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Freestyle - High-Elbow Catch

Posted by Glenn Mills on Mar 16, 2010 08:44AM

Catch-catch-catch... seems as if all we talk about is a high-elbow catch.  For good reason.  Nothing will move you through the water more effectively than an early, high-elbow catch in freestyle.  

Add to Cart View Cart - Watch a great high-elbow catch with Sara McLarty!

Why Do It:
Speed and/or efficiency... take your pick.  With a high-elbow catch, both will increase. Without a high-elbow catch, both will decrease.  It's that simple.

How to Do It:
Through much teaching, we've discovered there are things some people can do, that others can't.  In thinking about the catch, it's important you get the feeling of a high elbow position.  Here's a simple exercise to see how easy it's going to be for you to achieve a high-elbow catch.  If you're unable to do this, you'll know how much you'll have to focus on some of the previous drills, such as Bent-Arm Extension from last week.
2.  Extend your arm on the deck, or desk, making sure the arm is extended straight from the shoulder.
3.  With your palm flat on the deck, rotate your arm so the elbow is on top of the arm.  Then rotate it back down, and repeat.
4.  Lift your palm off the deck, and go through the exact same movement, WITHOUT moving the palm.
5.  When you imagine how your elbow bends, and the position it's in when extended forward in freestyle, if the elbow is on the BOTTOM of the arm, there is a tendency that it will lead the catch, and you'll miss the early part of your pull.

How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
After you've had a chance to play with the arm rotation, start swimming, thinking ONLY about getting the elbow on TOP of the arm as you extend forward.  Even our stunning model, who is able to rotate the arm very easily, has to really slow down to get that early catch, and the arm doesn't rotate nearly so much as it did on deck.  If someone is watching you, he or she may not notice that you're working hard on this... but you should be able to feel that slight variation in the catch from the elbow through the shoulders and lats.

Archived Comments

Responded Mar 16, 2010 03:31PM

Excellent Job stunning model ;)

Responded Mar 16, 2010 03:46PM

Was just wondering if my friends caught that. :)

Responded Mar 16, 2010 04:49PM

Another way it was explained a few years back - instead of focusing on the hand, think about pushing your elbow forward towards the end of the pool you are swimming towards. That works well for me.

This "thought" process also works well after trying it this morning. :)

Responded Mar 16, 2010 05:25PM

This is really good stuff Glenn.

Responded Mar 16, 2010 05:49PM

Glenn, we have a swimmer who struggles a bbit with his catch.....I think this will help. He is trying for the paralimpics and I'm triyng to help him as much as I can.....Thank you ....(The Dad)

Responded Mar 16, 2010 05:56PM

But the swimmer's underwater pull is done almost with his arm completely extended. What I had in mind as a high elbow catch is the way Erik Vendt, Karlyn Pipes-Nielsen and Kara Lynnn Joyce perform their underwater pull.

Responded Mar 16, 2010 06:09PM

Ok Tomas... so as stated... if you can swim like them... go for it. For the rest of us, these are ideas.

Responded Mar 16, 2010 06:18PM

C'mon Glenn
I am not saying that I can swim like them. I am saying that my idea of a high elbow catch is how they perform their underwater pull.

Responded Mar 16, 2010 06:22PM

So now you have a new idea... broaden the vocab. :)

Responded Mar 16, 2010 06:22PM

Bueno Tomás.....a ver si te quedas contento de una vez....haahahhaha....

Responded Mar 16, 2010 07:56PM

Está bien Juliette!!! Sólo decime si mi idea de un codo alto es o no es la correcta?

Responded Mar 16, 2010 09:34PM

I see that the hand stays flat and that the elbow rotates. I am wondering about the shoulder. I have read that inward rotation of the shoulder can cause injury. Is there anything I should avoid doing (with the shoulder) as I focus on rotating the elbow upward and keeping it higher than the hand? Thanks for any comments.

Responded Mar 16, 2010 11:27PM

Glenn - nice job on this. As a coach, I love the deck/desk drill to reach some of the swimmers struggling with an efficient high elbow catch. I also like the front quadrant style freestyle. One question though. Should the initial hand entry be a little wider, maybe straight out from the shoulders? Seems that the entry is right down the center which can cause over rotation or even snaking on top of the water.

Responded Mar 17, 2010 03:51AM

Ah ha - It's all in the shoulder.

I have trouble keeping my palms down as I rotate the elbow up - I'm uncoordinated - but I can do this fairly well, even with my bum shoulder.

Responded Mar 17, 2010 10:16AM

Good stuff.

I've recently been struggling with the early catch with my trainees. Though yes, like steve emphasized, shoulder is the key, something the swimmer (in my opinion) need to monitor while swimming (and also, while doing this exercise). Compare shoulder position when you are sitting or standing relaxed and when you have your arms extended and your elbow up.

Alternative ways to try to remember this is slightly trying to pull your shoulder back ("standing in attention" style, chest out, shoulders back) though that does limit the mobility of the shoulder (but may help in figuring out the shoulder position at the beginning of the catch). If the pool has high sides, swimmers could also try to "pull themselves over the edge" and then try to transfer the movement to swimming.

Like mr. Lepinski noted that the demonstrated entry is quite narrow/close to the centerline - however, I do think (based on trying out these drills myself) that it does make the movement easier, possibly because when the elbow is directed up and out, the natural direction of the elbow bends is slightly inwards. I've usually tried similar drills so that we start with narrow catches and then "slide" the catch wider in successive iterations of the exercise until reaching shoulder-width crawl. Of course, the "correct" width does vary swimmer by swimmer, some people swim nice with narrow strokes whereas some will really need to concentrate to keep their arms on the right sides (and preferably swim wider) and keep the catch throughout the stroke.

In wider strokes, the catch becomes easier when the hand entry to water comes thumbs first in an angle - though the new problem there is that for some swimmers who apply force too early this creates an effect where they "swim sideways", since in that application, the catch starts with palm outwards, and is on the correct position about the level of the swimmer's head. Only after sliding over the catch far the swimmer may apply more power.

Tenstars - the only thing I could think of that could fail is keeping the connection between the shoulder and the shoulderblade. Specially if the in-water part is explained as reaching forward with the elbow, some might instead reach out with their shoulders, which in combination with force being applied too early can strain the joint. As far as I can see, the desk/deck part of the exercise however should be immune to this, since the swimmer doesn't gain anything by popping his shoulder next to the ear.

Responded Mar 17, 2010 07:38PM

Great drill, Glenn. This might help me with that problem of mine you saw while coaching me, where my left elbow drops and the forearm goes up and medially a split second before the catch . I don't see how that can happen if the back of my elbow is pointing toward the ceiling, the forearm can only go down. I periodically go back to some of the DVDs I bought and see something I didn't see before. Well, looking at the Schoeman DVD, I noticed that in some of the shots he would get a higher elbow than in others (just like the he would sometimes be more front quadrant than others). Those high elbow shots he would internally rotate his forearm just before initiating his catch. Here is a link to a really good article I read once on this issue;
I think exercises like in this article or the drill above will help my muscle memory.

Responded Mar 18, 2010 02:48PM

I forgot to say THANKS for the drill. This little tid-bit perspective on arm position is turning out to have a significant positive impact on my catch and shoulder health.

I do the elbow rotation movement as warm up, or any time of the day!

Responded Mar 18, 2010 03:08PM

Thanks Steve. Tons of feedback all the way around on this one. From how it's destroyed swimmers careers, to how it's helped. Suffice it to say, NO drill is right for everyone, and we all have the responsibility to self-monitor everything we don in the water. Our job, as I've stated in many cases... is just to share ideas that could potentially work for someone, including ourselves... your post confirms it, as well as the others. Thanks everyone, and another cool addition to this coming next Tuesday thanks to Barbara.

Responded Mar 18, 2010 05:59PM

Were not worthy.....hihi

Responded Mar 19, 2010 11:28AM

Glenn, why you move your arm left to right? I am just wondering...

Responded Mar 19, 2010 01:45PM

James. Cause I'm a breaststroker. ;)

Responded Mar 20, 2010 06:47PM

Interesting move - are the clicking noises in shoulders normal?

Responded Mar 20, 2010 06:56PM

Lol. Clicking in joints probably means find another move. :). Be careful and remember, no technique is right for everyone. Well... Except breathing.

Responded Mar 22, 2010 11:36AM

that's great ..gleen is it a drill or i must always swim like this ?
our coach is stubborn since he insist on casual catch which start in front of the eyes with a kind of broken wrist till it becomes 90 degree under the station elbow then backward ..anyway ill practice this today during warm up since i have the winter championship meet next month on 50 .100 ,and 200 freestyle

Responded Mar 22, 2010 11:39AM

i hope i can decrease my time asap ..since my 50 meters freestyle is 32.12 still the 100 at 1:09 and the 200 at 2:22
i practice 6 days a week after school for 2 hours my age is 12 years old ...

Responded Mar 22, 2010 12:46PM

I don't get the clicking when my arm is at 90 degrees to my torso (like in this drill). But when my arm is extended over my head (or if I'm in the water and fully extended) then I get some clicking in my left arm.

Responded Mar 23, 2010 06:30PM

Our young age groupers (7-8 yr olds) "got" this idea quickly and had fun trying it. Thank you for another way to get a feel for hi elbow early catch in the arm and shoulder.

Responded Apr 16, 2010 05:31PM

Tarik - I read that link of yours. Thanks. The mention about the 'lats? needing to be in good shape in order to power the front part of freesyle brought home the fact that physical preparation for action in the pool is something I've been overlooking. I read today that tight lats can induce lower back and shoulder pain, too (?) - and I've been all aches and pains these past 3 months - and clicks!

Responded May 07, 2010 01:15AM

Thx Glenn for your wonderful support. It really helped me a lot.

I would be very grateful for help with these questions:

1.What is the best position to initiate the catch? Is it the fully rotated position like in this video?

2. I noticed that Total Immersion advocates reaching quite deep in the water to maintain a better body balance without the need to kick too much. IMO, it’s not a good idea since my elbow is too low and I need extra muscle work to place my shoulder high. Am I right?

Responded Jul 06, 2011 06:15AM

Such a great drill!! I have tried that on my desk and found that once I lifted my arm, I could not move my elbow without moving my palm. Is there any easier exercise we can do to achieve that? I really hope I can improve on that.

Responded Oct 18, 2011 05:49PM

i think this drill is the key point of High elbow catch....

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