masters swimming

Don't Let Your Elbow Drop!

If I were to give you a pop quiz right now and ask where the majority of your power is driven from during freestyle, what would your answer be? For the longest time my response would have been “the kick,” but that answer would have given me a failing grade. Any thoughts? Ideas? Guesses? Well the correct answer we’re looking for is “the catch and pull.” If that’s what you were thinking woot woot! Give yourself a high five and a pat on the back for me. While you’re at it, maybe grab a cookie or two as well, you earned them. Hopefully this helps you understand why soooo so many of my posts are about proper catch, but let’s dig a little deeper while I have your attention.

SwimBox Swimming Lessons SwimBox Thoughts SwimBox Vienna Swim Lessons Fairfax SwimBox Falls Church SwimBox Swimming Lessons Arlington

If the catch and pull are ohh so important, how do we go about making sure they’re done properly and effectively? The biggest key? Keeping your elbow forward and up. That’s it, nice and simple. Okay thanks for checking in everyone, have a great day!

Ha, okay, sorry, sometimes I really think I’m just hysterical. But really, keeping your elbow forward and up, let’s break it down. I like to say forward and up as opposed to just up because that tends to give people the wrong impression. You want your elbow to stay on the same plane as your body during your catch, pull, and recovery. I NEVER want you to lift your elbow upwards during any of these movements. Why? Doing so will actually bring your arm behind your back, prevent your shoulder blade from gliding up and down properly, and put the power into your shoulder joint, eventually leading to injury. So what does a dropped elbow vs a properly forward and up elbow look like? Take a look at the image below. The dropped elbow is on the left, and the correct elbow is on the right.

SwimBox Thoughts SwimBox Swimming Lessons SwimBox Swim Coach Northern Virginia SwimBox Swim Lessons Fairfax SwimBox Dunn Loring Swim Lessons

The dropped elbow on the left is pulling ZERO water as it moves through to the pull phase. Whereas the forward and up elbow on the right has created a paddle from the fingertips to the elbow to push back against the water to propel you forward. This is a great image to show just how little help your pull is giving you when you drop your elbow. No paddle is being created, and almost zero propulsion is gained from swimming this way.

This is where the word “forward” is really helpful. Think of yourself in the pool, swimming nice and easy freestyle. If I were to tell you to swim, but to make sure your elbow being brought forward is what’s going to bring your arm around during your recovery, now you would know what I mean. Having your elbow be the lead for your arms, as opposed to your hands, will help you keep your elbow in the proper position. This also helps you enter the water already set to start your catch, as opposed to having to set it up after your hand enters the water, therefore wasting time and also missing out on making the most of your paddle with your hand and forearm.

SwimBox Swim Coach SwimBox Swimming Lessons Virginia SwimBox Dunn Loring SwimBox Swim Team SwimBox Alexandria

This movement probably sounds pretty simple, but it takes A LOT of practice to get this right. I still have workouts dedicated to just this movement, spending 1-2 hours focusing on how to get this just right. And when I get tired, I tend to go back to my old habits, not good. When you go to work on this start a little at a time to prevent the impending frustration. Just like with all movement corrections in swimming, you have to work on this over and over again before it will start to become a habit. Even when you think you’re doing it all the time, keep practicing! This is the biggest component to having a strong and efficient freestyle, so don’t skip working on this!

Take a look at our video to see what a dropped elbow vs a forward and up elbow look like in motion!

Giving Paddles a New Look

Learning how to properly set your catch might be one of the smallest details with the largest impact for your freestyle. Fun fact: I didn’t learn how to properly set my catch until about 2 years ago, and I’ve been swimming for twenty-four years…yeesh, my bad. The hardest thing for me was that I didn’t even know the feeling that I was looking for during my catch, so I never knew I wasn’t making this movement correctly. To this day I still work on this 2-3 times a week with different drills to help me better understand what I need to be doing. My favorite drill right now to focus on finding the right feeling for my catch is Paddles in Hands.

Instead of using your hand paddles they way they were meant to be worn, this drill has you simply hold them in your hands while wrapping your fingers and thumbs around them to hold them in place.

SwimBox Swimming Lessons Falls Church SwimBox Tysons SwimBox Arlington SwimBox Swim Lessons Alexandria SwimBox

Using the paddles this way forces you to focus on creating your paddle, as well as actually feel the resistance of the water against your forearms. Because of the paddles, this drill makes you have to set your paddle with your hand AND your forearm. This can be a tricky movement to understand, but the more surface area you have pushing against the water, the more you’ll be able to propel yourself forward.

This drill is also great to help you learn to set your catch early. If you set your catch late during Paddles in Hands, you’ll definitely feel the difference. A late catch during this drill will give the feeling of pushing down in the water, which is not what we want. You want to have the feeling of pushing backwards. A downward push will not help to move you forward in the water, and will actually throw you out of streamline and off balance.

SwimBox Swimming Lessons Falls Church SwimBox Vienna Swim Lessons SwimBox Arlington Swim Lessons SwimBox Alexandria

The image above is a great shot of both a late catch and a properly timed catch. The left shows the late catch, which you can see is set when the arm is almost perpendicular to the body. When you set your catch this late, your arm drifts downward and loses all of the potential propulsion you would have if you’d set your catch when your arm is closer to parallel to your body. The right shows good timing of the catch. You can see the slight bend in the wrist, indicating the beginning of the catch before we move into the pull phase. By setting this early, when your arm is closer to the surface of the water, you’re able to push backwards against much more water than you would if you set your catch later.

It might not look like a huge difference, but having a good catch means you’re pushing back against more water. This leads to stronger pulls, fewer strokes, and an all over more efficient stroke. A late catch? That leads to having less water to push back against, more strokes, and will end up tiring you out more quickly because you’ll be stroking more and pulling less, causing you to expend more energy to move through the water more slowly.

SwimBox Swimming Lessons Falls Church SwimBox Vienna Swim Lessons SwimBox Arlington Swim Lessons SwimBox Alexandria

As I’ve said before, swimming is a sport of centimeters. So even though this drill is working to fix what looks like a very slight difference in movement, it will pay off ten-fold once you get the hang of it.

Drills Have a Purpose, Trust me

During my swim practices back in high school there was nothing I hated seeing on the board more than a giant set full of freestyle drills. Well, except maybe an entire workout made up of butterfly sets, those were the worst. 3000-5000 yards of 80% butterfly? No thank you. And yes, this happened, unfortunately there’s no exaggeration here. Those dreaded drill sets just bored me to tears. If you’ve never been a teenage girl doing thousands of yards of slow, monotonous, freestyle drills at 4:15am before going to school and having to actually pay attention to things (and apparently “learn”), give yourself a pat on the back, because that was the actual worst. All of those drills would never get me to my goal times and make the champs meets.

Or would they?

SwimBox Swim Lessons Falls Church SwimBox Tysons Swimming Lessons SwimBox Sterling Swim Lessons Ashburn SwimBox Herndon

One thing that has finally gotten through this thick skull of mine is that the very drills my coaches had me do over and over...and over again, had a purpose. AND that I actually needed to be paying attention whilst doing them, not just daydreaming and thinking about how excited I was for breakfast (my mom got up with me EVERY MORNING at 3:45am to make me a fried egg and cheese sandwich before practice, that woman is a saint) in order for them to have the desired impact. Huh, who knew?

All of the drills your coaches put into your practices have a point, and a purpose, and are there to help you build a proper foundation for your swimming. And that proper foundation? That’s what’s going to keep you injury free throughout the years. And the reasons you have to keep going back to them? So you can stay injury free. Swimming can be monotonous, even mind-numbingly boring at times, trust me, I’m aware (and don’t worry, I say that with love). But you have to focus on the technique of your stroke. You need to focus on the drills that help you perfect that technique. Doing so will help you be able to make improvements to your stroke faster and understand the purpose behind making the changes that lead to those improvements. And all of this will lead to a stronger, safer, and more efficient stroke.

SwimBox Swim Lessons Falls Church SwimBox Tysons Swimming Lessons SwimBox Sterling Swim Lessons Ashburn SwimBox Herndon

The next time you head to the pool and see a laundry list of freestyle drills, don’t start singing songs from your favorite Disney movie and trying to figure out the math on how many cookies you can eat after this workout. Focus on each drill, take your time, and try not to fall asleep in the water. The more you focus, the more you’ll want to practice these drills over and over. Because you know what happens when you focus? Progress.

PS the drill I’m working on in these pictures is Triangle Drill, which helps you focus on proper catch position and the movement of your shoulder blades. Check out our instructional video and try adding it to your next swim workout!

Why Bananas Don't Belong in the Pool

“Swimming is a sport of centimeters.” This is something my favorite swim coach likes to tell me over and over again, especially when I’m having trouble making a small adjustment to my stroke. This might seem like a depressing thing to focus on, but it’s really not. Think of the Olympics and the famous finish Michael Phelps had when he out-touched Milorad Cavic by only one one-hundredth of a second to win gold. One one-hundredth of a second. It takes ten times that long to blink to put things into perspective.

The small movements you work to correct over and over again, that sometimes make you want to pull your hair out in frustration, are the movements that will put you ahead that one one-hundredth of a second to beat out your competition. And in this case, the movement I want to talk about is keeping your ribs down and closed while you swim. What does that mean? The best way to understand it is to first think of the opposite, what you look like when you swim with your ribs open. Think of when you arch your back, and how it turns your torso into a "U" shape, or - and this one's my favorite - a banana in the water. Swimming like a banana through the water clearly would not be beneficial for your efficiency and power. This body position takes you out of streamline and, unlike a banana, causes your hips and legs to sink downward toward the bottom of the pool. Swimming with your hips and legs not at the surface of the water means you're causing unnecessary drag that you have to fight hard against to propel yourself forward through the water.

SwimBox Swimming Lessons SwimBox Online Course SwimBox Swim Lessons SwimBox Triathlon Swim Team SwimBox Vienna SwimBox Tysons

The position you want needs to be driven from your ribs, and is, in actuality, a very small movement. When people tell you to arch your back most people create an extreme exaggeration, forming that “U” shape with their bodies. Here, you want a slight crunch inwards, driven from your ribs, which will result in a flat back. Think of it like the position you make when you exhale. When you blow your air out, your ribs go down and move inwards. Not the exact opposite of an arched back, you don’t want a hunchback either. You want to straighten our your back with this downward movement of your ribs in order to prevent swimming like a banana.

SwimBox Swimming Lessons Falls Church SwimBox Swim Coach SwimBox Swim Lessons SwimBox Swim Team SwimBox Fairfax SwimBox Arlington

What does this position do? It brings your hips and legs up to the surface of the water, AND helps to tilt your head into proper position at the same time. Try both of these movements standing up on land before trying them out in the pool. In the beginning, make them as exaggerated as you can. To make your banana, take in a really big breath and hold it. Now watch as your body turns into that “U” shape/banana. To feel the opposite, the position we’re looking for, exhale that really big breath and you’ll feel your body straighten back out, as well as the weight of your body falling back onto your heels. This will show you the extreme differences and help you find what we’re looking for in the water.

I know this probably sounds weird, but this minor change to your posture is one of the centimeters that’s going to help you get that much closer to your goal times. It’s going to improve your streamline, power, and efficiency by allowing you to move through the water with less effort and more smoothly than before. If you want to work on this more intensely make sure to take a look at our Foundational Breathing Method online course!

Raise Your Hand if You've Ever heard of UpKick...

Raise Your Hand if You've Ever heard of UpKick...

Your freestyle kick is made up of two parts: your upkick, and your downkick. Both of these parts need to be focused one with the same amount of energy in order to keep your hips and legs from sinking.