When Wrong Feels Right - Part 2

Back in 2016 we posted our classic blog Why A Good Catch Is So Elusive: Wrong Can Feel Right - if you missed it first time around it's well worth a read, it's one of those posts we refer swimmers back to time and time again.

The post discusses the front of your stroke during the catch and explains why searching too hard for a "solid" attachment to the water can lead to you pressing down, to the side or even forwards on the water when you should be aiming to press it backwards:

That's the front of your stroke but in a similar way we need to be careful at the back too.

If you have tried to lengthen out your stroke then you might have put a lot of emphasis on finishing the stroke strongly with a big push on the water at the rear. Certainly if your stroke is too short and lacking rotation then a little more emphasis on finishing at the rear might be a good thing, however like anything in stroke technique, it's possible to over-do this.

The goal with your arm stroke under the water is to press the water back to the wall behind you in order to propel you forwards. That's true at all points in the underwater stroke: be it at the front, under your shoulders, body or at the rear by your hips. 

As your hand finishes the stroke at the rear it is actually very difficult to apply a lot of pressure on the water with your hand. This is because biomechanically you are reaching the end of your range of motion and it's difficult to match the speed of the water as you move through it.

If you are trying to feel a solid push on the water then very likely you are pressing the water upwards at the rear:

This is wasteful because pressing up does nothing to propel you forwards but worse than that it acts to push your legs downwards. As a result either your legs sink (creating a huge amount of drag) or you must kick very hard to keep your legs up (wasting huge amounts of energy).

So we definitely don't want to be pressing up, but how should we finish the underwater stroke?

For the answer, check out Olympian Jono Van Hazel's brilliant technique:

Notice how he has angled his hand so the palm faces directly backwards, then as he reaches the end of his travel he turns the palm inwards to neatly complete the stroke. In this way he has maximised his press backwards without pressing upwards at all.

This is great technique but it actually creates *less* pressure on the palm than pressing upwards. Make this change in your own stroke and it might actually feel wrong because of the reduction in pressure.

One more thing to notice, at the rearmost point of his stroke Jono's elbow is still slightly bent:

That's because there's almost nothing to gain from those last few centimetres of his stroke - he's better off recovering the arm forwards to get more quickly into the next stroke. Plus reaching as far backwards as possible would involve locking the elbow out straight which puts a lot of stress on the joint, commonly leading to medial epicondylitis (tennis elbow) in swimmers.

So the next time you swim, by all means focus on the rear of your stroke but instead of maximising your push, focus on the palm facing the wall behind you before neatly turning the hand in to finish. Do that smoothly and continuously and you should feel a nice sense of rhythm and speed developing in your stroke.

Swim Smooth!


ChDoyle said...

There are so many takeaways you can study from Jono. For example, coaches always talk about a 'long stroke' which makes most swimmers then stretch that rearward arm to the max, to straight, elbow thinking thats 'long'. So it seems it is not the best idea getting your 'length' from that part of the stroke.
I am also surprised Jono does not have a mega high elbow catch which seems to be what swimmers should aim for these days. But he does pop the shoulder into the jaw to get his catch/hand position under his body which for him is key i think. A high elbow catch can position the hand outside the body (hence the sweeping motion there afterwards) if it's too high and if the swimmer is only thinking about 'high elbow'. Phew...where to end with Jono? Amazing.....

Unknown said...

great tip thanks and the pic burst means I don't even have to click play on a video - nice!

Gus said...

Tennis Elbow is called Lateral Epicondylitis - Medial Epicondylitis is known as Golfer's Elbow, this being the part of the elbow by the body when the hand is facing forwards

David said...

Although I have been swimming for over 20 years now, I am still very much an amateur swimmer - but, since reading this post, I have tried to incorporate the ideas into my stroke. It seems to me that it has helped a lot. All these years, I think that my arm has been too straight - and, since I have quite a slight build (194 cm, 85 kg, but my upper body is not muscular at all, despite the 20 years of swimming), I have put a lot of strain on my shoulder and have been unable to increase my stroke rate above 40 strokes per minute (I simply didn't have the strength to pull my arm any faster through the water). By bending my arm, I feel I am going faster with less effort. I will know next week, when we do our 30 min "stamina swim" (when I was younger, I was managing to do about 1800 metres in 30 min, as I have aged - now 58 - I have dropped to about 1700 m in 30 min). BY THE WAY - it seems to me that the tips that I have picked up from Swim Smooth over the years have been more helpful in improving my stroke than have my swimming classes! I think that I have developed into a classic, if average, Mr Smooth!

David said...

David again. Well, we did our stamina test today - 30 minutes non-stop. I tried to focus on (1) Bending my arm at the front of the stroke, trying to get the 120 degree angle and (2) Keeping my hand vertical as I pull through the stroke (but without exaggerating at the end of the stroke). I managed to get back up to my old mark of 1800 m in 30 minutes without too much trouble! It really is impressive how much easier it is to pull through the water when you bend your arm. In fact, it does not quite feel right - one feels much more force on the arm/shoulder when one uses a straight arm (as I said in my previous commment, I think that over the years my arm has been too straight during the stroke). But, as Swim Smooth has been saying - it is not the force that you feel that matters - it is the force that you manage to impart to the water. Who knows, with these stroke adjustments, I might even be able to increase my mark for the 30 minute stamina test!

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