Fix your stroke: Stop single arm swimming Part 3

A good arm position is critical for fast swimming. Part three of a series on correcting your arm and body position in the water.

| May 4, 2017 | TRAINING

Photo >Frank Wechsel | Spomedis

by Daniel Bullock

No amount of dryland work is going to replace actual swimming, but we need an intermediate step. To ask an elite swimmer to make a small change to their swim technique, while swimming full stroke, is not going to be easy. At a lower ability level it’s practically impossible. This is where the role of swim drills come in. Breaking the stroke into manageable sections.

Read Part 1 of the series

Read Part 2 of the series

Ideally, breathing should follow your rotation, not initiate it via a straight arm push down. Pushing down bounces you along, wasting energy, pushing you in a direction you do not want to go - namely up. If the kick can assist your rotation and body position, then the shoulders should elevate without the arms involved - have a look at the following “torpedo drill.” It does all that we ask in terms of helping your body position. Add fins to make this easier, perform face up on your back in the early stages to make breathing easier.

Torpedo drill

Another favorite drill for countering this problem is the “extension position.” A familiar kicking on your side drill, but with some added benefits. It will encourage you to breathe to both sides and breathe without pushing down on your straight lead arm you have extended forwards. If you feel this might still be happening, prop the lead arm up with a pull buoy. Practice turning to breathe without leaning on this arm once you have mastered the torpedo drill. The trailing shoulder must be on the surface to allow your breathing to stand a chance. Once you are happy in this position, you can progress to a small “catch position” from the arm while breathing.

Extension Position Drill

While in this extension position, turn the head to breathe and at the same time perform a small pivot at the elbow turning the fingertips down and the elbow vertical. Literally the first part of the arm pull. Focus on the head turn and the elbow being the point of movement, not the shoulder. Carefully slice the hand back out in front to the extension position starting point and try again. Four to the left, four to the right and then finish your length on full stroke.

Body Position

Create the correct body position without the arms involved and then, when you do, reintroduce them. Your arms are no longer needed as stabilisers supporting an off balance body position - or being used incorrectly to generate your rotation. I refer to this as external rotation. Create your shoulder lifting rotation from the legs and hips - this is internal rotation. The straight arm push down is guilty of keeping the front of the stroke up and the legs low, straining the shoulders and neck and, at the least, not pulling you forwards. Think about why this is important.  Swimming can be described as how the hand and forearm hold the water, anchoring the hand in position, which should allow a streamlined body to pass over it with the least amount of movement from the hand. The swim bench does a great job of imparting this kind of sensation as you slide the body forwards and leave the hand in position.

Swimming ok and swimming well is a little like the difference between running on a treadmill and running on a road. We should swim similar, in principle, to how we run on the road. Plant the foot and the body should go forwards. Leave air around the hand and we lose “hold,” so the hand slips under the body with no reward of going forwards. Push down and we don’t go forwards, only upwards. Pull back with the elbow, keeping the forearm horizontal and, again, the arm can slip under the body with little forward momentum.

Learning to breathe to both sides will also be a major step forward, helping interrupt the stranglehold this bad habit has on your stroke. Switching breathing patterns to bilateral is a great step towards improving your symmetry. You do not have to breathe every third stroke for this to work. On race day, you might be working too hard to sustain this. In training, an easier option might be to try two breaths to the left then take 3 strokes. This action will take you over to your opposite side where two breaths to the right would help break the dominant habit of breathing to one side, which encourages the straight arm push down. Attack this issue from all sides for best impact, including dryland training. Add a central snorkel, mixed breathing patterns, drills and improvements to rotation in an attempt to stop swimming single armed.