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One of the “signatures” of Roland’s stroke is that he separates his thumb from the rest of his hand during the catch and pull. He’s found that this gives him a bit more surface area…but this hand position may not be right for every swimmer.
Even if you don’t try Roland’s thumb position, what you do want to imitate is the way he catches and holds water during his pull. Roland is a master at grabbing as much water as he can and hanging on to it for a long, powerful pull.
Let’s slow it down to take a closer look. Roland’s hand entry is precise, and the angle of attack is low. The fingertips enter first and then the hand remains high as it extends forward.
In this front view, we can see how the fingertips enter first, and that the hands enter the water directly in front of the shoulders. Everything is in line, and nothing crosses the midline of the body.
Notice that Roland’s hand is ready to grab water the instant it enters. By the time the arm is fully extended, all the bubbles have fallen off the hand and the catch happens seamlessly.
By keeping the catch high, and letting the hand extend into new water – water that has no bubbles -- Roland finds a more solid surface to anchor his hand, and his pull takes less effort.
In this clip, notice how Roland catches water not just with his hand, but also with his wrist and forearm. It’s the high elbow that allows him to get this tremendous amount of surface area.
The high elbow turns Roland’s forearm into a huge paddle that he uses to pull himself forward.
Here’s another view of Roland’s high elbows. But notice something else: the straight line that’s formed from the elbow along the forearm, through the wrist, and all the way to the fingertips.
Throughout the pull, this giant paddle never bends…the elbow never drops…the wrist never collapses or wobbles. The palm, wrist, and forearm never let go of the water.
By creating a long straight surface to hang on to the water, Roland is able to involve more of his body in the pull. Notice how he anchors with the hand and forearm…then engages the muscles all along his side and his back, to help pull his body forward.
Because he never lets go of the water, Roland is able to get great rotation, and exceptional hand acceleration through the pull. Watch how his hands catch and hold…and then speed up through the pull.
Let’s watch all of this from way under water. Look first for the low angle of attack and how the hand extends forward into still water.
Then look for the high elbow as Roland grabs an entire armful of water – from fingertips to elbow – and never lets go.