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The catch is the most technical part of your stroke, and an area where small changes can lead to large improvements.
The most important thing about your catch is to take advantage of every angle. The idea is to find the angles that let you grab as much water as possible during every part of the pull.
In this clip, try to ignore everything except my hands. Look for the angle of the hand as it enters…catches…pulls…and exits.
If we slow it down, you can see that the angle of attack is low. I try to be precise, and think about slicing my hand into the water – fingertips first.
As the hand goes in and extends forward, right near the surface, I send the pinky out to the side. This helps me to engage the lats – the muscles in my back – and sets me up for a high-elbow pull.
From head on, you can see how flaring out the pinky gives me a wider pull, and gets my back muscles into the stroke. Sending my hands out helps me pop the elbow and keep it high.
If we freeze-frame it here, you can see another set of angles that helps give me power in my stroke.
Notice the straight line across the shoulders from elbow to elbow – and the 90-degree angle at each elbow. I like to try for this kind of balance – or symmetry – from side to side.
I also like to have a wide pull, where the hands never cross the centerline of my body, and never really come inside the line of my hips.
Still looking at the hand, notice that as it reaches full extension, I separate the thumb to initiate the catch. This gives me a bit more surface area with my hand, and it causes my hand to start to come in toward the centerline of my body.
As the pull begins, notice that I keep my elbow high and point my fingers toward the bottom of the pool. I try to form a straight line from my elbow through my wrist, across the palm, and all the way to the fingertips.
Here’s a different angle. Watch for the elbows to remain high, and for the fingertips to be pointing down. This angle gives me the most surface area for a powerful pull.
I try to grab as much water as I can with my palm and forearm, and then hang on to all of the water through the pull.
In this next clip, notice the angles that are formed as I begin the final part of the pull. If we freeze it here, you can see that the elbow is still high, but that the forearm, wrist, and hand are still forming a straight line, with fingertips pointing down. I’m still holding on to the water with as big a surface as possible.
As the clip continues, notice how I try to maintain this big surface area – this big paddle – all the way through the pull, till the hand exits the water.
A common mistake swimmers make is to let go of the water too early, either by collapsing the elbow or the wrist, or by exiting too early.
I try to maximize my angles. I keep the elbow high, the wrist straight, and I try to follow all the way through and exit at the hip.
In this next clip, try to ignore the hands and focus just on the angle formed by my elbow. I try to maintain a high elbow at every point of the stroke.
Here’s another view where you can see how the high elbow helps me take advantage of the muscles in my back. It allows me to apply more pressure to the water.
In this clip, you can see another way I try to take advantage of angles. I try not to let my hands cross the centerline of my body during the pull.
My hands enter right above the shoulders, then go wide, then come slightly in, but they don’t go across the centerline. By not letting my hands cross the centerline, I can swim in a more direct line.
When you work on your catch, try to think about just one angle at a time. Focus on hand entry one day. High elbow the next. Straight wrist the next.
Remember, it’s small changes that can add up to big improvements.