Our swim entry is probably taking its cue from the recovery, whether good, bad or ugly. Hopefully we are dealing with a relaxed arm traveling in a comfortable swinging motion in a simple path. Not all effective strokes will look exactly alike of course, but let's begin with some entries to stay away from.
We want to avoid:
1. Cross Over - This not only inhibits a smooth surge forward by causing drag, but also sets the arm up for poor positioning for the high-elbow early vertical forearm and leverage point that we want to achieve. I see many swimmers cross over and then sweep out to shoulder width, adjusting for this stroke flaw. I call this a "detour" and suggest retraining yourself to enter the hand exactly where you want to extend forward and begin feeling for the catch.
2. Hand Rotation - Many new clients tell me that they do this on purpose because they have seen someone else doing it. It's not good for the shoulder and has no positive effects.
3. Bubbles - The presence of air bubbles means that you are trapping air with your hand and thus prohibiting the kind of tension with the water that you want to achieve. The second offense is to pull immediately upon contact, thus pushing these bubbles straight down. If you should catch a few bubbles on entry, they should flow off the hand on extension and be gone by the time you feel for the catch.
4. Elbow First - Whether your arm recovery needs work or shoulder rotation needs to be better, entering with the elbow first is a certain way to pull with a dropped elbow.
5. Fingers Up - You are causing drag instead of surging forward.
6. Overreaching - This puts pressure on the tendons.
In this collage of elite pool and open water swimmers' entries, while there is no one correct style, they do have certain characteristics in common.
Pictured: Nathan Adrian, Alex Meyer, Katie Ledecky, Adam Walker, Karlyn Pipes, Nathan Adrian, Keri-Anne Payne, Michael Phelps, Jodie Swallow
As you can see from the collage of elite pool, open water, and triathlon swimmers that I have put together, the entry points and arm positioning is not uniform. Most, but not all, open water swimmers tend to swim with a straighter arm recovery and entry, throwing their arms forward, from the shoulders, with a great deal of velocity . The idea that all swimmers must enter the hand through an imaginary mail slot is outdated.
The swinging stroke allows for a higher tempo style. Triathlete Jodie Swallow swims at a sustained rate of 90 strokes per minute. Set your tempo trainer there and see what that feels like!
Whether we opt for a reaching or piercing entry there are two key thoughts in common,
1. Relax the arm and hand.
2. Move the arm forward with the shoulder/core -- don't place it or push it.
2. Angle the hand below the wrist slightly (and those below the elbow).
3. Enter hand at around shoulder width and keep level.
4. Once the hand enters, lean into your extension (some refer to this as rotation) with shoulder in the vicinity of your cheek.
Although the entry is a non-propulsive part of the swim stroke, it is essentially making your body (or boat, if you will) as long as possible for that moment of propulsion of the opposite arm pull. It is important that we not impede that forward motion. Additionally, the position and placement will be predictors of the efficacy of the power phase of the lead arm as it becomes the propulsive arm.
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