at the lower lips so you can get a breath, so you breathe every third stroke on this and it’s a matter of maintaining your body line. That’s the purpose of it.
Female Speaker 4: It looks like his hands are getting out front before his feet ever start.
Thornton: You want to get the heels up before the feet are all the way up there, but you don’t want to start kicking until your hands and back are in the streamline; otherwise, you’re just pushing water, flowing.
Male Speaker 17: [Indiscernible] [1:24:41] we’ve got 10 minutes until the next talk.
Thornton: Okay, I’m sorry. Sorry.
Female Speaker 5: What are they holding?
Thornton: Little 5-pound weight plates.
Male Speaker 18: Their goal here is just to stay in that balance?
Thornton: Yeah, try to keep the body aligned and push straight down rather than let the knees come under. This is – can you fast forward a little bit? We’re running out of time, I guess.
He’s just kicking on the back and it’s a matter of trying to keep the knees under the surface, keeps your body line from the knees to the forehead. Keeps it going fast, we’re running out of time.
You can go to a pull buoy or you can go to pull buoy or swim breast with the pull buoy between your legs, it keeps the knees in tight. Your legs won’t slide out the body line and create drag. This is two swimmers on a surgical tubing. One guy is going out there working and then the other guy goes behind him.
Can you get to the next one, can you flip it over. No, not to the – just flip the B slide there.
That’s a power position basically, right before you catch. That’s [Indiscernible] [1:26:26], he’s our 54-point breaststroker.
Male Speaker 19: You want this one or this one?
Male Speaker 19: [Indiscernible] [1:26:32].
Thornton: Well if we can, we’ll see, we’ll try to get it in. Keep going, let’s go through this fast. These are some of our dry land – specific dry land. Can you put it on fast?
Male Speaker 19: I think that was the end of that one.
Male Speaker 19: So, let’s draw this one.
Thornton: There’s another one on dry land.
Male Speaker 19: Oh, that was the dry land. I didn’t know what you want, okay.
Thornton: This is – we want the dry land one. This isn’t it.
Male Speaker 19: You want the dry land?
Thornton: Yeah. No, it wasn’t pull drills. Let’s look at the other one.
Male Speaker 20: Go back to the main menu.
Thornton: Yeah, I think we got problems. I don’t think we’d get. We’ll see. Can you get to the menu? There, you want the top one, yeah, the top one.
Male Speaker 19: Top one. You got it, it’s already selected, yeah.
Thornton: There’s some selected dry land drills that we do. This is above and beyond our normal work that we do in the weight room. Go ahead and just go.
Paul’s machine is a piece of machinery that’s made to cater to Georgia. It gives you the ability to – if you try to rush it or go in another different one, rhythm. It stalls on you, so you have to do it. It forces you to do it correctly.
Okay, go ahead and keep it going. Find another, next one there.
We do a lot of kettle bells. I think that’s the best core strengthening that we’ve got. We do the double arm swings then we do single arms. We do get ups which gets the whole body.
Ab coaster is something that we do to build up the coming into the walls for turns. You can fast forward through that. It’s something I saw on TV and got hooked into buying it. Okay, there’s our kettle. There’s our big Swiss ball. This is streamlining on a bolster and this is the ankle stretcher. I don’t know, long ropes is the latest – one of the latest things we’ve – okay you have time to put the other one in at all or not?
I wanted to show a little of this because it’s got two of the best breaststrokers in the world on us. One is Efimova from Russia, a woman that’s probably going to win the 100 or 200 in the next Olympics and she’s got amazing ability and then Jastremski the other one that’s on there.
It’s not good to be rushed. Yeah, it should go straight. It should be able to just go right on into it and keep fast forwarding it. Yeah, here we go. You want to get to all of this, probably see the first couple.
Efimova is in four, pink cap. She’s got unbelievable turn over rate for a breaststroker. She’s strutting out the best technique of anybody I have seen, so watch you rev it up the second lap.
Male Speaker 19: What lane?
Thornton: Four, pink cap, pink cap. Great flexibility in his back.
Male Speaker 21: [Inaudible] [0:91:14].
Thornton: Yeah. That’s, move it fast forward that if you can. It’s all in YouTube if you want to see more of it. This is Japanese Nationals I think.