Bodies in space: The physics of para-swimming

1:26 pm on 29 March 2018

Para-swimmer Jesse Reynolds has been chasing down his personal best in 100m backstroke (S9) in the build-up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Analyst Jodi Cossor tells reporter Kate Newton how he's been shaving the seconds off.

How fast is Jesse Reynolds swimming at the moment?

What's on the public record is a personal best of 1:05.57 in the men's 100m backstroke in the final of the Rio Paralympics, putting Reynolds in seventh place.

By the end of last year, he was ranked third in the world - and there's been months of training and tweaking since then.

You'll get nowhere if you ask performance and technique analyst Jodi Cossor how much Reynolds has shaved off his time since then, though.

"Ooh. I don't know if we're allowed to share those secrets."

Jodi Cosser

Jodi Cossor Photo: RNZ / Tim Collins

What she will talk about is how Reynolds' technique has been tailored to match - and maximise - his capability.

An able-bodied swimmer gets about 70 percent of their power from their upper body and the remaining 30 percent from their lower body, Dr Cossor says.

For Reynolds, who is missing most of his right leg, the split is more like 90-10.

After a start or a turn, a swimmer ordinarily tries to stay swimming underwater for as long as possible, using a powerful undulating dolphin kick known as the 'fifth stroke'.

For Reynolds, whose strength and power is concentrated in his upper body, that strategy makes little sense, Dr Cossor says.

"We do encourage him to come up sooner ... just so that he can get swimming and maximise his upper body strength."

As with all swimmers, Reynolds has also been working on making each stroke as efficient as possible, quickly getting his hand anchored into the water - the 'catch' position - and then moving the rest of his body past that point.

Reynolds and his team have also worked hard on his starts, Dr Cossor says.

"The original phase is when he's in a set position on the block - that requires a lot of upper-body strength because he does only have one leg to rest on the wall, so the strength and conditioning coach has been working with him around developing some explosive power off the wall."

After the Commonwealth Games are over, both Reynolds and Dr Cossor will fix their eyes on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she says.

"We would like him to be going, by Tokyo, a second faster."

Stroke by stroke

  • Five New Zealand para swimmers will compete at Gold Coast 2018: Sophie Pascoe, Jesse Reynolds, Tupou Neiufi, Chris Arbuthnott and Celyn Edwards
  • Gold Coast 2018 is an inclusive event - meaning para categories will be run alongside able-bodied categories
  • As well as 100m backstroke (S9 classification), Jesse Reynolds will also compete in 100m freestyle (S9 classification) and 100m breaststroke (SB8)
  • The world record for 100m backstroke (S9) is 1:01.75, set in 2012
  • Bodies in space: The physics of pole vaulting
  • Biggest NZ Commonwealth Games team confirmed