Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Here you can see one of the best breaststrokers in Sweden, Tom Andersson, execute what I call a breaststroke pass. It is one of my favorite power exercises for swimmers for one ’not so simple’ reason; the exercise stimulates neuromuscular components related to force production differently to what we can achieve in the water. We're not working on the skill of breaststroke when executing the breaststroke pass. We're are working on producing more force in less time with a similar movement pattern as breaststroke. Ultimately, the goal is the same as swimming breaststroke in practice; to improve the athlete's performance.
Focus on pushing the hips back and, at the same time, push against the med ball, as hard as possible, driving the ball away through its entire range of motion. Drive the med ball forward as the head moves in between your arms until your upper body is parallel to the floor. As with all power exercises, MAXIMUM EFFORT is required. If max effort is not used, the point of this exercise is misplaced. To achieve max effort, focus on moving the weight, in this case, the med ball, as fast as possible.
To discuss the science behind this exercise, the posterior chain is going through an eccentric(lengthening) phase. The eccentric phase is responsible for the absorption of kinetic energy within the muscle and tendon. When a muscle and its attaching tendon are stretched, the elastic energy is stored within these two structures to be used later during the concentric phase. Imagine stretching a rubber band. The more energy an athlete can absorb, the more energy he can apply dynamically.
The eccentric motion of a muscle puts in action a series of physiological events that pre-load a muscle, storing kinetic energy to be used in an explosive, concentric dynamic movement. However, in the exercise, we're just putting the eccentric stress on the posterior chain but don't apply the force concentrically—the higher the velocity of stretching during the eccentric contraction, the higher the storage of elastic energy.
If we look at the anterior chain of the upper body in the breaststroke pass, we're just working the concentric phase. The goal of concentric training is to maximize intramuscular coordination, increase motor unit recruitment, and maximize force production. How can we achieve this? The answer is simple and straightforward - train fast. One of many things that we're trying to improve with concentric training is intermuscular coordination, especially the inhibition of the antagonist muscle. The antagonist muscle is eccentrically contracting to deaccelerate the speed and the force of the concentric contraction to protect the joint from tearing. However, this defense mechanism is overprotective and must be detrained. If we can inhibit the antagonist muscle, it will result in maximal rate of force development(RFD).
Sport is about producing force at high velocities and a high RFD. Strength is not what sport is about. Strength has a role in sport but it's ineffective if it can't be applied at high velocities.
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