Freestyle - Bent-Arm Extension

Mar 9, 2010
Freestyle - Bent-Arm Extension

This drill is tough to explain in just a couple minutes.  For more details, make sure you read the entire article that appears with this video.

Bent-arm extension is meant for swimmers who have reached a point in their life where the shoulders simply aren't as flexible as they used to be, and who find it difficult to reach full extension in freestyle.

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 - Watch the BEST CATCH with Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce

Why Do It:
The most important aspect of freestyle is a good catch.  If a swimmer has poor shoulder flexibility and focuses too much on extension, he or she may end up with a poor catch.  In this drill, the focus is not on extension, but on keeping the elbow bent as the arm enters the water.  With a bent-arm entry, the swimmer can focus on getting immediately into a bent-arm pull.  

How to Do It:
This is a simple drill, conceptually, but it can be tough to execute.  Start swimming regular freestyle, except that when the hand enters the water, the arm should be bent.  
2.  DO NOT reach for, or stretch your arm into, full extension out front.  Instead, relax your arm a bit, which should cause it to bend naturally.
3.  Keep the elbow near the surface as you bend your arm.  Dropping the arm can cause you to push the forearm through the water and you'll miss the catch.
4.  Keep your arm in this position as far through the pull as possible.

How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
While this drill is meant primarily for older swimmers, it's also great for warm-up for younger and competitive swimmers.  While you're going through your normal warm-up, mix in some bent-arm extension, and you'll find that your shoulders may warm up a bit sooner.  It will also get you focused on a good catch right away.

Side Notes:
Age-group, college, Masters, tri and open-water swimmers may look at this and say... but what about extension?  Isn't it important to reach as far forward as possible in the stroke to be able to MOVE as far forward as possible with each stroke?  If you're flexible and strong enough to reach full extension, and to pull through with a proper bent arm, then this is not a key drill for you.  You're probably not experiencing the problems this drill is meant to address.

But if you're an older swimmer, or if you teach/coach older swimmers, you sometimes need to modify your approach and decide what's most beneficial to you (or your student).  Sometimes you have to fit the stroke to the body, and not the other way around.   Since we know that a good catch is the most effective tool for moving the swimmer forward, limiting the focus on extension, and getting the feeling of a bent arm through the entire stroke, may lead to faster, more comfortable swimming. 

Don't forget:  Athletes of all ages will seek resistance and power.  If they focus on full extension, and it's tough for them to reach that point, many times they'll maintain that straight arm through the entire pull... and miss the advantages of a bent-arm pull.    A straight arm is generally weaker than a bent arm during the pull.  It can't generate as much power.  Imagine that you're going to place your hands on the deck and lift yourself out of the water.  Would you keep your arms straight... or would you bend your elbows?   It would be almost impossible to lift yourself out with straight arms.    It's the same comparison when you're pulling.  Pulling with a straight arm is harder to do (and less effective) than pulling with a bent arm.  But some swimmers... especially those who like to feel as if they're working REALLY HARD... like to pull with a straight arm precisely because it feels hard.  The problem is... it's just not efficient.

This drill is also good for those who think an early catch is impossible.  While the combination of extension and early catch is impossible for some because of flexibility issues in the shoulder or elbow, an earlier catch is never impossible.  You just have to know what games to play with your specific student.  Enjoy the experimentation.

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