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Enter the Hand Slightly Outside the Shoulder
Karlyn’s freestyle is fluid, efficient, and effortless. It’s also very fast -- helping her achieve world records at every distance from 50 meters to 5K.
Her signature is a wide hand entry, with the hand entering slightly wider than the shoulder.
From the front you can see that Karlyn’s hand entry is clean -- no bubbles -- and that the hand enters flat and fingertips first. Notice the spacing...that the hand enters slightly outside the shoulder.
The hand extends briefly, pauses, then catches and pulls directly back, with no in-and-out movement. The hands stay away from the centerline of her body.
Use a High-Elbow Catch
Karlyn’s hand enters, extends, and pauses briefly. She then lifts or POPS the elbow to initiate the catch. As the elbow lifts, the fingertips point down, creating a single pulling surface from fingertips to elbow.
If we slow it down, you can see how she begins the catch by passively lifting or “popping” the elbow up near the surface while at the same time pointing the fingertips toward the bottom of the pool.
The hand, wrist and forearm work as one unit to achieve this high-elbow catch, sometimes called Early Vertical Forearm or E-V-F.
And if we slow it WAY down, you can see the straight line that’s formed from Karlyn’s fingertips... all the way to her elbow. She doesn’t allow the wrist to collapse...or her elbow to collapse during the pull.
This is one of the most important moves in swimming, so let’s watch from another angle as Karlyn enters, extends, pauses, then pops the elbow and points the fingertips down to start her pull.
Know Where and How to Apply Power
Karlyn puts the umph at the front. She applies power at the beginning of the pull, right after she’s established a nice straight pulling surface.
The power phase is short. Once the hand reaches the hip, Karlyn eases up and rounds off the pull.
Even if the hand continues to move back, there’s not much power behind it. She releases the energy -- the press -- and allows the hand and arm to flow into the recovery rather than get stuck at the back, which would cause her to lose tempo and momentum.
From the side, we can see the secret to Karlyn’s power phase. She makes the hand, wrist, and forearm work as one unit.
She imagines she has a 3-inch titanium plate embedded in her wrist, and that the plate will not bend. She maintains a long straight pulling surface that works as one unit to push water toward her feet.
Keep Head Neutral, Eyes Up, Hips High
One of the key ingredients to Karlyn’s speed is that she has great balance. What that means is that she holds her body in a balanced, horizontal position.
Karlyn looks down with her eyes, which keeps her neck relaxed and her head in a neutral position.
When the head is in neutral, the hips come up, the legs come up, and your kick becomes more propulsive because you’re not fighting drag.
Karlyn is balanced front to back, but also from side to side, and she does this by keeping her rotation small and quick.
Notice that Karlyn rotates not with her shoulders, but from her hips and core.
By keeping the shoulders somewhat flat, it’s easier to keep the shoulders stable, and easier to lift the elbow to initiate the catch.
Keep the Kick Small and Quick
Karlyn’s rotation occurs in the lower torso, hips, and legs. The action is quick and small, and this helps her maintain rhythm and forward motion.
Karlyn focuses on keeping her flutter kick small and “fluffy,” rather than big and deep.
She turns her feet inward a bit and tries to tap her big toes together, keeping the rhythm small and consistent.
Practice Relaxed Breathing
No matter how fast Karlyn is swimming, she makes a conscious effort to stay relaxed. She does this by relaxing her breathing.
In this clip, notice that Karlyn swims with her mouth open all the time. She’s trying to relax her jaw, which relaxes her entire body.
Karlyn never holds her breath. As her head returns to the water, Karlyn starts exhaling almost immediately, and she exhales mostly through the nose. She doesn’t force her air out. She hums her air out.
She continues a steady, relaxed exhale, making sure not to fully exhale, but to leave a small amount of air in reserve. She then takes a quick breath and starts to hum out her air as soon as her face goes back in.
Relaxed breathing is something that Karlyn works on every day...on every length. It’s a subtle thing, and takes great awareness and control, but it’s one of the secrets of fast swimming.