Going A Little Deeper

Frustratingly and despite their best intentions, good catch mechanics are very elusive for the vast majority of swimmers and triathletes. A good catch on the water is one of the things that separate elite and advanced swimmers from the masses and allow them to move quickly and efficiently through the water - but why do so many swimmers struggle to improve their catch?

Let's take a look at a common problem that might be holding you back. Here is a typical sequence from one such swimmer Anna showing her entering the water and extending forward:

In the final position (3) her elbow has dropped down lower than the wrist with the hand facing forward. This is a problem because from there it is impossible to initiate a high-elbow catch on the water. Instead Anna starts to pull through with the elbow dropped losing her a lot of propulsion:

The interesting thing here is that Anna knows she should not be dropping her elbow in position 3 and yet is unable to stop it happening. Why? Because she is trying to keep her hand too near the surface at this point in the stroke and despite her best intentions, as she rotates her body onto her left side she has to drop her elbow to keep it near the surface. In comparison, take a look at Australian elite swimmer Rhys Mainstone:

Comparing 3 and 5, notice that Rhys' hand is deeper in the water, which allows him to keep his elbow higher than the wrist and the wrist higher than the fingertips. He can then bend his elbow and start pressing water backward effectively (6), generating good propulsion.

As you swim, try entering the water and extending forward slightly deeper so that you are able to keep your elbow high. Experiment with different depths to see what feels best - somewhere between 20 and 30 cm (8 and 12 inches) is best, the exact depth will depend on how broad you are and the level of flexibility in your upper back and shoulders. Of course you don't want to go too deep as this will send your hand down towards the bottom of the pool, it's a matter of finding the sweet spot between the two.

A quick warning here: As you improve your catch you may feel your stroke rhythm lifting and your catch and pull through feels 'too easy'. These are good signs that you are getting things right - don't be put off! Whenever you are making changes to your stroke be objective and monitor how fast you are swimming versus your level of effort, don't just use your judgement of what feels immediately right and wrong, doing so can be very misleading at times.

This tip is taken from our five star-reviewed Catch Masterclass DVD, showing you exactly how elite swimmers generate so much propulsion, how to make these changes in your stroke and many of the other reasons why a good catch can be so elusive. If you haven't seen it already don't miss out!

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

I have the box set and catch DVDs,they have been a great help. In July of this year I could barely make it one fifty yard lap, indoor pool,freestyle. Although my recovery time between laps needs improvement I am able to swim one mile a session. I was asked a question I would like to ask you. My aquatic aerobics teacher asked if swim smooth taught about center balance ? As she demonstrated, her body while perfectly motionless was prone in the water. When I tried, my legs and back half sank like an anchor. I doubt if my titanium hip had any effect, but more about old age, 67. Anyway could you address this?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Swim Smooth. I only just discovered your website a week ago, but I already seem to be making progress in the pool! Mr Smooth is great!

Paul said...

Hi Anonymous # 1

Yes, this is certainly something we can look to address in future Blogs, however, have you seen this page:


and this one:


Hope these help.



DH said...

Hi Paul, this is really helpful, however how does one incorporate the "going deeper" concept to "reaching longer" as well? I keep being told I need to reach longer (but not let this become over-gliding), but to me, reaching longer implies reaching forward towards the front wall of the pool i.e. my hand is shallow like Anna in your example and I have the same problem as her. So in going deeper for the catch, does this mean that I should actually be reaching forward but aiming at a slightly downward angle? Thanks!

Paul said...

Hi DH,

You are correct in this statement:

"So in going deeper for the catch, does this mean that I should actually be reaching forward but aiming at a slightly downward angle? Thanks!"

...the key being to ensure that the finger tips are subtly below the level of the wrist and the wrist subtly below the level of the elbow as you extend forwards.

Hope this helps.



Dunstan said...

Great Article! Thanks for sharing.
The photos make it really clear.
Will use this in my coaching & share via Bare Fish.

Keep up the good work!


Anonymous said...

great article. one of the most useful postings ever! thanks for this.

I wonder if you could also post on the timing of starting the catch with one arm as the recovering arm enters the water. it seems like it is key to nail this down to keep the balance hence keep the elbow high. rolling on one's left and trying to keep the left elbow high and start pulling is tough. there must be a subtlety we are missing.
Thanks very much

Adam Young said...

Thanks Dunstan!

Hi Anonymous - really to develop your whole catch and your timing you need something like our Catch Masterclass DVD, it's a process you need to follow which isn't ideally suited to a blog post.

Saying that, you should be starting your catch mid-recovery (not on hand entry) on the other arm for good front quadrant timing... Otherwise you are starting your catch very late and will have introduced an over-glide to the stroke.


Adam Young
Swim Smooth

Anonymous said...

Hi Adam,
Thanks a lot.
here is a link that shows 3 drills. The first one is "slow recovery with hesitation". What are your thoughts on this one? That that capture your technique?

Adam Young said...

Hi Anonymous,

Yes, that's pretty much the timing. All three of those drills look very worthwhile - Dave Scott is a very good coach as well as an amazing athlete of course.

Cheers, Adam

family tree maker free said...

Thanks a lot for this review)) I appreciate it greatly as a swimmer! They can be rather helpful for any sportsman connected with swimming)

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