Elite Swimmer Visualisation: Don't Start Too Near The Surface

Below is a series of video stills taken from a selection of elite swimmers right at the very front of their stroke as they commence the catch:

2x Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington:

Our original Mr Smooth Jono Van Hazel:

2x Australian 10km Champion Rhys Mainstone:

2x Commonwealth Gold Medallist Ross Davenport:

Elite Junior Triathlete Sky Draper:

Elite Triathlete Guy Crawford:

Looking at the position of their lead forearm and hand, notice how similar they all are and how uncomplicated the position is. The elbow is just above the wrist and the wrist above the fingertips:

Notice also the depth of their arm and hand. The arm isn't right up at the surface as many swimmers believe it should be, it's actually quite deep around 30-40cm (12-16"). Trying to catch the water near the surface shows the palm forwards and drops the elbow, really damaging the catch. We call this position "putting on the brakes" as it not only harms the catch but kills stroke rhythm too.

The next time you swim, picture the position and depth of our elite swimmers' lead arm and feel the extra propulsion and rhythm you gain in your stroke.

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Err... I think that's why they included the last shot, to illustrate how not to do it...

Gilly said...

Very good reassuring post!

Question about the head position of all the elite swimmers...: are they looking too far forward? Would they be expected to align their eyes more with the bottom?



Paul said...

Great observation Gilly - well done! Probably best summarised in this blog post:


...and point # 3 here:


Hope this helps!


Anonymous said...

Excelent post!
I'm thinking if Thorpe, Hackett, Yang and Manadou just do the same, or maybe earlier?

Adam Young said...

Hi Anonymous, they all do the same!

There's a small shot of Sun Yang here: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-_Q37brRMO64/TjlS8y3CeCI/AAAAAAAAA-Y/-Bj1RDsR-0g/s1600/suntippedwrist.jpg


Anonymous said...

I really love and appreciate the knowledge through swimsmooth. I am learning swimming, I have a problem. I am not able to improve my legs and foots action, please suggest me.

naki boy said...

Top shots , awesum comments and advice. Brilliant on how to start stroke.

Adam Young said...

Hi Anonymous,

Did you see this post by Annie? Great advice on tuning up your kick! :



Isabel said...

Great pictures that come just at the right time. I know I'm putting on the breaks and while trying to correct that I was trying to catch right at the surface being careful not to let my arm drop. While I understand the elbow needs to always stays a bit higher than the wrist and fingers, it's reassuring to see the real catch realy starts deaper. And of course the other arm is out of the water by that time (another thing the guy on the last picture needs to correct). Thanks!!

Luís said...

I think like anonymous said, that the swimmers like Thorpe, Yang and Hackett maybe start little earlier.
You can see in the link that Adam Young post that the arm of Yang is really in an horizontal line.
What do you think Paul?
It´s another great post!!!!

Anonymous said...

please keep eyes on the same side leg as the catch arm too. the catch arm poses the high elbow catch requires some muscles to balance the catch arm. in other words, the same side of lats and oblique muscles are fired to balance the catch arm and also to keep the same side butt and leg high. most of swimmer who starts swimming from adult age hardly reach such a balace due to the lack of these muscles flexibility

Anonymous said...

Paul your insights into the freestyle stroke are pure gold. With the advent of Youtube and pining over super human EVF positions like Sun Yang a lot of practicality gets lost. This one aspect you point out here is currently being beat to death by a lot of triathlon coaches in my area and their swimmers are suffering from it. Great info!

Oliver K said...

Could you comment on


From what I can see, the recommendation there is to keep the arm higher for much longer than you recommend.

That video seems to me the one end of the spectrum, while on the other hand there seems Total Immersion, which seem to immediately cut down with the arm (from what I can see on the videos and the guys I know how practise it). It seems SwimSmooth takes a kind of middle position, right?

Regarding that Speedo video (I would guess the swimmer and the coach aren't complete idiots), from the SwimSmooth perspective, wouldn't one say that he puts on the breaks with his right arm, see around 0:45 - 1:10 in the video?

Intuitively, I would say that keeping the arm as high as possible is important for sprinting. Do you think there is such a relation? (So that Total Immersion, which seem to concentrate on long-distance swimming, can safely cut down quickly?)

Adam Young said...

Hi Oliver,

Interesting, I'd not seen that video before, yes he definitely drops the wrist and shows the palm forwards. You know a lot of elite swimmers do that sort of thing when they're doing slow technique demonstrations and once they're up to full speed they naturally disappear. It's actually the deliberate slowing down that introduces problems, which is one reason why we're not fans of deliberately dropping stroke rate for any swimmer - it tends to harm the catch.

To me the biggest flaw there is the fact that as he breathes the supporting arms presses down on the water and pulls through very straight, this is a symptom of unilateral breathing. Again this may improve at full speed.

With regards to speed vs. catch technique, no I think sprinters need to get into their catch v.quickly and so won't go too near the surface. Distance swimmers also tend to use a faster stroke rate (particularly in open water) and so don't go too high either. That leaves the middles distance guys (say 200-400m) which have the longest strokes of all accompanied by a uber-powerful kick to propel through the short gap between strokes.



intradaylivetips said...

Huge pictures that approach now at the precise moment I know I am putting on the breaks and while trying to right that I was tiresome to hold correct at the plane being alert not to let my arm fall.

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