Fix your stroke: Stop single arm swimming Part 2

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

| April 26, 2017 | TRAINING

Photo >Frank Wechsel

by Daniel Bullock

Read part 1 of the series

A good swimming position for the arms involves a pivot at the elbow rather than the shoulder, having the elbow travel out keeping the hand quite central, turning the forearm vertical (see below). This will enhance the surface area of the hand as you anchor the water and attempt to pull yourself past the hand from an early vertical forearm position. You don't just pull with the hand - you use your vertical forearm to assist. The more surface area involved, the harder it is to pull on the water. So, in fact, a streamlined body can then travel forwards and over the anchored hand. The fingertip to elbow position is now in a place it can be of help, i.e. pushing water back towards the feet and not down to the bottom of the pool.

Most can get into this “ideal” position when the head is in neutral, i.e. not breathing. Given the length of most people’s arm span and their high stroke counts, you can see how so much inefficiency can creep in. One meter for one stroke is a lot of wasted effort as the momentum is not there taking you forwards. When an elite swimmer takes 30 or less strokes over 50m, you can see how both arms effectively are efficient in taking the body forwards with greater efficiency.                    

Problems arise when the head turns to breathe and, unfortunately, when we swim, we need to turn the head to breathe, making this issue incredibly difficult to fix. The snorkel comes close to helping break the link between the head turning to breathe and the arm stabilizing, but many struggle with the snorkel and many pools do not allow us to use them. Adding a snorkel will be a great help as a first step towards breaking this habit, as the head is kept still and better arm pathways can be worked on, but what do we do if we cannot use one or want to accelerate our progress? A few other options to consider would include the following.

Training the correct swim mechanics on dryland means the head does not need to turn to breathe. The head stays still so you can build up the many thousands of movements needed to help ingrain this new habit. Arm movements can be practiced with great symmetry, similar angles created at the shoulders and elbows. I try to create the same angles and positions through my arms regardless of whether or not I am turning to breathe. At a stronger race pace, I am going to breathe to one side so I like to train as symmetrically as possible.

Swim Bench

The beauty of the swim bench is that it makes it very hard to push down with a straight arm. You will not go forwards up the bench with a straight arm being engaged and pushing down as you might in the water. To try this is to risk straining the shoulders - you will feel this is wrong. The head is still and the arms are strengthening in the correct movements, so its easy to add the many thousands of repeats needed to stop going back to the old, incorrect, movements. I hear you thinking “But what happens when you go back into the water?” As mechanics improve, propulsion increases and you will sit higher in the water. At this point, you will get to the air with a smaller turn of the head rather than a larger lift of the head up to the surface.


Stretch Cords

Another highly useful and versatile piece of equipment is stretch chords – once again you can keep you head still since you don’t need to turn for air. The correct arm movements can be repeated without the head moving, so this builds the number of correct repetitions of the arm movements. I will say, though, that it is a little harder to achieve the correct movements given the highly flexible nature of the cords. It is possible to push down with a straight arm and not really feel this is an incorrect movement, so take on board some coaching advice if you are using cords for technical work.

Cords are incredibly versatile, though, and I carry mine to poolside as they are useful for shoulder swim prehab and building strength.