Sara McLarty’s Take On Lance Armstrong’s Swim Stroke

We asked one of the sport's strongest swimmers, American Sara McLarty, to give her take on Lance Armstrong's swim stroke.

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How will Lance Armstrong stack up against other triathletes in the swim portion of the Ironman world championship? Luckily for us, he released a video on Youtube of himself swimming the Ironman World Championship course in Kona, Hawaii. We asked one of the sport’s strongest swimmers, American Sara McLarty, to give her take on Armstrong’s stroke. Here’s what she found.

Written by: Sara McLarty

I received a strange request from an editor at Triathlete Magazine last week. His email included a link to a YouTube video and the question: What can you do with a few seconds of shaky, lop-sided, underwater footage of the world’s most famous cyclist swimming in the open ocean?

I’m not one to say no to a challenge, but this was one very intimidating request!

As you may have already seen, there are 17 Lance-filled seconds somewhere in the middle of 66 seconds of watery video footage. With an over-worked pause button and a very steady mouse-hand, I managed to pick out a couple of good and not-so-good aspects of Lance’s swimming technique.

Long before the world championship, the battle with cancer, and the seven Tour wins, Lance Armstrong was a rising star in the sport of triathlon. As an 18-year-old, he battled with the best in the sport to win the U.S. National Championship Sprint Triathlon. It would be amazing to see him come back to the sport over two decades later and still be a contender at the elite level.

In this video, it appears that Lance is taking a leisurely swim through the calm water in Kailua Bay. As he comes into view (from :14 to :22), I can see that his body alignment is well balanced. His hips are riding along the surface of the water, directly in line with the rest of his spine. This frontal view also displays good forward extension with both arms and a high-elbow during the catch and pull phases of his stroke.

As Lance swims by the camera (from :22 to :27) it is evident that he is a single-sided breather. I am confident that Lance only breathes to his right side (or at least a majority of the time) because his stroke is uneven. The left side of Lance’s chest is visible as he over-rotates to his right side to take a breath. His left arm pushes straight down on the water to keep his head at the surface. This bilateral difference can lead to injuries in the shoulder joint and a decrease in distance per stroke.

In the final seconds of footage (:27 to :31), his finish, body position, and kick are in clear view. He uses a powerful tricep push to finish each stroke past his hips. This drives his opposite arm, which is properly extended in front of his shoulder, forward for a greater distance-per-stroke. His horizontal body position is excellent and evident of being relaxed in an aquatic environment.

Finally, he has a two-beat kick that is common among distance open-water swimmers. Unfortunately, because Lance is only breathing on his right side, he is using his legs to keep balanced. His legs split wide apart and cause drag as he over-rotates to take a breath. As he rolls back to the center, his right leg makes a big downward kick for stabilization.

Overall, I believe that Lance Armstrong has good technique. His swim will easily take him out of the water with the leaders. All I can say is “good luck” to the guys that try to match his pace on the bike!

Click here to watch the video.

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