Friday, October 13, 2017

Still Doing Catch-Up? You Need To Read This...


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First up, a huge good-luck from us to everyone racing the Hawaii Ironman World Championships tomorrow (Saturday)! We'll have our full review next week of our athletes performances. Enjoy the day, swim straight, find some fast feet and swim with rhythm. :)

You can watch the race stream live at www.ironman.com from 12:35pm Eastern, 5:35pm UK, 6:35pm European, 12:35am Perth (Sunday). Full broadcast information: www.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2017/10/extended-kona-coverage.aspx

Still Doing Catch-Up? You Need To Read This...

If you have swum all your life, you will remember a time not so long ago when coaches regularly wrote "choice drill" during a warm-up or cool-down. The idea was to pick your favourite drill - or ideally the one that would work on a key area of your stroke for you.

The problem was back in the 80s and 90s many swimmers only really knew one drill - "Catch Up" - and swam that 99% of the time! In fact many swimmer still regularly perform catch-up today.

The idea of catch-up is to swim whilst deliberately delaying the stroke at the front so the recovering arm catches up with the stationary lead arm. Watch the video here:




Supposedly the drill allows you to work on the alignment in your stroke, your breathing technique and your catch and pull. However, it has several major problems associated with it:

1) Catch-up teaches you the habit of pausing the lead arm at the front of the stroke and waiting for the recovering arm to meet it. This overly lengthens the stroke so that you decelerate in the long gap between strokes - a very inefficient way to swim. In other words, it encourages you to become an Overglider.

Further, that pause out front means you then have to hurry and "snap" through the catch to get the stroke going again - ironic since the catch being something the drill is supposed to improve!

2) Catch-up actively reduces the amount of rotation in your stroke as you never rotate onto the side of the stroking arm but finish in a position with your chest flat to the bottom:



Rotating the body to 45-60 degrees is required to activate your powerful lat and chest muscles. Learn to swim too flat and you risk overloading the much weaker shoulder joint - possibly leading to injury.

3) With the body held so flat, as the hands meet the arms are pulled inwards, angling them across the centre line:


Introducing a crossover like this to your full stroke causes you to snake down the pool and seriously damages your catch and propulsion.

For these reasons we very rarely ask a swimmer to perform catch-up drill. So what do we use instead as a basic building block of the stroke?

The answer is:


The 6-1-6 Drill

A much better option than catch-up is side-kicking with fins on. When we regularly introduce a single stroke to swap sides this drill becomes 6-1-6:



You might have performed side kicking drills before without really understanding why. The key focal points of the drill are absolutely key to its effectiveness. They are:

- Wear fins (you need to have an elite level kick to perform this drill without fins).

- Push off, rotate to 90 degrees on your side and hold the lower arm out front for 6 seconds, top arm lightly by your side.

- Look down and exhale smoothly whilst you kick along. You should feel like your nose is right by your arm-pit!

- In this position, draw your shoulder back and chest forward so the lead arm is perfectly aligned straight down the pool (not crossed over as in catch-up drill). This is great "swimming posture":



- Also position your lead arm and hand such that the elbow is slightly higher than the wrist and the wrist higher than the fingertips. The hand will be 20-40cm beneath the surface in this position, just like in your full stroke:



- Keep your hand itself held flat and with a little tone (not loose and floppy).

- After counting about 6 leg kicks, bring the top arm over so it catches up with the lead arm. When it nearly catches up (you'll still be on your side), stroke through with the lead arm and rotate fully onto the other side.

- Breathe after the stroke and then return your head to the water blowing bubbles all the time.

Need more visuals? Watch the full 6-1-6 drill video in the Guru here.


The beauty of 6-1-6 is that it allows you to isolate and work on most of the key elements of the stroke - incredibly useful for those learning freestyle right through to elite swimmers ironing out minor flaws. It works on rotation, alignment, posture and how the lead hand should be positioned for a great catch and pull to follow.

For that reason it should be a mainstay of your own regular technique work in the pool.


But Don't You Still Catch Up?


You may have noticed from the drill description that you still catch-up at the front of the stroke when performing 6-1-6. Something we criticised catch-up drill for!

That is true, however you are fully rotated on your side when the catch-up occurs and rotate from one side to the other as the arm strokes through underwater. For that reason the timing and position of the catch versus your rotation is correct - unlike with catch-up drill. When you swim freestyle, the rotation falls away from 90 degrees to 45-60 degrees and your catch is well timed.

For those focusing specifically on their catch mechanics, Doggy-Paddle Extension is an excellent development of 6-1-6 to further develop a high-elbow catch.


Learning To Swim Or Struggle With Breathing?

6-1-6 is an incredibly versatile drill - with the right focal point you can use it to work on almost any area of your stroke. If you are learning freestyle from scratch, or take on water when you breathe (e.g. Bambino Swim Type) then you need to employ Baton 6-1-6. This variation uses a small baton (e.g. an empty vitamin tablet tube) swapped between the lead hand:



This stops your lead arm collapsing when you breathe, giving you the support you need at the front of your stroke. Remove the baton and it's an easy step to return to normal stroke timing for efficient smooth swimming.


The Entire Swim Smooth Drill Set

You can watch, understand and apply 6-1-6 and every other Swim Smooth drill with a Standard Guru (just GB£1.99 / US$2.99 / Eur2.99 per month):


Get started here: https://www.swimsmooth.guru


Swim Smooth!

3 comments:

Oliver K said...

I believe the 6-1-6 drill as shown is defective: it teaches a bad habit, namely the FULL ROTATION. Many adult swimmers have a problem here.

This can be easily avoided by reducing the rotation, getting into a more natural swimming position.

Neil Manley said...

I use the 6-1-6 drill regularly and I understand the theory behind it. My challenge is putting into practice when I swim normally. I don't think I get enough rotation so don't engage my stronger muscle groups as described in the article.
I am a bambino swim type and generally struggle to get much "oomph" into my swimming.
Any advice?

Adam Young said...

Hi Oliver, you definitely need to rotate fully to 90 degrees to perform the drill - it's incredibly difficult to perform partially rotated and you'll likely to be focusing on just holding that angle without focusing on the key areas of the drill. Rotating to 90 degrees is easy to "undo" as long as you know you should reduce the rotation in your full stroke to 45-60 degrees.

Hi Neil, are you sure you don't have enough rotation in your normal stroke? They key thing to work on with 6-1-6 is the position of that lead arm/hand - both pointing straight down the pool and at the correct depth and elbow/wrist/fingertips position. Is it those elements you're struggling to carry over into full stroke?

Cheers!

Adam