Swim Faster - Stop Catching and Start Throwing!

In swimming, we often hear about how important the catch phase is. It is as we understand critical to the success of our stroke. However by far the most common fault amongst our Holiday Guests in Portugal this year was a lack of a finish to their stroke. But why?

In my opinion, it could be two things

1. Overemphasis of the importance of the catch and a knock on effect on athletes
2. Overemphasis on the importance of a high elbow recovery

Both of these are 'traditional' coaching points that you will see repeated by coaches around the world in swimming pools every day. But what effect do they have, how does the wording, how does the emphasis, how does the linguistics affect the athlete?

1. Overemphasis of the importance of the Catch

Firstly when learning a skill we are always robotic clunky and very thoughtful about trying the action we are trying to achieve. At the front of your stroke, it is important to be relaxed and supple. If I say to you 'that you must focus on this area a lot' and then your very engaged brain zones in its attention on this area, what will the outcome be? 

Well the answer is that it is quite likely it will stiff and static! This is the opposite of what we want you to do!

A complex action is more difficult to learn than a simple action. So put your hand in the water let it relax and move through that transition from relaxation to power progressively as you press and then finish off the stroke.

Secondly, as I said in a blog article late last year there is little actual propulsion to be gained from this phase of the stroke. So why focus disproportionately on it especially if that can lead to an outcome you don't want? 

2. Overemphasis on the importance of a high elbow recovery

Is a high elbow important? No! 

There are different strokes out there which are very suitable for different folks! This depends on the individual's background, strength and weakness and crucially their flexibility and range of movement in their upper back and shoulders!

A high elbow recovery can actually negatively impact an awful lot of Age Group triathletes swimming. Due to the fact the majority of us sit facing a laptop (as I am now) we don't have the required mobility to execute a 'pretty' stroke. So why are we working against ourselves? This often leads to impingement across the shoulder girdle which affects the setup of the opposite arm and hand. 

What is important is finishing off your stroke!

Think of it like this would you ever throw a ball to somebody and not follow through with the throwing arm? The answer is no. We have seen many many athletes who actively start to bend the elbow and slide their hand forwards out of the water at that critical end of each stroke where they should be pressing back. So why do we encourage this with a high elbow in swimming? The answer is to make it look 'traditional' and 'pretty'.

I have asked plenty of athletes this simple question, what would you rather pretty or effective and fast?

How do we improve this?

1. Stop over emphasising complex areas with swimmers (especially early on in their development) and simplify the key phases of the stroke to transition - power - recovery

2. Stop working on our high elbows

3. Start working on our throwing rather than our catching by following through at the rear or your stroke! This analogy is crucially appropriate because it is the opposite of what many swimmers are trying to achieve.

If you can do this then it is likely the front will relax you will rotate more evenly and your stroke will come together. After all, as I said in my last swimming blog the secret to swimming is it is all about the sum of the parts and not the precision of any single component. 

Below is a simple drill to help you realise this 'follow through potential. It focuses on the power stage of the stroke not finishing at the surface of the water but following through the surface and out of the water. Letting the arms momentum flow without being broken until it is well out of the water at this point you can then swing the arm as demonstrated (or indeed bend the elbow a little) but not before your hand is out of the water! This momentum will then do the recovering of your arm for you with no effort allowing a taut body to place the recovering hand back in the water for the next transition into the next powerful stroke.