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Ryan Lochte is one of the greatest swimmers of all time. He’s a backstroke powerhouse and holds his own in freestyle and IM events, too. 

While he’s often overshadowed by Michael Phelps, Ryan has won a whopping 12 Olympic medals so far. 

So, what makes Ryan such a fast swimmer? We took a look at his backstroke and freestyle stroke technique, along with his fast flip turns, to find out! 

Backstroke Technique Analysis

Ryan’s 100 and 200 backstroke are legendary, so let’s start there. Ryan’s hand enters the water pinky first, and his arms don’t go too wide — they enter at about 11 and 1 o’clock. 

Pinky first entry is key for setting up the Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) catch. After his hand enters the water, he bends his elbow and pushes the water down toward his feet, which moves him forward. 

Related: How Ryan Murphy Swims Backstroke So Fast

That bent elbow also plays into his rotation. When he bends the elbow on the right side, he’s able to rotate to the right. As his hand moves through the stroke and exits near his right hip, his left arm is bent and he can rotate to the left. If you tried to do this with a straight arm, you’d have a tough time!

Moving onto the kick, Ryan has incredible ankle flexibility, which helps his feet act like big fins! In this clip, his kick is actually a little too large. Ideally, backstroke kick is more compact, which reduces resistance outside of your bodyline. 

Freestyle Technique Analysis

So Ryan’s backstroke is incredible, but does his freestyle measure up? Starting with his arm recovery, our analysis of this specific clip showed that Ryan’s hand positioning could be improved. A rule of thumb is that your elbow should always be above your hand in all phases of the freestyle stroke. His hand is a bit too high here. It’s important to note, though, that the clip we analyzed is from a video shoot where he likely wasn’t swimming 100%.

Related: Analyzing Michael Phelps’ Freestyle Technique

Ryan’s hand enters the water middle finger first, and in line with his shoulder. However, we notice that his hands cross over his midline before he initiates his EVF catch. This can be due in part to the fact that he is swimming at a relaxed pace, and crossing over helps with balance. Ideally, the hand would stay in line with the shoulder from the moment it enters the water, through the catch and pull.

Flip Turn Analysis

Beyond stroke technique, turns and walls have played a huge role in Ryan’s dominance in the water.

As he approaches the wall in this clip, he lifts his head to spot the wall before he flips. This is common to do if you’re in an unfamiliar pool, but keep in mind that it’s better to keep your eyes looking down and rely on the T on the bottom of the pool and your stroke count in from the flags to determine when to turn.

He comes into the wall with a solid, final stroke (and EVF!), which sets him up for a fast flip.

He tucks his head and moves into a tight ball, using his hands to help flip his hips over. Pushing with the hands isn’t as necessary if you’re sprinting, since your momentum into the wall will naturally help you turn faster. 

Related: How to do a Freestyle Flip Turn

Ryan’s feet hit the wall in line with his shoulders, with the toes pointing up, about 18 inches under the water. He looks straight up and gets into streamline before pushing off. He explodes off on his back, and rotates during his underwater dolphin kick. A lot of swimmers rotate while they’re on the wall, which slows them down big time!

We can learn so much just by watching the pros! Which elite swimmer should we analyze next? For more swim tips and Workouts, download the MySwimPro app! Sign up for MySwimPro Coach to unlock personalized Training Plans, Analytics and more.

You could race Ryan Lochte in September 2022! Sign up for Global Swim Series’ Race the Legends event here.

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