The earliest evidence of man swimming -- an Egyptian clay plate, bas-reliefs from Babylon and wall drawings from Assyria, all dating from 5000 to over 10,000 years ago -- depicted "dog stroke." Head up -- i.e. unbalanced -- and all four limbs paddling.
This is strong evidence that terrestrial mammals -- humans as much as dogs and deer -- share an evolutionary disposition to behave similarly in the aquatic environment of water.
Aquatic mammals -- seals, dolphins, penguins, manatee -- swim in a distinctly different way because they evolved in water. Balanced, streamlined, relying far less on their (water-adapted) limbs, minimizing turbulence.
Swimming technique first began to be formalized and documented about 500 years ago. Swimming books appearing between 1538 and 1794 in Germany, France, Italy and England showed two styles -- sidestroke and breaststroke.
Both - though still performed with the head up, and thus not fully balanced or truly streamlined - permitted restful glides not possible with the ceaseless limb-churning of dog stroke. This evolution in form led to growing popular interest in endurance swimming, from Lord Byron swimming the Hellespont in 1810 to Matthew Webb swimming the Channel in 1875. Both used side/breaststroke. Though some speed records were noted, there was relatively less interest in feats of speed.
While Europeans stayed with gliding strokes, natives of the Americas, West Africa and South Sea islands had developed an overarm stroke with an up-and-down kick, a forerunner of Front Crawl.
When Europeans encountered that stroke they immediately recognized it as much faster, but recoiled from it as 'uncivilized.' In 1844, the Royal Swimming Society brought two Native Americans to London for an exhibition. Flying Gull outswam Tobacco, crossing a 130-foot pool in an unprecedented 30 seconds, then defeated the British champion, swimming breaststroke. Newspapers dismissed Flying Gull’s stroke as “grotesque antics,” and "barbarically un-European." An observer described "windmill thrashing with their arms and beat downward with their feet."
(Sounds a lot like non-TI freestyle 170 years later!)
Even so, crawl stroking exerted an increasing pull and from the 1870s to 1900s an evolution from Trudgen to Australian to American crawl took place with speed records improving dramatically. Charles Daniels swam 100 yds in 54.8 sec in 1904 -- a time nearly anyone would still consider respectable in 2011.
There was little further evolution in the crawl for nearly 90 years -- until Matt Biondi and Alexandre Popov opened eyes with a more balanced (head down) and streamlined (longer strokes) style in the early 90s.
But for most people, front crawl was essentially unchanged for the entire 20th Century. Everyone recognized it as the best way to swim a short distance fast and therefore coaches used it heavily in training competitive swimmers.
While many self-coached swimmers were able to learn a ‘sustainable’ form of breast or sidestroke, without formal coaching and grueling workouts, few could swim crawl for distance.
It wasn't until TI began to refine a new teaching methodology of Balance>Streamline>Propel -- in response to the large numbers of 'adult-onset swimmers' (mainly triathletes) who began attending our workshops -- that a new and formal adaptation of crawl for distance swimming emerged.
Balance enabled the comfort of breast/side strokes and a much more leisurely -- i.e. sustainable -- stroke rate. Call it the swimming equivalent of the 'walking/slow-jog option' available to runners.
Streamlining allowed for far greater speed potential than breast- or side-strokes, which was important because so many of our students planned to swim in races, not just for fitness.
Many non-TI coaches and programs have copied our language, ideas and - to some extent our techniques - in the last 10 years. But I think no one can deny that the 'revolutionary' adaptation of crawl from a stroke that allowed short-term speed for many, but long-term endurance only for the few, was historic in nature.
If you remain unable to swim freestyle with the same ease, and for the same relatively limitless distance, as breaststroke, it's because you have not yet truly mastered Balance. If you want to overcome this limitation, I suggest you devote 100 percent of your practice to Balance driils and whole-stroke with Balance thoughts.
To extend your freestyle whole-stroke, alternate with a length of breaststroke, focusing on getting into a fully extended, full-streamlined (i.e. head hanging between shoulders) position during the glide. Then take that imprint and sensation of balance, minimized resistance, noise or bubbles back to freestyle.
Swim 25FR25BR until you can swim 1km or more, easily recovering from any sense of breathlessness that occurs during the 25FR during one length of BR. Then progress to 50FR25BR until you can do a sustainable 1km that way. And so on -- 75FR25BR . . .100FR25BR -- until it's no longer necessary to swim BR
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist
May your laps be as happy as mine.
My TI Story
Last edited by terry : 03-17-2011 at 12:44 PM.