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If I had to pick one word to describe my stroke -- if I had to name one ingredient that pulls everything together -- it would be: connection.
When most people watch me swim, they notice that I’m galloping or loping... or they notice that my hands are open during the pull. Those things are incidental. What they should really notice, and what I want you to watch in this clip, is how I’m connecting my catch... to my core.
That’s the connection I’m talking about -- linking the hip area (the core) to the hand, and feeling them work together as opposed to working separately. It means swimming with your entire body, as opposed to swimming with just your arms or just your legs.
A lot of the connection happens on that one side -- the left side -- where I’m setting up and getting ready for that huge pull.
As I set up for the catch, I think about moving the rest of my body with my arm. This generates way more power than if you get halfway through the pull and then turn the hips.
By connecting the core to the catch, you get the maximum power you can get by using the whole body.
When I take that pull and move my hips along with the pull, I maximize the power. I feel the whole body moving together as one unit as opposed to separate units.
It’s all about connecting.
Here’s another angle where you can see how I set the two things up -- the hand and the hips -- and then connect them to get maximum power from my stroke. When I get the timing just right, my stroke feels fast and light and almost effortless.
In the next few clips, I want you to focus just on my hands and forearms. Notice that when I initiate the catch, my arm is extended and my hand is up near the surface.
I try to start the catch just a few inches under the water because that gives me plenty of time to set up my pulling surface and get some momentum going before that pulling surface hits the true power zone, which is the middle third of the pull.
Many swimmers don’t initiate the catch until the hand is halfway through the pull. They let the hand drift downward or they plunge it downward, and don’t start the catch until it’s too late, and they never fully connect the hips to the hand.
When my hand enters the water, I concentrate on catching with as much surface area as possible -- from the hand and fingertips all the way down to the elbow.
It’s another form of connection. I’m trying to connect that entire arm -- and really that entire side of my body -- with the water. I’m trying to engage everything from fingertips to wrist to forearm to the lats and then to the hips and core. I’m using the catch to set up my whole body and not just my hand.
Another big thing to notice is the elbow. I try to keep my elbow high and make sure I’m not slipping or dropping the elbow on the top part of the stroke. This sets up your pulling surface, and lets you gain momentum before you get to the power part of the stroke.
When I teach clinics, I see a lot of swimmers who drop their elbow at the beginning part of the stroke. They slip through the water and it’s not till the second part of the stroke that they get started. So they’re starting from nothing to get their power, as opposed to having some momentum building into the power phase.
By catching near the surface and by keeping the elbow high, I have more time to set up a connection between the hand the the hip... between the catch and the core.
One other thing you’ll notice about my pull is that I don’t push all the way through. The hand exits a little bit early compared to most people.
I’ve experimented with this and it’s just something that feels more comfortable and more productive to me. If I catch near the surface and get good acceleration into the middle part of the pull, I can exit a little sooner and get into the next stroke.
One of my favorite drills for working on the connection between the catch and the core is the Underwater Recovery Drill.
I normally don’t look forward when I swim, but for this drill, you do look forward so you can actually see where you’re catching the water and what your elbow is doing at the catch. You can make sure you’re doing the right thing.
Try to catch nice and high, near the surface. Keep the elbow high all the way through the pull. And try to connect the rotation of your hips with the catch and the start of the pull.
When you finish the pull, keep your arm in the water and send it back out front. This is not doggie paddle! It takes focus and concentration to make the link between your body and your pull.
Another good drill for working on connection is Single-Arm Freestyle, with one arm extended and the other arm at your side.
Most swimmers, when they swim with just one arm, want to use that arm and muscle it and not use the rest of their body. So try to connect and use everything all together.
It’s very difficult to do this with just one arm, but if you can connect while doing the drill, it will be a piece of cake to connect when you’re swimming.
Learning how to swim with your whole body is so important that I’m going to show another good drill, which is swimming with your fists. I do a lot of this.
Simply close your fists and swim. Don’t hit the water with the first and drive it down. Keep your fist near the surface, keep your elbow high, and initiate the catch with your forearm.
Connect with as much surface area as possible and then connect your pulling surface to your core body. This drill may feel awkward at first, but it will help program your muscles...
...to swim like this -- connecting the catch to the core for maximum power.