For decades swimmers have been taught that freestyle, AKA "front crawl," involves keeping their elbows high and using their arms to make an S-shaped pattern underwater. Known as "sculling," this technique was developed by Doc Counsilman and helped Indiana University win 6 consecutive NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships (1968–1973) and 20 consecutive (1961–1980) Big Ten Conference titles. May of his swimmers went on to set world records and win Olympic gold medals, including Mark Spitz, Gary Hall and Jim Montgomery. But in recent years, top level swimmers have started to modify their stroke, slowly abandoning the sculling technique in favor of the straight arm "deep catch" technique.
A recent Johns Hopkins study lead by Dr. Rajat Mittal, a mechanical engineering professor and devoted recreational swimmer, compared both swimming techniques using fluid dynamic models, laser scanners and motion capture video. The study's results indicates that if all variables are equal “…the deep-catch stroke is far more effective.”
Not surprisingly, the results of this study are likely to pose more questions than it answers. In the meantime, read the article below and decide for yourself what style arms you have: Paddles or Propellers.