January 22, 2018

Triathlon Swim Series, Part 3: Arm Position

Swimming arm positionLast week I wrote about body position and how the good stroke begins with good body position.

This week we’ll cover about arm position.

Over the years there have been many thoughts on arm position. I personally know of four. Unfortunately, I learned about three of them too late – after my rotator cuff was messed up. Let’s see if we can prevent the same problem for you.

I’ll break down the proper stroke for you into its elements so you can visualize this the next time you swim:

Entry: The proper hand entry is smooth. The hand should enter the water just above your head as if you’re slipping your hand underneath the sheet of your bed. Don’t slap the water – there should be very little splash. As your hand enters the water your hand should stay close to the surface of the water – don’t let it drop down. Try to stay about 4” – 6” from the surface of the water. As the hand enters the water quickly push it forward under the water. Also be careful to watch where your hands go once they’ve entered the water. You DON’T want them crossing over the imaginary line that goes through the center of your body and head. Ideally, they’ll stay approximately shoulder width.

Reach: I talked about “reach” last week. Essentially, you want to stretch your arms out as much as possible as if you’re trying to touch the wall that’s just 6” too far out of reach. The proper reach will automatically rotate your body.

Catch: The main element of the catch is to keep the elbow high and bring the hand and forearm vertical as quickly as possible. If you do this your hand should stay very shallow in the water. Think of it as if you were swimming in 12” of water and you didn’t want your hand to hit the bottom of the pool. The proper catch will allow you to use the force of your hand AND your forearm against the water. Yes, it’s harder to pull through the water but the additional resistance will help propel you through the water faster.

Pull: The pull should be fast. You’ll feel the resistance which is why doing exercises like lat pull-downs will help you with your tricep strength. The proper pull will have your hand going nearly vertical through the water, not under your body, but to your side. The YMCA used to teach the “S” pull. Avoid the “S” as it adds nothing to your efficiency. Your hand should continue to pull until it is by your hip. In fact, if done properly, your hip will move out of the way (because of your proper body rotation) just as your hand passes by.

Return: Keep your elbow high on the return but your hand low. Your fingers should almost skim the surface of the water on the return. You’ll see swimmers reaching waaay out of the water with their hands sometimes. This isn’t efficient. Keep the hand low.

That’s it! Those are the key elements of the proper arm position. Concentrate on these elements each time you swim and you’ll go faster.

Ron Saetermoe


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