Getting the ‘catch’ part of the freestyle stroke right for many swimmers, is counter intuitive in many ways; how it feels, the visual appearance and even the amount of feedback from the water. The most effective catch viewed underwater looks deceptively simple, however takes hours of progressive pool time and perfect practice! This week our squad sessions focus on developing or just refining this important area of the stroke. By focusing on what is going on underwater and an athlete centred approach we look at ‘coaching the swimmer not the stroke’. After all there are 6 key Swim Types and the priority is understanding how you will propel yourself more efficiently and smoothly and this equals greater speed!
Let’s start with common misconceptions and issues frequently heard or fed back to coaches on the pool deck:
- ‘My shoulder is getting a bit sore from swimming’
- ‘I tend to lift my head to breathe, otherwise I swallow or inhale water’
- ‘To go faster I need to be able to pull through the water harder’
- ‘I’ve been told that I need to increase my distance per stroke, and make my stroke as long as possible’
Improving the effectiveness of the catch mechanics in your individual stroke will address these common issues, in the following ways:
Setting up good body rotation through the long body axis from the hips through to the shoulders, will ensure you are engaging your back and lat muscles as you pull your arm through underwater. This avoids overuse and overly stressing the shoulder joint and is actually much easier to enter the water fingertips first. You can then brace the wrist and then use your lat and back muscles to push water behind you with the elbow bent and hand underneath your body
Ensuring you turn your head to breathe along the neutral spinal axis of your body will help to avoid the common mistake of pressing down in the water with the leading hand to support the head turning to breathe. It should feel like you are laying your ear on your shoulder for support to breathe in from the side, not pushing your hand and arm straight down in the water to assist with the breathing movement. The 6/3/6 drill is great for perfecting your hand alignment during the ‘6 kicks on your side’ phase of the drill and nailing the ‘under the armpit’ breathing on the changeover or ‘3’ strokes in between. Give it a try with fins to start with
Aiming to catch the water ‘harder’ will encourage most swimmers to press down on the water, with more of a straight arm, as this feels like a strong ‘catch’. However a good catch is a lot more subtle and is about working with the water, spearing the hand in at an angle ensuring the fingertips point forward and then down. Once the hand is in this position the forearm becomes involved, the elbow is bent and the hand tracks underneath the centreline of the body finishing past the hips. The combination of hand and forearm movement moving water behind you is essential for an effective catch and this will NOT feel like you are muscling the water or pushing strongly, if you get it right! Somewhat counter intuitive?
Trying to swim by ‘gliding on your side’ is quite possibly the worst thing you can do for your catch. You will end up ‘stopping the traffic’ with your palm and hand facing towards the oncoming water. That’s a lot of resistance! Instead, imagine a kayaker and aim to replicate this perpetual motion in your swimming. It’s important to maintain a good rhythm in your stroke and tipping the fingertips over as the hand enters the water once you have reached your full rotational range, initiates the catch nicely and allows you to get on with the job at hand. Pun intended – that is, propulsion!
This week’s squad sessions are all about mastering this very catchy phase of the stroke. Get it right and it won’t feel like you’re moving mountains, but you will be slipping through the water subtly and swiftly with little effort and experiencing few, if any niggles!
Quality is all about doing it right when no one is looking (Henry Ford). Must be related….