Amanda Beard, who took the world by storm as the adorable 14-year-old who won one relay gold and two individual silver medals at the 1996 Olympic Games, has had a roller coaster ride since.
After several frustrating years as she adjusted to her maturing body, Amanda has steadily made her way back among the world’s elite, culminating in a world record-tying performance in the 200 meter breaststroke at this summer’s World Championships in Barcelona.
Amanda was Swimming World’s selection as its Female American Swimmer of the Year for 2003.
My Favorite Drill: The Fly to Breast Kick Drill
At 14, Amanda Beard was the “baby” of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. But she was a fast baby, setting an American record in the 100 meter breaststroke (1:08.09) at the Olympic Trials, then going on to win gold in the medley relay and silver in both the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke at the Atlanta Games.
For the next several years, as she struggled to adjust her stroke to her changing body, most experts wrote her off as a factor for the 2000 Olympics. But not her coach, Dr. Dave Salo. He predicted she would be back by the U.S. Trials, and would make the U.S. team in the 200 meter breaststroke. That’s exactly what she did, as she placed second behind Kristy Kowal in Indianapolis. At Sydney, she confounded the prognosticators once again by earning a bronze medal.
After Sydney, Amanda turned pro, giving up her final two years of eligibility at the University of Arizona. Since then, she has been a major presence on the World Cup circuit and at the Novo Nordisk Sprint Cup, consistently placing in both the breaststroke and individual medley events, and improving on her lifetime bests. In December 2001, she set an American record in the short course 50 meter breaststroke at 30.89.
Here, Amanda describes her favorite drill: The Fly to Breast Kick Drill. Dr. Dave Salo, head coach of the Irvine Novaquatics Swim Team, adds his helpful and instructive comments. Finally, Matt Rankin, head coach of the Phoenix Swim Club Masters, offers a Masters perspective. , P.W.
Amanda Beard: As a breaststroker, there are many days when I find myself feeling low in the water. This is a drill I do to help me stay on top of the water and feel strong during workouts. It is called the Fly to Breast Kick Drill. I do this drill daily in my workouts, and add extra time to work on it when my stroke feels low and slow.
The drill is simple: I do a breaststroke pull with a dolphin kick, then dive under the water and finish with a strong breaststroke kick. The dolphin kick helps me get into that undulating motion that is essential to the success of my breaststroke.
In doing the dolphin kick, it is important to exaggerate the up-kick and arch your back. This will help you get high on the surface of the water before you dive under.
Coach Dave Salo: I can relate to Amanda’s comments. As a breaststroker myself, once upon a time, I recall the frustration of “losing your stroke”. Just as quickly as you lose it, it can come back.
Much of Amanda’s training through her developmental years involved the components of breaststroke and less full-stroke training. When her stroke was not feeling right, which is most often a timing issue, the components of the stroke can be trained without the frustration that accompanies an ” off” stroke.
Broken down into stroke components, the breaststroke swimmer can introduce a tremendous amount of variability during training (.e.g., fast breaststroke pull with free kick, with dolphin kick, ” piston kick,” up-down drills, sculling drills, etc.). Because the components can be trained at maximal capacity, as fatigue becomes a factor in training performance, the timing of the stroke will not be affected detrimentally.
The Fly to Breast Kick Drill is an outstanding means by which to recover the sense of ” undulation,” or body flow in the breaststroke, when the stroke is feeling “off”. Of course, it is also a viable drill when the stroke is feeling good. This drill accentuates the flow of the body over and through the water. Care must be taken not to overemphasize the downward path of the flow; rather, we emphasize a driving forward and under path of body extension.
The flow should be felt from the lead of the shoulders and head (in line with the back), and sequentially runs through the upper shoulders through the mid-back and then through the hips an ultimately through the legs (which should be firm and elastic rather than rigid or flaccid, hey, that almost rhymes).
Coach Matt Rankin: It’s important to keep in mind that what is being described here is a world-class breaststroker doing a perfect drill. The type of breaststroke Amanda does is very hard for Masters swimmers to emulate, particularly the height she achieves and the arch she is able to get in her back.
The main reason Amanda can achieve this position is due to tremendous abdominal and lower back strength, an area where most Masters swimmers are notoriously weak.
Still, doing this drill would be helpful to most Masters, particularly if they couple it with exercises to strengthen the core body muscles. A variation of this drill for Masters would be to use only dolphin kicks while wearing fins.
#2 – Amanda: These shots show me high on the surface of the water with my back arched while sweeping my hands in and doing a dolphin kick. Make sure not to drop your hips!
Coach Salo: As demonstrated, Amanda is rising high, with her shoulders and much of her back above the water line. She accomplishes this by sliding the hips forward into a position that moments before was occupied by the chest and shoulders. It is important to emphasize the hips sliding forward as the shoulders rise and an arch in the back is realized.
Coach Rankin: Amanda’s upper body, up to her waist line, is out of the water. As she completes her arm pull, this position allows her to generate tremendous power to thrust forward. It is here, as she accelerates her arms through the insweep, that Amanda takes a breath, not at the beginning of the outsweep, as many Masters do.
In these photos, Amanda has not yet completed the insweep. Note that her palms are facing up only after they are out of the water; they never face up during the actual arm pull.
#3 – Amanda: This photo is taken at the same stage of the drills as Photos #1 and #2, but from underwater. Here you can see me arching my back and really exaggerating my up-kick when accelerating through the arm stroke and doing the dolphin kick.
Coach Salo: While Amanda is shown with her hands out of the water, this should not be overemphasized with developing swimmers. The primary focus should be completing the insweep of the stroke in front of the chin, and completing this phase at or near the surface of the water with the “blade” (e.g., the hands and forearm in conjunction with one another) without exaggerating the hands out of the water.
At this point, Amanda will begin the emphasis on the forward drive and extension, utilizing the dolphin kick to accentuate the flow, which will be driven from the shoulders through to the hips and legs. As a swimmer performs this motion, she may think of a tennis ball riding the crest of the wave (I.e., the body line), all the while remaining dry as it rolls along the body from shoulder to hip. From a coaching standpoint, it is important to watch for the lower back as it moves from an arched (concave) orientation position to a rolled (or convex) orientation.
Coach Rankin: Even though Amanda is high out of the water, her hips remain close to the surface. A note to Masters: don’t drop your hips to achieve more height out of the water. Here, Amanda’s hands and arms are getting ready to finish the pull. Her hands are moving closer together as she prepares to squeeze her elbows together and thrust her arms forward.
#5 – Amanda: Having completed the dolphin kick and the insweep, I dive forward. Note that I am still pretty high on the surface of the water but am looking down and shrugging my shoulders to stay streamlined.
Coach Salo: While Amanda drives forward with the propulsive force of the dolphin action (kicking from the abdominals and the legs, not pushed by the action of the legs), she will roll the lower back and rapidly extend forward, leading with her shoulders in conjunction with the forward acceleration of her arms.
Amanda demonstrates the important relation between the head and the spine, keeping all within the same line. In addition, she “shrugs” her shoulders through her head to drive the momentum forward.
Coach Rankin: Amanda completes the insweep here, continuing to bring her hands together, shrug her shoulders, squeeze her elbows and roll her wrists from thumbs up (#4) to thumbs down (#5).
#6 – Amanda: Streamlined, I dive under the water. Make sure you don’t go too deep!
Coach Salo: In this drill, Amanda exaggerates her drive down and under the water, where she will perform at least one powerful kick to drive her body extension even further forward. This drill can be conducted by varying the number of kicks, but each kick should be performed with maximum effort toward creating forward propulsion.
Streamlining during this phase of the drill is also very important, and Amanda tries to feel a complete stretch throughout the range of her body’s capacity.
Coach Rankin: The stroke is now finished. She’s squeezed her wrists, arms, elbows and shoulders so they are side-by-side, as close together as she can get them. As Amanda dives forward, her hips and lower body still remain near the surface.
#7 – Amanda: Finally, I finish with a strong breaststroke kick. I always concentrate on accelerating through the kick and finishing it with my feet together.
Coach Rankin: It is only after her head and face re-enter the water that Amanda starts her breaststroke kick.