10 Seconds Faster With This Small Change

One of our members Sergey recently knocked off 10 seconds per 100m (1:50 pace to 1:40 pace) for his 800m time trial. We worked on two key things that helped him do this. The starting catch position and his catch. Take a look at how a small change in technique can lead to significant improvements in speed.


Hi, Brenton here from Effortless Swimming. It’s been a while since I’ve done a Feedback Friday video. I like to try to do them every week, but the last few weekends we’ve had a lot of clinics. We’ve been in Perth, we’ve been in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, so I’ve been pretty flat out running the clinics.

And also the online coaching, we’ve had a lot of new members joining, so I’ve been pretty busy doing analysis there because that’s what I do on a day-to-day basis. YouTube’s something that I like to do for enjoyment, and I like to share some of the things that I’ve found to be really helpful when it comes to improving your swimming. But I’m going to try and get back on the weekly bandwagon, and we’re starting that with today’s video.

Today’s video is of someone who joined our membership about six weeks ago, his name is Sergei, and in the space of four to five weeks he had a significant improvement, not only in his technique, but also in his times. He’s come down from around a 1:50 pace with a wetsuit on down to around a 1:40 pace for 800 meters with a wetsuit on. And you’ll see in this next video some of the changes that have helped him get there.

I want to point out, it’s not standard to improve 10 seconds per 100 in the space of four to five weeks. Most people will take sometimes two, three, six months, it can take a lot longer to do that. But you’ll see how he’s been able to make those changes. So let’s have a look at that video, this is from Sergei who joined the membership about six weeks ago.

This is the before video, this is the very first video that Sergei sent. And from here, I noticed a couple of things. The first one was, you can see on the entry how the fingertips are really coming up to the surface quite a bit, and he’s letting his hand or his wrist go a little bit loose. So the fingers were coming up, putting the brakes on a bit, and you can see this dropped elbow position that he was coming to.

This was the first thing that stood out on both arms, so if we come back and just look at the right one as well. You notice that that position there when he’s extending forwards, it’s just putting the brakes on a bit. That adds up to a bit of extra drag, it’s going to slow him down, and again, it’s a minor physical change compared to that, where we want to be, but it really does add up.

At clinics, and in our online coaching membership, there’s, quite a bit of focus on these little things that really do add up to make a big difference in the stroke, so that was the thing that first stood out to me.

What we worked on there was really some alignment and starting catch position drills. What we were able to do was really making a big difference with how efficient he was in the water in terms of minimizing drag. I’ll show the after shot in a moment.

The second thing you’ll see here with his catch is that he was just dropping the elbow somewhat. So from here down to there, you can see that catch position where really this elbow was pulling through quite soon, the elbow was dropping, and you can see how the forearm, the hands pressing down on the water quite a bit. So he just really wasn’t setting himself up that well early on with the catcher position.

And a lot of that can often start from just the starting catch position. If you set yourself up there where you’re putting the brakes on and the fingers are up, it can be a lot harder to then transition into a good catch. We sort of saw this a bit with Sergei. So again, just a slightly dropped elbow position, and the way that we sort of define that is, if we draw a straight line from the shoulder to the hand, the elbow is sitting below that straight line.

So that was one of the initial videos that I got sent from Sergei. We looked at improving the starting catch position, getting the fingers below the wrist, wrist below the elbow. Also working on the catch as well, that’s what we wanted to really focus on there. So let’s take a look at the after the video.

You can see here, this is the after video, you can just see how much smoother the stroke looks. And it’s not necessarily that smoother is always better, but you can just see that there’s much less drag that he’s creating there. He’s starting himself in a much better position.

You can see here, right about there, great line all the way through the body, fingers below wrists, wrists maybe just below the elbow, but that overall line through the body, much more efficient. He’s creating a lot less drag through there, left hand enters really nicely, extends forwards here as well, and again, he’s just not letting those fingertips come up like he was before. He’s just setting himself up so much better.

But probably one of the more noticeable things was the improvement in the catch. This certainly isn’t standard, this can take quite a while for a lot of people, but through the catch phase on a lot of the strokes, he was able to really just initiate the catch a lot better. You can see here on this stroke that he’s in a much … Well, he’s in a high elbow catch position, so if we draw that straight line from the shoulder to the hand, the elbow is sitting above it.

That’s a much better setup of the catch, and that small change is, I think, where a lot of the improvement came from, combined with that better starting catch position, so really good on that stroke. He doesn’t get it every stroke, and that’s normal. When you’re making changes to your stroke, you’re going to get it right sometimes, and then not so much the other times. You can see there, it’s still a little bit dropped on this right arm, and this is one of the things we’re working on now, but it’s a better position than what it was.

I normally look for incremental improvements in the catch. It’s very hard to make a really significant change straightaway, it often takes time, but you can see, particularly on his left side, that’s where he’s really made a big difference. And when he sent these videos in, one of the things he said was, “My times are 10-15 seconds quicker per 100, but I can’t actually see the difference in my stroke here.”

And that’s what my job is, that’s what my role is as a coach when people join the membership and work with me. It’s my job to spot these small differences, and then put together a bit of a plan to work on, in terms of what to work on next. So really significant change there in the space of … Really, it was just a couple of weeks, where he was able to knock off 10-15 seconds per 100 in his swim times just by working on his technique, not by training anymore.

You’ve still got to be doing at least three sessions a week, that’s my rule of thumb. You can get away with two, but ideally three or more. So he was doing the work, he was already fit, he was training well for a triathlon. And the biggest thing was just technique that was holding him back, and he was able to make really good changes in a very short space of time. Often it takes longer than that, I don’t expect to see that much of a change so quickly, but everyone’s different, and Sergei did a terrific job.

So now we’re just really focused on continuing to improve the catch, particularly with the right arm, that’s where I think there’s the biggest opportunity, and then we’ll work on a bit of strength work and just continue to improve the race skills as well. Particularly open water swimming, getting the drafting happening, and also just the ability to sort of pace the race in a way where he’s able to finish strongly, save energy for the bike and the run, and just get more out of his open water racing stroke. So, a terrific job, and it was great to see such a quick change in such a short space of time.

There you have it, there are some of the changes that Sergei was able to make with his stroke that helped him take 10 seconds off per 100. If you’d like to check out the membership, then click the link below, that’s where I coach swimmers online from all around the world. As long as you can record yourself swimming, either with a phone or with a GoPro, send that to me, that’s how I will help you improve your technique.

And we don’t just look at technique, we also have workouts there, strength, conditioning, mobility, a lot of different things as well, not just technique. But that’s where most people primarily make the biggest improvement, is with their stroke. So if you’ve got access to a phone or a GoPro and you can record yourself swimming, then check out the Effortless Swimming membership, there’s a link below, and I might see you in there.


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Brenton and Mitch were great to work with at the clinic, Good to get video analysis to work on straight away, practice some new drills and go home knowing what you need to work on.

Alex McFadyen