Leading With Your Hands

Thanks for all your emails and comments following last week's blog - your questions were about our description of this picture:

We said it showed "Michelle dropping her wrist whilst breathing", you said "no, she's dropping her elbow". This is an interesting point of perspective and well worth devoting this week's blog to discussing - it could make a big improvement to your swimming.

Here's a zoom of Michelle's forearm and hand:

We can see clearly there by looking at the line between forearm and hand that the wrist angle is good. However, relative to the water, her wrist is dropped and the palm facing forwards.

The problem with the position Michelle's reached there is twofold. With the elbow lower than the wrist it's going to be hard to get a good catch on the water as she's going to have to commence the next movement by pushing the water downwards rather than pressing it backwards. Also, with her palm facing forwards she's creating drag and again it's hard to press the water backwards from there. Instead, she should be in a nice strong catch setup position, as demonstrated by Mr Smooth here:

The key points to this position are that the finger tips are lower than the wrist and the wrist is lower than the elbow. If you can achieve this position you'll generate more propulsion for a given effort and automatically reduce any deadspots in your stroke.

The question we'd like to ask is: What came first? Did the dropped elbow cause the wrist to drop? Or did the hand position drop the elbow? Against convention, we'd argue the latter. As humans we have good awareness (technical term: proprioception) of our hands and so we naturally coordinate and lead the stroke with them. Our awareness of the arms themselves is much lower and so they tend to naturally follow the hand position. By focusing on correcting the hand - tipping the wrist downwards into the position shown by Mr Smooth - Michelle's forearm will automatically raise into a higher elbow position.

For this reason, within Swim Smooth we often talk in terms of wrist positions and like our swimmers to use a slightly tipped wrist if possible. It's an example of our cause and effect methodology that runs through all our coaching. Focus on the thing at the cause of the problem - in this case wrist position - and the rest will click into place. This approach is a much faster and less frustrating way to correct your stroke!

Coaches, try this yourself: If you have a swimmer who drops their elbows on their extension forwards, instead of telling them to keep their elbows high, ask them to focus on tipping their wrist into a slightly cocked position and possibly adopt a slightly deeper hand position too (not right at the surface). It will feel alien to them at first but from the pool deck you'll see the improvement right away. Don't forget to compensate for the distortion of the water in your observations!

Swim Smooth!


ColleenH said...

Since focusing on my wrist position I have noticed an improvement in my feel for the water and being able to "push" more water behind me. You guys pointed this out in another post and it really helped. What I'm having problems with is making that "smoother" feeling translate into noticeable speed improvements over shorter distances.

Bill Moorcroft said...

You ask what came first the wrist facing up or the elbow being below the wrist. Too simplistic to think all swimmers can be solved with one answer. Think about it. I've coached swimmers with low elbow but wrist pointing down and swimmers with high elbow but wrist facing up. To achieve what you guys correctly see as best position to achieve good grab and return, I have and do get my swimmers to think first "High Elbow" above wrist combined with "wrist down" to achieve water feel, grab and pull back aggressively to achieve propulsion forward. For me you can't just have one without the other.

Anonymous said...

What works for my swimmers. Everyone get's something in different ways, you must keep working on it until of course it clicks. My most successful drill on this issue is... Using a pullbuoy and finger paddles and doing the scull drill. Making sure the swimmer does not do a breast stroke, or have a wide arm action. He/she must grab the water outward & inward. This is a slow moving drill and I only do 25m drill / 25 swim x 2
If they do not catch the water right, they will not move or they will go backwards. When they get it watch the wrists.... Correct!

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Robert said...

Excellent and very exciting site. Love to watch. Keep Rocking.
Swim Academy Surrey

Cyndy said...

Thanks Robert, there is loads of info to keep you busy and get you swimming your best! Cheers Cyndy

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