Why A Good Catch Is So Elusive: Wrong Can Feel Right

In this week's blog we're going to look at a self re-enforcing problem that may lie in your stroke. If you've been working on lengthening out it's very likely you will have experienced this problem - especially if you're an Overglider. (If you haven't yet seen our new Swim Types system and understood how you swim, check it out here)

Your 'catch' is right at the front of the stroke as you tip your hand down and bend your elbow to get hold of the water:

A good catch action presses the water backwards, which propels you forwards. The catch is critical in swimming because if you fail to get a good hold of the water at the front of the stroke you lose most of your propulsion through the rest of it.

Instead of pressing the water backwards, as we see Mr Smooth doing above, many swimmers press down on the water - or even worse, drop their wrists and push forwards! ;If you've visited Swim Types and discovered you're an Overglider then it's very likely you drop your wrists like this under the water as you stretch forwards as far as possible. We call this 'putting on the brakes' :


If you drop your wrist then you'll feel the water striking the palm of your hand as you travel forwards. This creates a pressure on the palm but this is only a braking force, not a propulsive force. If you push downwards on the water you'll also feel a strong pressure on the palm, as water is heavy and resistant to movement. The problem with pushing down is that it fatigues the relatively weak muscle groups of the shoulder and gives you no propulsion:

Now here's the thing, many swimmers are under the impression that when they have a good catch they'll feel a strong locked-on sensation or a solid connection with the water. By pressing downwards, or dropping the wrist and pressing forwards, they feel pressure on the hand and perceive this as a good catch. Do you feel this when you swim?

When you improve your catch technique and start pressing the water backwards, you actually feel less pressure on the palm because you're helping the water on its way past your body. If you are looking for a strong connection with the water then pressing backwards will probably feel wrong at first and you may have backed away from this good technique in the past. This is perhaps the biggest reason why a good catch is so elusive.

To improve your catch, focus on tipping your wrist downwards, as shown by Mr Smooth above and bend the elbow early on, in front of your head. This will help you press the water backwards. While you develop this technique don't worry about feeling 'latched on' or 'anchored' on the water at first, this will come in time.

Many Overgliders appreciate that they need to lift their stroke rate (strokes taken per minute) to swim faster. However, this is extremely hard work with a dropped wrist in the stroke - it's akin to driving a car with the handbrake on. By removing the braking action your stroke rate will naturally lift up without any increase in effort.

Our new Swim Type Guides take you through all the drills and visualisations you need to develop this improved catch technique, all specific to your individual needs as a swimmer. Find out more here.

One final note: A great catch is technically very hard to achieve and is what separates great swimmers from merely good swimmers. However, to make big improvements in your speed in the water you don't need a perfect catch - just by starting to press the water backwards you'll achieve some nice gains in your speed and efficiency in the water.

Swim Smooth!

Announcing SWIM TYPES: An Innovation Bigger Than Mr Smooth

Swim Smooth are proud to announce a brand new way of looking at your swimming in a system called 'Swim Types'. Through our work with thousands of swimmers we've identified six distinct styles, or types, of freestyle stroke. Take a look at our new microsite and discover your type:

picture of swim types together
After identifying your Swim Type we then provide you with a straightforward process to follow to improve your efficiency and speed through the water. The Swim Type system doesn't replace conventional swim coaching, it complements it by providing you with additional insight into how you swim and what's holding you back in the water.

Many people are frustrated with their swimming. If you have worked hard on your stroke but are no faster than when you started it's very likely you've worked on the wrong things for your individual gender, height, build, stroke style and personality. The Swim Types system addresses this with a much more individual approach to stroke correction.

Also, many swimmers are confused and are thinking about too many things when they swim. The Swim Type approach cuts through that clutter, getting you focused solely on what you need to do for your individual stroke, allowing you to forget everything else.

Discover your Swim Type on Swim Smooth's new microsite: www.swimtypes.com

A request from us: If the one-size-fits-all approach hasn't improved your swimming, or has left you on a plateau, then please spread the word that there is a better way. Everyone is capable of swimming quickly and efficiently with an individual approach and style. Recognise your individuality and you too can make rapid progress with your swimming.

Swim Smooth!

What's Your Ape Index?

Here's something interesting on our current theme of individuality in swimming:

Climbers call the difference between your arm length and your height your 'Ape Index'. The difference is normally expressed in inches. So if your arm span is three inches wider than your height, then that gives you an ape index of +3. If your arm span is 2 inches smaller than your height, that gives an ape index of -2.

It's very easy to quickly find your ape index, just stretch up against a wall or post and find your arm span, then keeping your top finger in place, stand up and compare it to your height. You don't have to be too precise with this, you can look at the difference and estimate it in inches:


We can see there that Paul has an Ape Index of +3.

But what's this got to do with swimming? Well if you have short arms for your height (an ape index of zero or less) it's very unlikely you will be able to make a long stroke work for you. Swimmers with short arms will become slower and less efficient by trying to match the strokes per length of long-armed swimmers.

If you have shorter arms don't despair, you are capable of swimming at a higher stroke rate than other swimmers without fighting the water. A shorter stroke with a faster turn-over is your route to swimming speed and efficiency. Copying the style of elite swimmers (who nearly all have long arms) really won't help much.

You might like the analogy with bike crank length. Cyclists with shorter femurs tend to favour a shorter crank length that allows them to turn their legs over faster.

Ape Index is just one of the many physical and psychological attributes that construct your swimming individuality. If you've found that following a particular piece of swimming advice hasn't improved your speed (or even made you slower) then question if this was good advice for your stroke. In swimming always remember: one size doesn't fit all!

Swim Smooth!

PS. If you have an ape index greater than +7 or less than -4 inches then we'd love to hear about your experiences of swimming and the stroke style that works for you. Send us a quick email to: feedback@swimsmooth.com

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