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Brenton Ford: How The Angle Of Your Arm Affects Your Swim Speed

Before we had the magic of underwater filming, most technique analysis was based only on what we could see with the naked eye above the water. While this type of analysis can be useful, we can get a much better idea of a swimmer’s stroke when looking underwater with the help of slow motion replay and the ability to look at angles during each stage of the stroke.

Why It Matters

The angle of your arm during the catch and press phase can determine how much water you ‘hold’ with each stroke. Being outside of the correct range is like driving in the rain on slick tyres; it’s much harder to grip and apply power. We’ve performed hundreds of video analysis sessions with triathletes at our freestyle stroke correction clinics and there is a direct correlation between speed and the angle of the arm during the catch and press.

What’s The Correct Angle?

When looking directly in front just beneath the surface of the water, most elite triathletes who are front pack swimmers have an arm angle between 100-130 degrees just before they pass the shoulder. This is the angle of the elbow bend between a swimmers’ forearm and upper arm. Professional triathletes Clayton Fettell and Annabel Luxford have an angle of 106 and 120 respectively, allowing them to press back on the water effectively with their hand and forearm.

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Professional triathletes Clayton Fettell and Annabel Luxford have an angle of 106 and 120 respectively, allowing them to press back on the water effectively with their hand and forearm.

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Most elite triathletes who are front pack swimmers have an arm angle between 100-130 degrees just before they pass the shoulder.

Sometimes a swimmer can be pulling with the correct angle from the front, but may be dropping their elbow when viewing from the side. The elbow should not drop below the yellow line during this phase of the pull.

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The elbow should not drop below the yellow line during this phase of the pull.

 

Common Mistakes When Pulling

Triathletes who are new to swimming or don’t have a swimming background tend to pull with an arm that is too straight. When the arm is outside the 100-130 degree range, it typically goes deeper than needed and the forearm and hand will press down on the water instead of back against it.

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When the arm is outside the 100-130 degree range, it typically goes deeper than needed.

 

How To Know If You’re Doing It Correctly

Using a GoPro or waterproof camera, have a friend or coach film you from the front and side while you’re swimming. You can use this footage in an app like Coache’s Eye on your phone/tablet or an Objectus Video on your computer to measure the angle of your arm during the catch and press. During stroke correction clinics we constantly refer to GoPro footage recorded from above and below the water to help triathletes make the necessary changes to their freestyle to become smoother, more efficient swimmers.
 

How To Change It

Improving your swimming is like building a house. You need to have the foundation and walls in place before you begin building the roof. The focus should first be on achieving the right body position, breathing, recovery and entry before developing your pull. Once this is in place we use a number of drills and awareness exercises with our athletes to familiarise them with the correct catch and press motion. Some of the best drills for this are front scull, top to bottom scull and single arm freestyle. They allow a swimmer to get a feel for having a wider, higher elbow position during the pull so they open up the forearm and hand to press back on the water.

Keep the forearm and hand firm but not tense during this part of the stroke. Being tense not only uses more energy but doesn’t allow the swimmer to attain the right feeling for the water. Triathletes who are the fastest in the water aren’t necessarily pulling with more power than others, they’re simply being more effective with what they do under the water.

 
 

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