Take a Look at Your Freestyle Catch
Self-awareness in swimming is a very good thing. How things look and feel and that connection can go a long way to self-correction. Lift your eyes (and not your head) to look at your hand as it enters the water and transitions from palm-down to palm-back. If you see lots of bubbles as in the picture above, you are not connecting with the water and have no chance of attaining a powerful pull.
I put this collage of elite swimmers' catches together in hopes that it will help to illustrate the commonalities and differences that may exist in a successful catch. Pictured here:
Ian Thorpe, Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, Nathan Adrian, Missy Franklin, Peter Vanderkaay, Karlyn Pipes, Adam Walker
The catch not a propulsive movement in and of itself but is the critical foundation of a powerful freestyle pull. Occurring after the entry and extension, the catch sets up the power phase and, without it, the arm slices through the water like a hot knife through butter.
Without a proper purchase -- there is no basis for leverage.
Many new swimmers and triathletes feel the need to rush to the power phase of the pull. It is important to slow down before you try to go fast. The catch is a finessed movement that cannot be muscled. Use your senses of touch and sight to "feel" the water -- once you master this skill and your innate sense of proprioception (the ability to perceive the body's movement and spatial orientation without seeing it) takes over, then a higher turnover rate may be employed with good results.
Elements of a Good Catch
You may notice that each image in the collage is slightly different -- as have been the images in my other blog posts illustrating The Pull and The Recovery -- prompting a discussion of what is critical and what experimentation can be had.
What I see as the imperatives:
1. Arm is extended (or has just extended).
2. Elbow is higher than wrist and hand.
3. Shoulder is high and stable, engaged near cheek.
4. Big muscles are engaged and ready to fire due to body position and leverage.
What can you experiment with:
1. Hands and wrists: Hands must be relaxed but clearly each person can feel the water with slightly different finger positioning. Wrists shouldn't break, but whether you are imagining a barrel, an ice block, or a metal splint in your wrist -- there is some leeway on wrist position.
2. Arm bend: The collage is made up of different kinds of swimmers (sprint, distance, pool, open water), so how they set up the arm for power might vary. They will all be successfully pushing back rather than pushing down or to the side.
Don't be afraid to slow your stroke down and make critical technique adjustments that just may make you a lot faster in the long run.
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