No aspect of freestyle gets more attention than the arm pulls.
Swimmers and coaches alike constantly discuss the intricacies of joint angles and hand pitches.
They talk about the details of the catch and the release.
Unfortunately, all of this usually fails to result in improved swimming.
Instead, it’s critical to focus on the simple, basic requirement for good arm pulls-
Create Direct Propulsive Arm Actions
Great freestyle arm strokes use a large surface area (the hand and forearm), create a lot of pressure (pull hard!), and maintain both for a large range of motion.
Doing so will require an arm position with your hand beneath the elbow and your hand inside the elbow, for as long as possible.
This applies whether you are swimming short events or long events.
The major differences between the endurance and sprint styles of freestyle are when you start the pull, and how deep you choose to pull.
Endurance freestyle -patient pull in front. In the distance events, swimmers typically demonstrate a patient set up of the catch, reaching full extension at the front of the stroke, with this concept being referred to as ‘riding the line’.
When trying to emulate a patient catch, you’re focusing on entering the water and extending forward prior to moving into the stroke.
Sprint freestyle- quick pull. In the sprint events, swimmers achieve a similar amount of extension in the front of his stroke.
However, they achieve this extension by swinging the arm over the surface, so that they can begin to immediately move into the catch position upon entry into the water, all without any hesitation.
If you’re trying to maximize your sprint catch, really focus on swinging your arms forward over the water so that you can enter the water ready to set up your catch.
Endurance freestyle- shallow pull. A consequence of the patient pull is that the hand, forearm, and upper arm remain closer to the surface of the water as your hand is moving forward instead of down.
The stroke is initiated when your elbow bends and the hand presses down, causing the upper arm to remain close to the surface. It will just feel like you’re popping your elbow out to the side.
The result is a shallower pull that establishes a vertical forearm earlier in the stroke.
You’re really focused on bending the elbow and keeping the pull relatively shallow, which is less physically demanding and thus suited for longer swims.
Sprint freestyle- deep pull. Due to the immediate beginning of the stroke initiated during sprint swimming, your hand tends to be driven much deeper.
Despite this difference, your elbow is still above the wrist and your forearm achieves a relatively vertical position.
However, your elbow will tend to be straighter and your hand will be deeper.
It allows for a much longer lever during the middle portion of the stroke and much greater amounts of propulsion through the middle and end phases of the stroke.
This is great for speed.
Pull straight back. Once you set up the stroke, regardless of how you set up the stroke, simply pull back.
Don’t worry about moving your hands sideway or up and down.
Keep the hand inside the elbow and keep the elbow on top of the hand.
Keep it simple.
This brings us to the Golden Rules-
Get your hand deeper than your elbow
Get your hand closer to the midline of your body than your elbow
Pull straight back
If you can accomplish these 3 objective, you’ll be well on your to faster freestyle.
What’s the best way to work on this skill?
Start using these two exericses whenever you get into the water.
They help you focus on the critical parts of the arm pull, while avoiding the overthinking that often comes with freestyle.
Just follow the Golden Rules!
Stay tuned for the next installment, where I’ll dive into the legs!