Two of the most common problems for young swimmers are dropping the elbow in freestyle and initiating the pull with the arm positioned too straight. Here’s a drill that will help swimmers hook, or grab, the water early in the pull and with the arm at the correct angle – important for speed and saving the shoulders.
Why Do It:
Learning to enter the hand and get it quickly into a productive position allows you to swim faster, longer, and with less chance of shoulder pain. Thinking about hooking the water farther out front will also allow you to engage your lats and back muscles more easily.
Keeping the head out of the water limits the extension of the stroke, but remember, this drill is about grabbing the water quickly. When you transition to regular swimming at the halfway point, you’ll be able to maintain the connection of the pull while you reintroduce length into the stroke.
How to Do It:
1. Push off and start swimming freestyle with the head out of the water and looking directly forward (no side-to-side movement). This forces the hand to engage IMMEDIATELY upon entry into the water. We also use paddles to maximize the feeling of con-necting with the water. By increasing the surface area, it’s easier to feel how the muscles on your side and back are connected. We use a pull buoy to help maintain some sense of balance so you can continue to focus on your pull, and not worry so much about your hips falling. The tools are all about isolating the feelings in the arms.
2. Swim half a length with your head up, focusing on hooking the water immediately with the hand upon entry. With the head up, you’re more likely to keep the elbow high, or closer to the surface when you initiate the pull. The great thing about this drill is that you can actually watch your hands enter, and see the position of your elbow when the hand goes in. Don’t forget to use your eyes during this drill.
3. While your stroke will be a bit shorter due to the high head, and lack of rotation, make sure you still maintain as much length out front as possible. Reach forward in your stroke.
4. You’ll want to release the hand a bit earlier than usual at the back of the stroke as well. If you try to push all the way back, you’ll get caught, and the paddle may fall off. Keep everything out front as much as possible.
5. Once you’ve reached the halfway point in the pool, lower your head to your regular swimming position. Feel your hips rise and your body regain its balance, but continue to focus on catching the water the same way you have been through the first half of the length.
6. Repeat…over and over again.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Keep your head still and stable. The tendency is for the head to bob from side to side, but try as much as you can to maintain a stable core. Reach forward and let go early. Think of climbing a ladder. Reach for the next rung and draw yourself UP to that point (UP being forward).
When you put your head down, stay focused on your catch. It’s a good idea to go the first half getting as much air as you want, and then not breathing, or barely breathing on the second half. This allows you to zoom in on the feel of the catch.
Remember to take a few strokes thinking about catching out front, and then a few strokes thinking about how you’ve connected your lats and back into the pulling process. Don’t try to think about it all at the same time, but this is the advantage of our sport. Focus on one thing one lap, another thing on the next. You can go all day long if you want. 🙂