Frustratinglyand despite their best intentions, good catch mechanics are very elusive forthe vast majority of swimmers and triathletes. A good catch on the water is oneof the things that separate elite and advanced swimmers from the masses andallow them to move quickly and efficiently through the water – but why do somany swimmers struggle to improve their catch?
Let’s take a look at a common problem that might be holding you back. Here is atypical sequence from one such swimmer Anna showing her entering the water andextending forward:
In the final position (3) her elbow hasdropped down lower than the wrist with the hand facing forward. This is aproblem because from there it is impossible to initiate a high-elbow catch onthe water. Instead Anna starts to pull through with the elbow dropped losingher a lot of propulsion:
Theinteresting thing here is that Anna knows she should not be dropping her elbowin position 3 and yet is unable to stop it happening. Why? Because she istrying to keep her hand too near the surface at this point in the stroke anddespite her best intentions, as she rotates her body onto her left side she hasto drop her elbow to keep it near the surface. In comparison, take a look atAustralian elite swimmer Rhys Mainstone:
Comparing 3 and 5, notice that Rhys’ handis deeper in the water, which allows him to keep his elbow higher than thewrist and the wrist higher than the fingertips. He can then bend his elbow andstart pressing water backward effectively (6), generating good propulsion.
As you swim, try entering the water andextending forward slightly deeper so that you are able to keep your elbow high.Experiment with different depths to see what feels best – somewhere between 20and 30 cm (8 and 12 inches) is best, the exact depth will depend on how broadyou are and the level of flexibility in your upper back and shoulders. Ofcourse you don’t want to go too deep as this will send your hand down towardsthe bottom of the pool, it’s a matter of finding the sweet spot between thetwo.
A quick warning here: As you improve yourcatch you may feel your stroke rhythm lifting and your catch and pull throughfeels ‘too easy’. These are good signs that you are getting things right -don’t be put off! Whenever you are making changes to your stroke be objectiveand monitor how fast you are swimming versus your level of effort, don’t justuse your judgement of what feels immediately right and wrong, doing so can bevery misleading at times.