Recently while coaching my athletes, I realized they were all doing some of the same improper techniques during the pull portion of their stroke. When I asked them how they were taught how to pull their arm underwater, they all responded with some sort of explanation of pulling their arm in an “S” motion. I was astonished to find that all of them had been taught this technique because it is the opposite of what we should be doing during the catch and pull portion of our stroke.
We get most of our forward propulsion in the water during the pull phase of our stroke. We use our hands and forearm as a paddle, and we generate power by pulling our arm VERTICALLY down our body. I emphasize the word vertically because any movement away from that vertical plane does not result in forward propulsion in the water. Therefore, a movement such as an “S” curve that has some horizontal motion will not result in what we are trying to accomplish which is moving forward in the water.
The thought behind the “S” curve in the freestyle stroke comes from watching a swimmer underwater. While the swimmer is rotating their hips and pulling it appears as if their hand is making an outward motion. While in fact their hand is pulling in a straight line under their body. Any motions outward would move the swimmer sideways in the water, which is certainly not the intention.
A tool that can be helpful in practicing this vertical pulling technique is the Freestyler Hand Paddle. The paddle is shaped like a triangle and has a ridge on the bottom. While using this paddle, focus on pulling your arm in a straight line under your body. Do not grip the sides of the paddle to prevent the paddle from slipping out from under your hand. If you feel the paddle moving out from under your hand that means that you are not pulling in a straight line. This paddle gives you instant feedback on whether or not you are keeping your arm and hand straight while you are catching and pulling water under your body.