There’s been a lot of talk lately about the straight-arm pull versus the bent-arm pull. Paddle versus propeller. Linear pull pattern versus the S-shaped pull pattern. To figure out which is best for you, you need to experience both types of pull.
Why Do It:
When scientists studied Olympic swimmers, they determined that a straight-arm pull…and we’re talking straight-arm pull UNDER WATER… makes you faster than a bent-arm pull. You can read about their experiment here. The most important word in that study is "Olympic." If you’re not a swimmer at that level, maybe a straight-arm pull is not the best solution. But that shouldn’t keep you from experimenting. So here’s a couple ideas.
How to Do It:
1. Swim slow freestyle like you normally would, but initiate the stroke with a straighter arm…with very little bend in the elbow. Press the arm down into the catch.
2. Reach to the deepest point in the water that you’re able to, without dipping your head or pressing down with your body.
3. Rotate a bit farther to your side to grab a bit more water.
4. You may want to open up, or make the recovery larger as well, to help drive the pulling arm down.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
While you don’t want your arm perfectly straight, you want to think of your arm as being like a spoke on a bike wheel. Think of your hand as the actual tire — the point where the rubber meets the road. The farther away your hand is from the center, the faster the hand speed. If you can maintain a high speed with your hand, you’ll generate a bit more speed in your swimming.
The thing to remember about this is that the elite athletes who took part in the study were very strong, very fit, and most likely did not have any shoulder troubles. It takes years of training in both the pool and the weight room to build up the tolerances necessary to swim like this. If you’re a masters swimmer, or triathlete, this may not be the best technique for you. It may grant you higher velocity for short distances, but in the long run it may break you sooner.