Thursday, September 22, 2011

How The Catch Phase Should Feel

'The Catch' is right at the front of the freestyle stroke, it's the movement you make to get a hold of the water and begin pressing it backwards. For most swimmers the catch is a bit of a mystery, you're probably aware that it is important to your speed and efficiency but are not sure how to improve it or how it should feel.

A good catch is about making the right movements and timing them correctly. In this post we're going to look at the timing of the catch - and as a consequence how it should feel. The feeling of a good catch may be quite different from what you expect and this is one reason why it's difficult to get a grasp of (pardon the pun!).

Matching The Water Speed

Let's take a look at elite swimmer Mel Benson, swimming here at around 65 seconds per 100m pace. Like all elite swimmers, Mel's got a fantastic catch which is one of the secrets of her speed and efficiency. This is the catch phase of the stroke on her left arm, see how her elbow starts to bend straight away and how she begins to press the water back behind her:

You might have read or been told by a coach that you should 'keep your elbows high' underwater and we can see that Mel's doing that nicely, keeping her elbow higher than her wrist and her wrist higher than her fingertips at all times.

This is an interesting sequence as Mel's taken a few bubbles with her into the water - see how the bubbles don't move much at all relative to her hand and forearm. During the catch phase of the stroke she's merely matched the water speed as it travels past her.

What does this tell us about how a good catch should feel? Well if the hand and forearm isn't moving relative to the water then there's going to be very little force or pressure from the water on them. A good catch merely matches the water's speed and so feels very light and gentle to the swimmer.

The Pull Phase

What happens next is that the arm starts to accelerate as it passes under the head and body. We can now see Mel's arm start to leave those bubbles behind as it does so:

Pressing backwards through the water, the pressure on the hand and forearm now builds and feels more 'solid' to the swimmer. This is where most of the propulsion is created but that couldn't happen without the phase immediately before, where the catch matches the water speed so that it stabilises around the hand and forearm.

Light And Rhythmical

Many swimmers are searching for a 'locked on' feeling during the catch, thinking that when they get it right they'll really going to feel a 'solid' connection with the water. Unfortunately searching for such a feeling may lead you to press down on the water or even try and push it forwards:

Such movements will create a pressure on your palm but don't be fooled that you're developing a nice catch. Quite the opposite, a good catch should feel light and 'rhythmical'. We say rhythmical because a good catch doesn't take much time, it happens fairly quickly and see the feeling is of rhythm.

Next time you're swimming, try a lighter more rhythmical feeling during the catch, simply focusing on bending the elbow at the front of the stroke. Under the head and body the pressure on the hand will build but let this happen naturally, don't force it.

Get the timing of the catch right and each stroke will take less effort and you'll swim more quickly with more rhythm. This is the true 'feel for the water' you're looking for.

Developing Your Catch Further

The catch is such an important phase of the stroke that we developed a whole DVD about it called Catch Masterclass. It's receiving rave reviews from swimmers, coaches and critics alike as it breaks down exactly how to develop your catch and shows you all the other reasons why you might have tried and failed before. Find out more here or click on the image below:

Swim Smooth!

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