Pull is all about feeling the water and rather than pulling yourself forward think of it as using your momentum and hold of the water to move yourself past your hand. The key to feeling the water is to use soft hands; so instead of cupping your hands and keeping them tense and rigid relax them, keep your fingers slightly separated and your hands soft. This will help you get the feel of holding the water with your hands rather than pulling your hand through the water.
There is also no one way to pull through; some swimmers prefer to pull out wide others close underneath their body. As a general rule a deeper catch is better for sprinting because it provides more lift forces and therefore is more powerful. A shallower catch where the elbow is closer to the surface is better for longer events because it can be sustained for longer periods of time.
Also for sprinting the pull will be more symmetrical so as one arm starts to pull the other is leaving the water. In distance freestyle a front quadrant stroke is generally used, where a catch up kind of stroke where the hand stays out the front longer.
If you are swapping between events you can change your stroke and accommodate each of these different pull throughs. Just because you do more of a catch up stroke in longer distance swimming doesn’t mean that you can’t have a deeper symmetrical pull when doing sprints.
With either type of stroke there are some common traits that make for a good pull. The first is the high elbow straight forearm and hand position. Pulling through this way means you hold a lot more water and are in control of the stroke. What we try to avoid is the dropped elbow where there is little water being held and the majority being held with the upper arm. It is an ineffective way to pull because there isn’t much power or control. It is just like pulling yourself out of the pool if you are only able to use your upper arms. It is not easy and it is not as effective as using your entire arm.
Keeping your shoulder close to the surface allows you to stay high in the water and reduces the drag it creates. A common mistake I see with swimmers who have a deeper pull is that they push their shoulder down deep which slows them down because of the drag around their shoulder. Keep the shoulder near the surface and a deep pull is okay.
As you finish your pull the hand should start to move closer to the surface so it doesn’t stay the same depth the whole way through. When you finish your pull it can help to lightly flick your fingers to cleanly exit the water and it will also help switch off your arm so it relaxes for the recovery.
In the final video we take a look at putting all of these elements together.