Swimming Down A Narrow Corridor

One of the most common stroke flaws under the body is pulling out wide with too straight an arm:
When this happens, it normally occurs more on one side of the stroke than the other and it is often related to breathing patterns - if you only breathe left you are more likely to do this with your right arm (and vice versa).

A good rule of thumb is that the hand should pull through directly under the shoulder, as we saw in our classic blog post 'Bend It Like Becky' featuring Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington:

A good visualisation to improve this is to imagine you are swimming down a narrow corridor:

Your elbows are allowed to brush the sides of this corridor but not your hands, as Paul explains to a swimmer in this short video clip:

Here's Becky again showing us how it should be done with just her elbow brushing the corridor wall:

Pulling straight and wide like this often only happens on a breathing stroke as you press downwards and outwards to lift your head clear of the water. As well as correcting the arm pull itself, work on keeping your head lower when you breathe using the bow wave trough - that will reduce the need to press down at the front of the stroke.

So try this corridor visualisation the next time you swim, maintaining a focus on keeping your hands away from the walls - even when breathing. If you feel like your pull through becomes smoother or easier you will know you've made an improvement!

Swim Smooth!


Jonas said...

Excellent post, which refers to an even better post: "Bend It Like Becky" (part I and II). I understand Paul's idea of pulling along a rope down the body, so that the pull through is done inside a narrow corridor. However I have a question: I have seen analysis of the stroke of some champions, like Michael Phelps, and the trajectory of their hand down the water is not straight (as Swim Smooth advocates), it is like a small "S". Could someone from Swim Smooth make a comment on this? Thank you.

Joe said...

Could you maybe say why it is good to have the arm directly under your body?

Is it because it is more streamlined? Or because it reduces shoulder injury? Or because it allows for greater power?

Paul said...

Hi Jonas

It's a fair point to say that if you tracked the motion of even Becky's pull through (which to the naked eye appears perfectly straight) will have some degree of slight curvature to it. However, back in the 1970s this was very much emphasised as a strong S-shaped curve which people were supposed to exaggerate to help lengthen out the stroke. The assumption looked at the freestyle stroke in only 2 dimensions without fully understanding and accounting for body rotation along the long axis of the spine. As such, many swimmers over-emphasised this movement and were physically pushing water from side-to-side rather than truly back behind them. It was also meant to be preceded with a thumb-first entry into the water which we now know is one of the leading causes of shoulder pain in swimming.

Hi Joe

Some open water swimmers in very rough water will adopt a slightly wider stance than Becky in these images to aid stability, but the elbow will still be the widest point and thus still fit within our analogy here.

You're pretty much on the money with all three points there - streamlining, reduce risk of injury and greater power transfer - nice work!


jenniferLH said...

Perfect timing! Just got back from my swim with today's main focus on my underwater pull. This visual will help a lot! Love these blogs - thanks so much!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the tip pull. I read this post and the Bend it Like Beccy post and helps explain why I do get sore shoulders.

Unknown said...

I have identified my pull-through as an area to work on. I've been trying to have my palm facing the rear of the pool (smiley face idea) but a coach recently mentioned that I was taking my arm out of the water too early.

Is there a drill you can recommend to help achieve a nice long pull-through? I recall a tip of imagining putting something in your pocket but I wondered if there was something a bit more comprehensive to practice.


Adam Young said...

Hi Neil,

First up, are you absolutely sure you need to emphasise this more - quite often swimmers are told that when it's not the best advice for them.

Worth a quick read: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2010/08/should-you-emphasise-back-of-your.html

Have you tried the Unco drill? It's an advanced drill but a great way to link your stroke timing:



Unknown said...

Thanks Adam

Interesting article. On reflection, my problem may be shortening my stroke but perhaps more at the front.
On a CSS set, my stroke rate went up from 44 to 60 SPM over the course of the 12 sets. My conclusion is that my stroke was shortening as I got tired, and so I needed to take more strokes to keep up with the beeper.

My plan is to experiment with different stroke rates to see if that makes a difference. I'm aware that less than 50 SPM is slower than recommended.

Does that sound like a reasonable plan?


PS - My CSS pace for 100m is quite slow (2:32)

Adam Young said...

Hi Neil,

Ok sure, my gut instinct from what you say is that something in the low 50s is going to be about the right compromise for you.

Have you considered taking a ramp test? : http://www.swimsmooth.com/ramptest.html


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