If you have mastered a streamlined body position, added rotation and can keep your head still unless turning to breathe then chances are you are probably swimming pretty well. What might the last area be to focus on? well last Saturday evening for a local charity a group of us swam 100x100m FC. It was interesting that for the most part the faster lanes managed to keep their technique for longer. The group was a mix of former club swimmers, fit and unfit, Triathletes and Openwater swimmers. If fit, the former club swimmers held on for the longest but in the end fatigue got to all of us. The main problem was a collapse in how we created our rotation meaning we then leaned on a straight arm pushdown to help us come up for air.
As I have said before poor technique due to fatigue is ok, it is inevitable and a byproduct of hard work. It should not be seen as a negative thing. As long as we repair, polish and restore it back to its former glory as soon as possible.
Regardless of ability the key issue that affected us all was the inability to create our rotation internally. By that I mean with an accurate leg kick helping drive our rotation and keeping us balanced we set up a good foundation from which to rotate the upper body. With the shoulders being moved from side to side we then have the opportunity to breathe smoothly
We lean on our arm as it pushes down and this helps us come up for air. What it does not do is allow us to move forwards since the hand and forearm are now pushing down.
When this happens the head and body come up and the legs sink leading to an uphill swim. One of the hardest things to perfect is a great catch position, many people get there but once the tired breathing starts we often revert to the straight arm push down. Last year I was filming a local tri club and the stats were amazing, only 2 from 40 were able to set this up correctly. The following is the shape we are looking for regardless of breathing or not.
I work on this with the basic Torpedo Drill to reconnect the leg kick to the body and how it rotates. Learning to rotate without the arms involved is key. Adding a central snorkel can help as you reduce the head turning but this does not get to the heart of the problem. If you are not sure if you are setting your catch correctly regardless of breathing or not then the Thumbcatch drill can help. This will help create a vertical forearm position with the fingertips pointing down and the palm pushing water back rather than down.
Quick fixes – paddles will not help this alone regardless of what is promised by the manufacturer. It is possible to push down with a straight arm whether there is a paddle attached or not, whether the hand is shaped in a fist or enclosed in a glove, bag or holding a dog toy. They might help you focus on the area that needs work but alone they will not encourage you to pivot at the elbow and set your catch. Large paddles might help you feel the upward movement but again will not tell you what the correct movement is.
Learning to pull with the hand and forearm is essential to go forwards faster but we must first correct the body position issues first to avoid issues when breathing tired.