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Swimming Mechanics – Re-teaching the Freestyle Action

Swimming is largely a technical sport, and arguably the most technical of the three that triathletes have to master. Furthermore, when an athlete has poor stroke mechanics , the benefits of general fitness and training, strength work, wetsuits and swim squad will all be limited! When this is the case, the best results will come from reteaching the entire freestyle action, so proper mechanics are developed. ETPA run an innovative stroke correction program called Swimfast which was created by Mat Tippett and continues to be developed by Mat and Jamie Edwards. The program breaks down the freestyle action into four fundamental components and reintroduces them in a sequence of drills. The program utilises a combination of specific swim drills, and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) in order to ‘retrain’ the muscle firing patterns and different components of the nervous system. This is part three of the series on reteaching the freestyle action. This issue will discuss the catch part of the stroke in detail. Part one covered buoyancy and head position – ensuring you are sitting better in the water. Part two was about achieving a streamline position through the entire stroke and rotating through each stroke to achieve greater forward movement. Next issue will tidy everything up and balance the stroke with some recovery drills. The following teaching sequence and methods have shown a great success rate over the last 10 years of teaching.

Part 3 – The Catch

Here is a clip of Mat explaining some of the fundamentals of the catch and its function and leading the group into the first drill; dog paddle – catch only. This video explains the function of the catch and what is should feel/look like when being executed correctly.

  • Finger tips to elbow is your paddle – no bend in the wrist

  • Reach out towards your midline/in front of your nose – think about where you start your stoke from

  • There should be an internal rotation at the elbow and shoulder and hence your hand should come straight down – not into the chest

  • Start with your head up so you can watch your stroke, but progress to having your head down to better simulate swimming

  • Keep your elbows high – don’t let them drop/externally rotate

  • Picture a swiss ball and pretend you are trying to rollover the ball when practicing your catch

I would suggest completing 4 x 25m efforts of dog paddle – catch only. This is a very small movement and is isolated to the very first part of the freestyle action. Use these laps to be critical of your catch and play around with what works. Perhaps focus on two fundamentals as listed above per lap. Then complete 2-3 x 50m efforts easy swimming but being aware of the catch as part of your whole stroke. Then, move onto full dog paddle, which is basically freestyle with an underwater recovery. This is a progression from the above drill and the goal is for you to understand the underwater part of your stroke and how your catch drives the rest of your stroke. Simply continue on from your catch and pull water all the way through to your thigh. Again, start with your head up so you can ensure your stroke is following the correct line and then progress to doing the drill with your head down. Complete 4 x 25m efforts of full dog paddle, followed by some 50m freestyle efforts with an overriding emphasis on the catch. You may also like to play around with your intensity and timing. Strength Work Any strength work that will increase the activation and strength of the Latissimus Dorsi will assist in developing a more effective catch. This may be as simple as 3 x 8reps of lat pull down or a chin up. This could progress into a ‘Jump to Pull’ pull up, which involves jumping up and catching the bar before executing the pull up action. Also try some activation with elastic bands – in a bent over or prone position simulate the desired freestyle action with high elbows and internal rotation, for 3 x 1min with 1min rest. The movement we are searching for is known as a reverse shrug. Performance Based Visualisation Training You can also critique and refine this movement pattern in front of a mirror at home now that you know how it is supposed to look. Complete ten strokes (whilst standing straight) of dog paddle – catch only, then bend over so your torso is parallel to the ground to replicate swimming body position; or, even better - lie on a bench! Do the same for full dog paddle, and then repeat for normal swimming and see how you go. This will then be a great reference for the next time you are in the water!

Sample Session 1-200m warm up 6 x 25m dog paddle – catch only/15sec rest 2 x 50m swim/10sec rest 6 x 25m dog paddle – full/head up/15sec rest 2 x 50m swim/10sec rest 6 x 25m dog paddle – full/head down/15sec rest 2 x 50m swim/10sec rest 4 x 25m builds/10sec rest – really work on grabbing and holding water through the stroke 2 x 75m efforts as 25m catch only dog paddle/25m full dog paddle/25m swim – 15sec rest 1-200m easy swim down Next article discussing the recovery phase of your swim stroke, coming soon! If you have any questions or would like to learn more, email us on or get in touch with us on Facebook

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