Why Your Arms Feel Like They Are Doing All The Work

In this episode of Feedback Friday, we look at a swimmer who could change the following things in her stroke: – Avoid a crossover when entering and reaching forwards – Avoid ‘putting the brakes on’ – Go deeper in the catch and pull (on some strokes so she isn’t really shallow wasting energy pulling herself forwards) – Increase her stroke rate.


The path the fingers will make is a little bit like half a light globe on the side. So if we look at Clayton’s movement here, you can see it follows that path there. So if you look at Ally’s here, and we’ll just move this up to the next one, you can see that that path of the hand is very straight and shallow, so it’s just sort of making that position. What we want to do is just go a bit deeper, so it goes a little bit deeper through there and that is going to allow him-

Hey, Brenton here. Welcome to Feedback Friday. In today’s episode, we’re looking at a swimmer, Ally, and going to have a look at what she can do to swim faster and become a more efficient swimmer.

Now if you haven’t seen these videos before, this is where we analyze someone’s stroke and we look at what are two or three things that will make the biggest difference to their speed and efficiency over the coming months. And we’d like to break it down in a pretty simple way and just give some structure around how you can go about becoming a better swimmer. So if you haven’t subscribed to the channel yet, make sure you subscribe below and please like this video and share it with someone who you think could improve by watching these videos.

Now let’s take a look through the footage here. Now the first angle that we’ve got here is from the front. Now when you look from the front, she’s getting to some pretty good positions in terms of that power diamond shape that we like to achieve as we’re passing under the shoulder. So in terms of the catch and the pull from the front, some of the aspects of the catch and pull are looking pretty good. Now I want to focus on really what’s happening out in front of the head with the arms and as she’s passing under the shoulders. So in terms of body position, you can see this is sitting pretty well in the water. We’ve got the head, hips, and heels pretty much at the surface there. She looks comfortable. She’s breathing well. Doesn’t look like she’s going to be tiring anytime soon. So in terms of what we want to focus on, we’ve got the fundamentals there and the basics there.

Now the biggest thing that you can probably notice here, the biggest thing that we’d like to start with is really just the entry and extension. So if we look at her from the front here, you’ll see that one of the things that are currently slowing her down and just limiting her speed a little bit is somewhat of a crossover as in when the hand enters and extends forwards there. She’s really coming across in this direction here. Now, one of the most common things we see if someone does that is for the fingers to rise up. So the fingertips are above the elbow there, and this creates quite a bit of drag. One of the things that we do at clinics as we do this contrast drill where we get you to kick with your hands in this current position where the fingers are up and then we get you to put your fingers as the deepest part of your arm.

Now, this doesn’t seem like a lot of drag just by looking at it, but it makes a big difference once you can get your hands to the correct starting catch position. So if we look side-on here, you’ll see that right hand enters, comes across the head a little bit and as a result, we get that bit of drift up with the fingers there. And once we get rid of that drift up, once we can get the arm in that starting catch position of fingers below wrist, wrist below elbow, so basically fingers slightly deeper than the rest of the arm, that is going to minimize the drag, but it’s also going to help her get into the catch a lot easier and improve that part of the stroke.

Now a similar thing happens on the right-hand side. I think we get a bit of a crossover as we’re coming through here so that the left hand enters good. It’s in line with the shoulder, but it does sort of track, and track across a little bit. Now she’s not crossing the center line and I don’t mind if someone gets close to the center. We just want to try and avoid crossing that that center line most of the time. So yeah, she could go a little bit wider with the left, but the main thing I’m looking at there looks like she’s actually entering pretty close to the head.

So let’s just have a look at the above-water view, which we’ve got here. So as we’re looking here, you’ll see that this hand comes in. No, it’s not entering too close. That’s all right. It’s just really the turn of the hands, so you can see the hands almost at 90 degrees there. So the palms facing off to the side. What I normally like to sort of stick to there is either palm facing downwards or about 45 degrees turn in the hand, up to about 45 degrees. So partly because of that angle of the hand there with it turned off to the side so much, we do get a little bit of that rise happening still. Not quite as much with the left but enough to make us want to go, “All right, we can improve on that and get it to that ideal starting catch position.”

So the first thing I’d look to do there is just to make sure that we’re entering in line with the shoulders and extending straight forward, so getting on those train tracks so to speak, and then getting to the correct depth out in front to start the catch. Now the simplest drill that you can do for this is the front kick drill where you’ve got both arms out in front, you got your fingers below your wrist, wrist below your elbow, put a snorkel on if you like. Wear some fins if you like. But this drill can help you not only get a feel and a sense of where the arms should be as you’re reaching forwards, but also making sure that the fingers are the deepest part of the arm.

So when you’re doing that correctly, you should actually feel the water coming just over the top of the fingertips there. Now it’s a bit of a weird sensation, especially if you’re used to lifting the fingers up there. But once you get the sense of it three or four weeks down the track, it does feel a lot smoother. Now the thing with that as well is in this position, you actually feel like you’re holding more water through the catch because you’ve actually got that pressure on the hand and forearm. So even though this can feel like you’re getting a better catch when the fingers come up because of that pressure of the oncoming water, it is a slower position. So that’d be the first thing we would then want to work on.

Now the second thing I’d probably look to, to work on there is then the catch phase. So basically from here. All right, so you want the start of the catch down to here. Now you can see with this left arm that when she finishes the catch, and let me just see if I’ve got a better angle of it because then I can show you what she’s doing with it. Yeah, you can sort of see it there. Now I’ll go back to the other one. So in this position here you can see, all right, we’ve got the start of the catch, we know the change we want to make there. Then as we move through the catch you want to try and get those fingertips pointing down. And if we were to look side on, we’d want to get somewhere in that sort of high elbow catch position even if it’s just slightly.

Now the biggest difference there, where she currently is, the forearm is mostly pressing down there. So we want to try and get that forearm and hand pressing back. So what’s happening at the moment is from here, you’ll see that as the fingertips are moving downwards or pressing down, the elbow is kind of pulling back at the same time through there. And so that creates a sort of dropped elbow position like that and we just want to get it to that higher elbow catch position. So at the moment, we can improve on that. So the way it might feel for her is that the fingertips from here will probably just be dropping down, be moving down a little bit before she starts pulling back with this part of her arm. So think of it as you’re reaching forwards out in front, you’re just dropping the fingertips down slightly before you start pulling back with the entire arm there.

So what we tend to find happens is the people that are dropping their elbow through the catch phase of the stroke in a way, and part of that, is that this upper arm and the elbow starts pulling back straight away instead of just allowing the fingertips just to move downwards first before you start pulling back. On the right hand side here, now this, you can actually see on this right-hand side, this catch position, it’s starting to set up pretty well. Right here at the end of the catch, before you draw a line from her shoulder to her fingertips, look at where’s the elbow? It’s actually in a high elbow catch position there, and that forearm and hand are set up reasonably well back against that water there, so that’s going to propel her forwards pretty nicely. But the one thing that’s happening here is she’s not quite going deep enough with the arm to be able to get into a better catch position.

So basically if we look from here through to here, you can see that the path that the hand takes is quite shallow and quite flat. So if we trace the fingers, and I know we haven’t got the most ideal view, but let me just bring it back a stroke, right? No, that’s, yeah, that’s not far off at all. So from here through to here, if we trace the fingers, you’ll see that it takes this path here. Now when we look at [inaudible 00:08:19] from the side, and we made a video on this, it’s called why you need the glide pool, and I’ll put this in the links below, when we trace someone’s hand, and I’ll pull this up now actually.

Now let’s look at this here. This is Clayton Fettell, who’s a very good triathlete, very good swimmer. The path that the hand takes, if we look side on, and we trace those fingertips, you’ll generally find, it’s like, I think of a light bulb or a light globe. Have that on its side, and the path that the fingers will make is a little bit like half a light globe on the side. So if we look at Clayton’s movement here, you can see it follows that path there. So if you look at Ally’s here, and we’ll just move this up to the next one, you can see that that path of the hand is very straight and shallow, so it’s just sort of making that position. What we want to do is just go a bit deeper, so it goes a little bit deeper through there and that is going to allow him not only to get more power from the stroke there, but it’s also going to just allow her to move over the top of the arm or that the hand and forearm a bit more than, then just pulling out wide there.

While this isn’t necessarily too, too wide a position, she could get away with it, she’s probably going to be a bit better off just going down slightly deeper here. So we still want that power diamond shape and that angle. That angle is quite good. But we just probably want to get it down a little bit deeper to give her a little bit more power through the stroke and it’ll actually take some of the effort off the the shoulders and off the pull there, because I think she’s just on a few strokes like here, going a little bit, yeah, just a little wide and a little shallow there. So on that right arm can go deeper. Left arm here can also, okay, no, sorry. That left one’s fine in terms of the depth and the path of the hand. It’s just on that left one that we drop the elbow quite a bit.

So that is what I’d work on there. So how do we go about those changes? Well if you’ve been watching our videos at all, you will have seen the YMCA drill and those progression drills that we have in the video membership. That is really the key and some really good drills that you can do to help familiarize yourself with those changing, that change in position there. So when she does that YMCA drill, what she could focus on with that is, okay, we know the right arm doesn’t go deep enough on a lot of these strokes. So when we go through those second and third positions in the drill, just got to check in, make sure that we do go deep enough. And with the left arm, we know that that one has a tendency to drop down there with the elbow and for the elbow and the upper arm to pull back too soon.

So when she’s in the second position, the high elbow catch we’ll just want to really have her focus on that. And in that third position, which is the power diamond, when we look side on, we generally want the shoulder, elbow, and hand to be aligned. So if you look at this here, if you look at Clayton’s video, you’ll see that through a lot of these strokes, all right, side on, getting much better alignment through the shoulder, elbow, and hand there. Whereas you can see with at the moment, just with Ally’s left arm, that that hand is quite a distance out in front there. We want it to all line up.

Now the reason for that is surface area pressing back against the water. So that doesn’t give you a lot of surface area to press back with. So once we get those fingers down a bit more, all aligned, that is so much more surface area there. So that’s going to be that, the second thing. So number one, we’ve got the alignment and the starting catch position. You can keep it really simple. You can just do the front kick drill for that or you could progress onto the side kick drill and the 616 drill as well that we’ve got in the video membership there. Or there are some other drills you can do, but well, I like to keep it simple and I find those drills getting most of the way there.

Then after that, it’s obviously the YMCA drill to work on the catch position and that power diamond a little bit. Now the third thing that she could probably do here, I’d be looking to possibly increase the stroke rate a little bit, but my guess is once she fixes up this alignment, so we get rid of this crossover from here to here, that’s going to help her get this nice rhythm and flow into her stroke. So while she’s got some good rhythm there, if we look from above, just have a look at … You actually see how there’s a bit of deceleration happening with each stroke. So in this reach phase, all right, so through here, because the fingers are up a bit, we’re getting a little bit of crossover there, there’s this bit of deceleration happening.

Now we want to try and have this sort of perpetual motion through the stroke. We want to keep it fairly continuous. And at no point, we would want to stop and stop and glide completely or really put the brakes on. So my guess is once we get this reach phase and this entry right, that’s going to give her this much better rhythm through the stroke. It’s going to reduce a lot of the resistance that’s getting created here and it’ll just keep her flowing through the stroke a lot better. Her stroke rate will probably naturally increase by 5% or 10% which is one factor in swimming faster. Not that her stroke rate is slow here. It’s a little bit above 60, but that is one thing that she could look at there.

So that’s going to hit on most of those key things. It’s going to minimize drag, it’s going to help increase her propulsion, and it’s also going to get it into the ideal stroke rate for her as well. So they’re really the key things that I would probably start with, at least for the next couple of weeks and couple of months, so going from there.

I hope you enjoyed this video. Now, if you did enjoy it, make sure you like and subscribe. And if you know someone who’s trying to improve their swim, but they’re not sure how just share this video with them. That’s all I ask and I’ll see you next week with another Feedback Friday.


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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