Friday, April 4, 2014

The Fundamental Link Between Gliding And A Poor Catch

At Swim Smooth we call an Overglider someone who has focused on trying to reduce the number of strokes they take per length to an absolute minimum, believing that a reduced number of strokes is the key measure of efficiency in freestyle swimming. Many have also been taught that by pausing and gliding as long as possible on their side they will be conserving energy.

The truth is though that swimming like this is very energy sapping. Water is 800 times more dense than air meaning that any significant pause at the front of the stroke will cause the swimmer to stall before having to re-accelerate on the next stroke. This accelerate-decelerate-accelerate-decelerate action is very inefficient.

Under the water at the front of their stroke, nearly all Overgliders drop their elbow and show the palm forwards. We call this 'putting on the brakes' :

(you can see many more Overgliders doing this here:

But why does this enter into their stroke? The simple answer would be to say they are trying to reach as far forwards as possible and this is bringing the fingertips upwards but actually there's an even more fundamental reason than that.

If we look back to our blog post from a few months ago, we can see the position you should be in as you enter into the water and extend forwards, with the elbow slightly higher than the wrist and the wrist slightly higher than the fingertips:

Half the battle with developing a good catch technique is about getting into this position in the first place, the rest naturally follows on afterwards... and that's really the point. Once you are extended in this position the water flow over your hand and arm actively encourages you to initiate the catch - it's very difficult to pause here and not start the catch:


So the Overglider has a problem, the water is pushing them into starting the stroke but they don't want to. The only thing they can really do is disrupt position 1 and so they learn to drop the wrist and push against the water - literally stalling the stroke. Of course this isn't intentional, it just progressively creeps in as they 'learn how to glide'.

This fundamental link between gliding and harming the catch is one of the key reasons why you should never try to introduce glide to your stroke, even (especially!) when you're learning the stroke. Use your full range of motion but keep things smooth and continuous, flowing from one stroke to the next.

Elite Swimmers

Over the last few years we've managed to start shifting the perception in the swimming world about whether great swimmers actually glide down the pool. The fact is when you carefully study elite swimmers with a classically long smooth freestyle stroke, the gap between one stroke finishing at the rear and the next starting at the front is tiny - less than 0.2 second. When we watch them swim, they appear to be gliding but this is actually an optical illusion, in reality they transition smoothly from one stroke to the next without any pauses in their stroke at all.

As a quick example of this, the great Ian Thorpe is famous for having a beautifully long smooth stroke taking around 32 strokes in a 50m pool. That's certainly a long stroke but in his autobiography This Is Mehe says that if he wants to he can drop down to 24 strokes per 50m - or even 20!

So Ian doesn't try to swim with as few strokes as possible, in fact he was fastest and most efficient taking 12 more strokes than his absolute minimum. Other Olympic Gold medallists have taken many more strokes again, some over 50 strokes per 50m, highlighting the fact that swimming well isn't about taking as few strokes as possible but about swimming with great technique and great rhythm.

Curing Overgliding

If you are a bit of an Overglider yourself but have had trouble removing the pause from your stroke timing, then you might be able to see why now. The key isn't to consciously turn your arms over faster because if you are still pushing forwards against the water that will feel very hard to do. Instead simply work on entering and extending forwards straight into position 1 above, when you do that your stroke rate will naturally lift and you will instantly become a faster and more efficient swimmer.

We go into that process in detail (and lots more besides) in our best selling Catch Masterclass DVD.

Swim Smooth!


Patricia said...

I tend to over rotate showing my whole back to the side..... my feet go into a scissors kick and body position sinks. any thoughts on how to fix that?

I'm trying to connect arm entry to my hip movement and shortening glide... Help!

Annie Oberlin-Harris said...

Hi Patricia,

Did you see last weeks blog?

Should really help you out there!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article Paul.

I realised I was over-gliding more on my right side, reaching forward and dropping the elbow. I have attempted to cut in a steeper angle, getting my arm into the catch position sooner, its working well.
When I do this with fins on, I feel a pressure from the water on the back of my hand and forearm, as if the water is trying to make me pull faster. Is this correct? Does this mean I am not pulling soon enough that the drive from the fins is being resisted by my vertical arm?

Annie Oberlin-Harris said...

Hi Anonymous,

What you're feeling is absolutely correct and occurs as a result of your improved catch and speed in the water, particularly with fins on- its nothing to worry about. You're right it's like the water 'wants you to pull faster', and so you do! You're doing great!

Justin said...

I was a chronic overglider until I discovered Swim Smooth. This article has reminded me of the struggles I had, and the frustration I had with trying to get faster.

The drill that finally made it 'click' was the kick on side with fins. It was only when kicking with fins that I had the speed to feel the resistance from my leading arm as described above. I was able to correct, and the difference has been incredible. Now when I increase my stroke rate, I finally go faster!

Thanks to all for the blogs and articles. It has really helped.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!
I'm a new master swimmer, but I learn a lot more here than to swimming lessons.
I'm a light overglide, but I'm trying to improve
Congratulations to all.

Annie Oberlin-Harris said...

Hi Justin - Really glad you found us and are now making speed improvements- that's what we're here for!

Hi Albert - Great to hear you're making progress too, keep up the good work!

Fundeto said...

The problem isn´t having a long stroke but it is do it with a bad technique.
If you compare a long stroke of someone with bad technique (photo moving) with someone with shorter stroke (photo 1,2 and 3) but with good technique, it is normal that it seems best the second one, but someone who swim with bad technique and short stroke have also many failures.
For example Sun yang has around 27 strokes and two beat Kick in 50 m pool and his style don´t think that it is a bad option because he makes the 1500 m world record
On the other hand almost all the elite triathletes have shorter stroke.
I think there is room for different styles, there is no one perfect that defeat others, using one or the other depends on many factors.
Nor do I agree that those that use long stroke consume more energy caused by small stops, this may be in someone with bad technique, but by common sense, if you make fewer movements, muscle gets tired less secure (With good technique).
If you compare something should be done under the same conditions stroke long Vs short stroke but both with good technique.
A greeting and follow as well.

Annie Oberlin-Harris said...

Hi Fundeto,

Yes our sentiments entirely!

Anthony said...

Re; entering the water to that correct position with the elbow lower than the shoulder and the wrist lower than the elbow - for me it often seems like the stroke problem I am struggling with isn't the problem; the actual problem is what I did right before the problem. For me, seems like if my hands enter the water at the 1/2 and 10/11 o'clock positions, I tend to find the correct shoulder/elbow/wrist position naturally. If I enter the water too near (or across) the centerline, it is almost impossible to avoid the "hand brakes" posture. And tracking back one more step, it seems like if my shoulder blades are more active and mobile, my hands/arms are nearer my body in recovery, it is much easier to enter the water away from the centerline. If I have more of a flat, swinging-arms style of recovery, my hands inevitably go in at or over the centerline, the "brakes" go on, and I can't get a good catch.

Adam Young said...

Hi Anthony,

It sounds like you've done a pretty good diagnostic on your stroke there! Yes crossing the centre line in front of the head is a classic reason to then drop the elbow immediately following! Of course, it also causes snaking through the water, so it's important to fix it.

The traditional way coaches have used to fix a crossover is to think about going wide (to 2 oclock and 10 oclock as you describe). That's OK but it does tend to reduce your body roll as you do it.

We prefer to work on your swimming posture, pulling your shoulder blades together and back to bring the lead arm straighter. This has the benefit of enhancing rotation in the stroke:

As for swinging across the centre line when uses a straighter arm, that can be a problem if you have a crossover already as you say. The fix, as mentioned in the link above, is to 'swim proud'!


Adam Young
Swim Smooth

alath said...

Hey Adam, thanks for your thoughts. Not self-diagnosis; most of this has been pointed out by the coaches from my swim group here in Indiana.
And you are right on the same page with them about the shoulder blade posture. This is good confirmation to me that I'm getting good coaching and on the right track.
Thanks for the link - I will certainly be trying this soon!

June said...

I wanted to say many thanks to swim smooth. I completed the 'Great North Swim' yesterday and my aim was to improve my time. Last year my time was 47:48 this year 36:38. As you will tell from my times I am not a super fast swimmer. I took up swimming to keep fit when I was winding down with less work approaching retirement I am 58 years old. I started off a beginner to front crawl which I then increased the number of lengths I was able to do . I discovered swim smooth and realised I had become an over glider and have used swim smooth book , over glider training PDFs and your website to improve my speed I took advice about using a tempo trainer but still feel myself over gliding sometimes. I know this because I increase the strokes but this does not improve speed. But I have found this timer has helped me to pace myself better. I have never used fins because I would feel silly at my local pool so I do the drills without them.
I am now wondering what to set for my next goal. Is it possible to improve my time further? Or do I double the distance to swim?
I am also learning to blog so I hope this turns up in correct place.
Many thanks

Adam Young said...

Hi June,

Good to hear from you and great that you've improved so much using our materials! I'm quite sure that you can still get quicker and also swim further (why not both??!).

Have you ever had a video analysis session? I think you'd find it very eye-opening and as you're a little unsure how to improve now it will give you some very clear direction on that. Checkout our certified coaches:

If you are in the NW then Emma is on your doorstep in the lakes. She's fantastic (like all our coaches!):



Anonymous said...

Thanks for another very helpful post. I am in my 50s, and only started swimming a year ago. I'm making good progress with an instructor, but I have to say that the most effective tips have come from your blog, even if it is different to what I hear at the pool.