Position of the elbow in the grasping phase.

The efficient locomotion of any body in a viscous fluid is something very simple: to go faster it is necessary to reduce resistance and / or increase propulsion. However when we talk about swimming,, things seem to change because all the instructions on “swimming techniques” are aimed al reducing drag, but say nothing about increasing propulsion.

More than 40 years ago, the great swimming coach Dr. James Counsilman was the first to point out the importance for propulsion of the high elbow stance in the grip. This important point should not be underestimated; it is the only technical trait that distinguishes the different levels between swimmers. Let’s forget how swimmers recover their arms, paddle, turn, breathe. Quite simply, the way they grip is what makes the difference between being fast or beign slow. Many times we can observe a swimmer who seems to do everything correctly: he has a good shake, he has a great recovery, a good linearity and a horizontal position in the water. However, he / she is not that fast. Why? Because it doesn’t have a good grip. Therefore we must not underestimate the importance of achieving an affective grip.

The grip, which Counsilman was the first to mention, can be described by the following analogy: When a person gets on a surfboard and paddles to find a wave, the arms stcik out from the sides of the board, allowing the forearms are in an upright position and the hands push or grasp the water to propel the board foward. Swimmers should not attempt to apply propulsion force until the arms are in this position with the elbows high, because (…) the cannot direct the water back until the arms and hands are pointing foward. The inability to archieve this is the most common technical error that prevents slower swimmers from becoming faster swimmers: performing the pull with the elbows low.

Therefore, now that we have remembered what we had forgotten, we only have to enter the pool and apply it. This is actually true, but the grip (pun intended) to develop a high elbow pull is one of the most difficult skills to master in swimming. The reason for this is that in the movement patterns we learn to propel ourselves using our arms, the elbows are low. Consider doing chin-ups or climbing a rope. Therefore we must focus on how to learn a new way to perform the pull.

Although many use the pull as a way to increase intensity and muscle load, swimming paddles can also be used for technical purposes. The additional pressure on the hands that arises from using the paddles often helps to keep the elbow high and the armpits open, reducing the descent of the elbows, a technical error that occurs frequenty in freestyle (crawl). The improved grip also allows better use of the core muscles, includding the dorsals and the key to swimming faster is engaging these muscles, not just the arms. If a swimmer feels a little fatigue in the last series after a good pull set, then he or she is on the right track. Thinh about this the next time you head to the pool.

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