Video: How Trying To Glide Harms Your Catch

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[Warning: If you are on a mobile or slow internet connection you may need to give the video in this post a short time to buffer and play smoothly.]

If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while, you'll know that we advise against adding a pause-and-glide into your stroke to try and make your stroke longer. One reason is that water is 800x more dense than air and you simply decelerate during the glide before have to re-accelerate on the following stroke - which is a very inefficient way to swim.

Another reason is that trying to glide has a strong tendency to harm your catch technique at the front of your stroke. Here's Paula who is relatively new to swimming:

Paula's trying to pause the lead arm out in front of the head to make her stroke longer. Like nearly all swimmers who are trying to do this, she is dropping her elbow and wrist, and showing the palm forwards. Here's a slow motion close-up of the front of her stroke:

You can clearly see how she's leaning on the water in order to try and pause her lead hand in front of her head. Not only is she applying a brake and slowing herself down but by dropping the elbow and wrist like that it's almost impossible to get a good hold of the water and press it backwards effectively during the stroke that follows.

If you push forwards like this in your own stroke then you will feel quite a lot of water pressure on the palm of your hand. Don't mistake that feeling for a good catch - it isn't! In fact, when you correct this position (see below) you will actually feel less pressure on the palm of the hand, which can feel wrong at first.

Pushing forwards on the water has many knock on effects in your stroke, such as sinking the legs downwards at the back. If you look back to the top video again you can see how hard Paula is having to kick to try bring them up to the surface and to make up for a lack of arm propulsion in her stroke. Kicking that hard is hugely energy sapping!

Gliding And The Catch

Instead of dropping the elbow and showing the palm forwards, we should be entering and extending with the elbow slightly higher than the wrist and the wrist slightly higher than the fingertips:

In this position there's no braking effect on the lead hand and the swimmer is perfectly set-up for engaging with the water and pressing it backwards.

The important point to appreciate is that when the hands extend forward into the correct catching position, the flow of the water actually pushes your hand and arm into commencing the catch. Elite swimmers use this little push from the water to engage the catch and keep their stroke continuous and flowing at the front. Here's marathon swimming legend Shelley Taylor-Smith doing just that:

If you are trying to deliberately pause at the front of the stroke there's really no other way to stop the next stroke commencing other than learning to push forwards against the water. This is why nearly all Overgliders have learnt to 'put on the brakes' like this in their stroke (as you can see in this Youtube sequence).

The solution? Take a leaf out of the elite swimmer's book and don't try and glide in the first place! Not only will this improve your catch mechanics but it will lift you stroke rate, improving your sense of rhythm. Don't rush the stroke but keep it continuous and flowing to give yourself every chance of developing a great catch and pull, you'll be a much faster and more efficient swimmer as a result.

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

This "How Trying To Glide Harms Your Catch" item's one of the best I've seen in quite a while! Thanks! Can't wait 'till some warmer weather arrives...

Lars said...

Excellent post for its clarity and all too well-known relevance.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul, Thanks so much for this and your great advice over the past few years!Here is a good subject for your next blog.I see that Shelly Taylor Smith and a lot of elite distance swimmers use a early vertical forearm during their catch and a high elbow pull through very unlike Mr Smooth.Is it time to revamp him or have two options for swimmers? Thanks Dan

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul

I must complement you on an excellent site and blog. I've been a swimmer since I started walking. With a good gap in the middle of my life no 56 and been seriously back to swimming in the last two years. I have seen my times and endurance tumbled as a result of chasing the smooth. I love the tweaks and just how its made a difference what was a good swimmer to a great swimmer... my egos gone up a few points too as I regularly get comments like "wow you swim so effortlessly".. :-) I do tell them of you or course.

Well done and thanks

P.S Working towards a 10k open water challenge

Jonas said...

Yes, excellent post. Paula's catch is wrong BUT her coordination arms-legs is perfect: true that her (six-beat)kick is too large but her timing is great. And I think a well coordinated kick is essential. Swim Smooth puts a lot of emphasis on the catch (and they are right) but not enough on the kick.

On the other hand, in Shelley Taylor-Smith's video we can see that, just after hand entry, she lifts the fingers, which, then, are over the wrist. I think this is wrong.

In my opinion, Paul Newsome has a perfect catch. So that's the one I try to imitate. Thanks, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks Swim Smooth!

A few little videos in my email on a piece of stroke to improve on is such a nice way to pick up skills and take them into the pool.

I really appreciate your efforts, even though I am a casual swimmer. The delivery is so effective, your passion shines through!

Kurt from Canada:)

Unknown said...

Anoymous 1 & Lars - Thanks!

Anonymous 2- You may not be aware but we now have a modernised version of Mr Smooth including Miss Swinger app available for iPads and iPhones here: or for Android devices here:

Anonymous 3- Great that you're getting back into it! Yep the Smooth style doesn't suit everybody, you must do what feels right for you. Good luck with the 10k!

Jonus- Thanks for the observation, we are focussed predominantly on distance swimming, hence we don't emphasise having a strong leg kick, simply an effective one which keeps your bum and legs high in the water. Shelly ever so slgihtly 'feels the water' before initiating the catch yes, alot of elite swimmers do this. I'm sure Paul will be flattered!

Unknown said...

Anonymous 3- Thanks and really glad to hear you find the resources useful for your swimming!

Unknown said...

Anonymous 3- Thanks and really glad to hear you find the resources useful for your swimming!

Will R said...

I know this is somewhat off topic, but the model swimmers' heads appear to be facing forward, while the needs-help swimmer is looking down. I'm a "down looker" but I feel like some of the faster swimmers have a more forward facing head position. Is looking down something taught to beginners to get our hip/legs elevated until we get good enough to look forward?

Lester said...

Just returned from a lesson and the under water camera shows me that I am making the same mistake with my catch , coach says it might even explain my shoulder pains.

Paul said...

Hi Will R - yes, you're correct - see Point 3 here:

Lester - yes, this could certainly explain some shoulder pain too...



Hampton Swim School said...

What a fantastic article on swimming techniques and awesome video incorporated into this well done and a great read!

Unknown said...

Thank you, really glad you enjoyed it and can make good use of it!

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