Getting stuck in a swimming mantra, or a generally accepted "way" to do things, is very typical of all swimmers. Breaking through to find the way that works specifically for YOU is atypical, but necessary for you to reach your potential. The mantra that yours eyes should be looking DOWN is one of those mantras that each swimmer needs to examine for him… or her self.
While it’s generally accepted that it’s more important to have a perfect body line than a great pull, to really reach your potential, you’re going to need both. In watching our last five freestyle-specific DVDs, I was in search of the image of a better catch, but what I found gave me something else to think about. What do these five great swimmers have in common OTHER than a powerful catch? A slightly elevated head position.
Why Do It:
Whether you swim with or without a coach, it’s difficult to learn new skills, which is why watching the great swimmers helps so much. Expanding your personal swimming horizons is key to maximizing your swimming.
How to Do It:
1. Start swimming freestyle with your head in a very low, or "neutral" position. Try to have your entire head… or most of it… under the water. Swim a length or two like this, with your attention on the front of your pull, or your catch.
2. Next, swim a length or two with your eyes right on the surface. Yes, this is too high, but it’s a good triathlete drill for sighting, and will make the next few lengths feel much easier. Again, focus your attention on your catch.
3. Now, lower your head somewhere between those two points, not directly down, not directly up, but probably a bit more down than up. Feeling what’s right will be very important.
4. See if you can "see" the catch occuring out front. If you’re wearing Swedish goggles, you’ll see your hand extending in the refraction on the top of the goggles. If you have goggles with rubber edges, you probably still won’t see your hands until they’ve already started to pull. With your head just a bit higher than normal, you should be able to get a better catch sooner in the stroke.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Catch early… and let go early. By using your eyes to almost "see" the catch, you should feel your entire arm hooking in, or connecting more with the water earlier in the pull. To make sure the focus stays there, release the hand earlier than you usually do, and get it back out front again. Continue to experiment to find the best position, and don’t overdo it. Body position and your overall shape in the water are still more important than the catch. Just don’t forget that you still have to connect to move forward, and a slight lift of the head shouldn’t impact your body position.