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!


Adrienne said...

I correct the wristdrop braking action by
re-visiting the sweet spot! I get the person to enter the hand in on an angle to achieve 10-15cm below the surface of the water for the catch phase. Using Catch-up to start then moving onto 1 arm drill to eliminate the pausing. This eliminates deadspots and playing with the water in front and also the pushing down issue. Because gravity, the falling forward feeling gets the swimmer to want to pull through sooner, and immeadiately backwards. I have had success with all my clients doing this, and stopped shoulder problems and created better catches. Adrienne Willing

Daniel said...

Thanx Paul for how you express things! Your insight and knowledge put in to words helps me a lot!

Adam Young said...

Hi Christophe,

You're looking at the actual swimming clips from that video, not the slightly strange abstract posing?

Ian was a fantastic swimmer and you're quite right he doesn't drop his wrist - it's certainly possible to have a long stroke without doing this as demonstrated there.

I'm going to expand a little around the 'gliding' aspect because I'm sure you're interested in that:

Firstly, compared to an overglider what you're seeing there is a very short period of time when gliding. Ian races at around 75 strokes per minute, whereas most overgliders are in the 40-50 strokes per minute range with an exaggerated pause in their stroke. The period of time Ian has available at the front there is relatively very short.

Also we must be careful to distinguish the time 'paused doing absolutely nothing' which is short, compared to that period when he's still extending forwards with his body roll from finishing the other stroke at the back.

Perhaps most importantly of all, whilst Ian is in that stretched out position, check what's happening at the back end - a hugely powerful and very propulsive leg kick. Ian is famous for having one of the most powerful kicks of all time and could kick 50m with a kick-board in 28 seconds.

A big cause of inefficiency with gliding is that you decelerate between strokes and then have to re-accelerate on the next stroke. This is very hard work (akin to riding your bike up a hill in too big a gear, stalling between pedal strokes). Ian's solution to this is to add in an incredible leg kick to keep the speed up during his (very short) glide phase. As distance swimmers and triathletes this would be nearly impossible to maintain. As a sprinter (100/200/400m) this is tough-but-doable Ian and it's perhaps notable that he never raced longer than this despite lots of speculation he might during his career.

All swimmers change their stroke style and timing between steady swimming (which we can see some of there) and race speed (also present). Note that when building up the pace the glide drops away significantly - even with a building leg kick to push him through it. When examining swimmers we need to stick to race speed footage as this is showing them at their most efficient. You can certainly find footage of elite swimmers at much slower paces moving 'stylistically' for the camera. There's footage of Phelps doing this out there (another monster leg kick).

The height and arm-span of a swimmer also has a dramatic impact on how fast they can swim with an over-gliding style. It works up to a point for some tall guys (say improving someone from 2:00 to 1:40/100m) but anyone under 5'6" is going to find it very ineffective for them without a very propulsive kick.

Does that help answer your question Christophe?


Adam Young
Swim Smooth

Unknown said...

Hi Rick,

Glad you enjoyed the post and agree with us on the Swinger rhythm benefits!

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