Friday, February 07, 2014

The Fundamental Link Between Try To Glide And A Poor Catch Technique

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At Swim Smooth, we call an Overglider someone who has deliberately tried to add a pause-and-glide into their stroke, with the idea that by gliding forwards, they will take fewer strokes and so be swimming more efficiently.

Under the water at the front of their stroke, nearly all Overgliders drop their elbow and show the palm forwards. We call this 'putting on the brakes' :

(you can see many more Overgliders doing this here:

But why does this enter into their stroke? The simple answer would be to say they are trying to reach as far forwards as possible and this is bringing the fingertips upwards but actually there's an even more fundamental reason than that.

If we look back to our blog post from a few weeks ago, we can see the position you should be in as you enter into the water and extend forwards, with the elbow slightly higher than the wrist and the wrist slightly higher than the fingertips:

Half the battle with developing a good catch technique is about getting into this position in the first place, the rest naturally follows on afterwards... and that's really the point. Once you are extended in this position the water flow over your hand and arm actively encourages you to initiate the catch - it's very difficult to pause here and not start the catch:


So the Overglider has a problem, the water is pushing them into starting the stroke but they don't want to. The only thing they can really do is disrupt position 1 and so they learn to drop the wrist and push against the water - literally stalling the stroke. Of course this isn't intentional, it just progressively creeps in as they 'learn how to glide'.

This fundamental link between gliding and harming the catch is one of the key reasons why you should never try to introduce glide to your stroke, even (especially!) when you're learning the stroke. Use your full range of motion but keep things smooth and continuous, flowing from one stroke to the next.

Elite Swimmers

Over the last few years we've managed to start shifting the perception in the swimming world about whether great swimmers actually glide down the pool. The fact is when you carefully study elite swimmers with a classically long smooth freestyle stroke, the gap between one stroke finishing at the rear and the next starting at the front is tiny - less than 0.2 second. When we watch them swim, they appear to be gliding but this is actually an optical illusion, in reality they transition smoothly from one stroke to the next without any pauses in their stroke at all.

As a quick example of this, the great Ian Thorpe is famous for having a beautifully long smooth stroke taking around 32 strokes in a 50m pool. That's certainly a long stroke but in his autobiography This Is Mehe says that if he wants to he can drop down to 24 strokes per 50m - or even 20!

So Ian doesn't try to swim with as few strokes as possible, in fact he was fastest and most efficient taking 12 more strokes than his absolute minimum. Other Olympic Gold medallists have taken many more strokes again, some over 50 strokes per 50m, highlighting the fact that swimming well isn't about taking as few strokes as possible but about swimming with great technique and great rhythm.

Curing Overgliding

If you are a bit of an Overglider yourself but have had trouble removing the pause from your stroke timing, then you might be able to see why now. The key isn't to consciously turn your arms over faster because if you are still pushing forwards against the water that will feel very hard to do. Instead simply work on entering and extending forwards straight into position 1 above, when you do that your stroke rate will naturally lift and you will instantly become a faster and more efficient swimmer.

We go into that process in detail (and lots more besides) in our Catch Masterclass DVD.

Swim Smooth!

PS. Thorpie if you're reading this we hear you've been having a rough ride mate, all of us at Swim Smooth are thinking of you and wishing you a strong recovery. You've been a huge inspiration to us and so many other people - best wishes.

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