Renowned Coach Jozsef Nagy: What’s Next in Breaststroke – Reloaded?
by JOHN LOHN – ASSOCIATE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
07 September 2020, 09:04am
Renowned Coach Jozsef Nagy: What’s Next in Breaststroke – Reloaded?
An argument can be made that Jozsef Nagy possesses more knowledge about the breaststroke than any other individual. After an international career as a breaststroker, the Hungarian-born Nagy shifted into a coaching career that brought great success and 2014 induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He introduced the wave-action breaststroke and guided Mike Barrowman to epic success, including the 1992 Olympic title in the 200 breaststroke. The following article was written by Nagy in regard to the stroke he has influenced greatly.
By Jozsef Nagy, Hall of Fame Coach
In 2007, I wrote an article with the title, “What’s next in Breaststroke?” As the title implies, I wrote about the possible progress and my vision of what may change in breaststroke.
I will go into details later, but in short, the point of the concept is that I saw a much larger role for the pull in the future of breaststroke than it had in 2007. I believed that the breaststroke kick was going to change in a way such that it would resemble a dolphin kick, both in size and speed, with the difference that the legs would turn out for a short time, as breaststroke rules still require this action. Optimistically (or naively), I expected that colleagues would have challenged my ideas and it would have been very beneficial to shine a light on any weaknesses of my future breaststroke vision. That would have given me a chance for a more detailed analysis, and the fuel to move this vision forward. Even more naively (or more optimistically), the idea arose in my mind that some might even try and test this concept.
Years passed and none of my expectations came to fruition. It is like the 2007 article was never published. Well, at the end of the day we all do what we want. However, nobody can seriously believe that breaststroke will be swum the same way in 30, 40, or 50 years from now as it is today.
Long years passed, and finally in 2015 at the Kazan World Championships, the winner Adam Peaty showed my vision become reality in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke. Then, in 2017 at the Budapest World Championships – while swimming a new world record in the 50m breaststroke with a 25.95 – his breaststroke kick, without doubt, showed the “future” to every breaststroker.
I have no idea what role my 2007 concept/vision had in all this, or if it was simply his coach’s idea, but based on the outstanding result, it does not matter. If we look at the progress of breaststroke in the past couple decades, it is obvious that the pull plays a bigger and bigger role in every breaststroker’s swimming.
If we look at the results of breaststroke kick sets or race analysis swum a long time ago, we see that they are not far behind of today’s bests. The pull results however are a lot better now than they were before in every distance.
Before, the critical detail to become a breaststroker was the kick. Special knee and ankle flexibility, and a special water feel was required. For the future breaststroker, the special leg flexibility will not be a requirement. The swimmer’s feel for the water will also require something completely different than before. In general, more swimmers will have the chance to become a breaststroker than before.
Arms, shoulders, and in general, the upper body, will have to be a lot stronger than it is now for a breaststroker. Also with all these physical characteristics/advantages, they should aim to have a better feel for the water within the various aspects of their pulls. In order to progress, they will have to do a stronger, faster, and more efficient pull. The original, good-old breaststroke kick does not offer much room for progress. Whereas the breaststroke pull still has a huge potential! Especially if the swimmers will now be able increase the frequency of their stroke rate. However, this increased frequency cannot be supported with the present kind of breaststroke kick. As I mentioned before, a smaller, faster kick will be necessary to support the more powerful and increased pull frequency.
The official rules of breaststroke do not allow much room for dreaming. Thus the faster and more powerful pull cannot be paired with a completely different kick. Instead – relative to what breaststrokers have done so far – with a shorter kick where the heels will be pulled up less, with a narrow and quick kick that will roughly do half the distance in the passive phase, and as a result, in the active phase as well.
But that does not mean that the efficiency of the kick will decrease by the same proportion. Even so, this kind of breaststroke kick has disadvantages as well. The most visible of these is that the forward pushing phase is shorter. A lot shorter! Due to the increased frequency of this breaststroke and the shorter push phase of the kick there is a minimal phase left over to maintain speed in the streamline position. As a result, the stroke count will increase. For the same distances (100m and 200m breaststroke) a different type of strength and endurance will be needed. The advantage is that the breaststroker will be able to minimalisz the frontal resistance that comes as a result of pulling up the knees using the old-style kick. The thighs will remain almost in line with the torso, which is already out of alignment (not parallel) with the surface of the water. Using this new method of kicking, the swimmer only pulls up the legs half way compared to the old kick due to all the above, negative resistance decreases, and the swimmer has increased chance to perfectly turn the feet out (90 degrees). An additional efficiency gained is that the backward kick will be less “V” shaped and less downward directed.
As we can begin to understand, this new breaststroke technique will be only beneficial… and potentially only doable on the shorter distances. If we think about it, many, many years ago actual butterfly was only swum in over a 50m distance during a 200m butterfly event. It was only years later when swimmers were able (strong enough) to swim butterfly all the way for 200m. During these times, only the 200m was an Olympic event for butterfly, and there were no World Championships. Today, even young children can easily swim long distances in butterfly. The same thing happened with the Wave Breaststroke. Historically, swimmers only used the wave technique getting to the wall and during the final strokes in the race. Today almost every breaststroker takes advantage of the efficiencies of the Wave Breaststroke, thrusting upper body forward after the pull and maintaining the back high on the surface of the water.
However, regardless of what technical changes we will see in the future – within the given rules – the goal remains the same: to swim faster while the centre of gravity of the swimmer’s body does not deviate from an imaginary straight line, and that the centre of gravity within the stroke moves forward in the most continuous and even speed.
Even considering the 13 years of hindsight from 2007 until now, my opinion has not changed regarding the future of breaststroke. Everyone can witness the current breaststroke technique innovations today. I can’t wait to see if I am right or not regarding the future!