“What are you talking about? Get your hand behind your elbow? What does that even mean?”
A long straight freestyle stroke is much more efficient than lots of short strokes. And long strokes are faster through the water, even though your stroke rate falls.
Freestyle technocrats – swim geeks who focus too much on correct technique (like me) – have an important, if obscure, rule:
Get your hand behind your elbow as soon as possible and keep it there as long as possible, even in the recovery stage.
Step by step, that means:
- After your hand enters and catches the water, get your forearm vertical as soon as you can, bending from the elbow, using your bicep strength. This brings your hand ‘behind your elbow’ if looking from above.
- Keep your elbow high and forward during the pull and push phase of the freestyle stroke and lead with your hand.
- Brush your thigh, or hip, with your thumb to ensure that you have long straight freestyle stroke.
- At the end of the stroke, as your hand exits the water down near your thigh, lift and pull your elbow (not your hand) to bring it back to the front. Drag your hand forward by pulling with your elbow. Leave your hand behind and let it ‘hang’ off your elbow as you recover your arm to the front to begin the next stroke.
Don’t be a crab. Crabs can’t get their claws behind their little elbows. Their claws are always pointed forward from their elbows and many, many freestylers are a bit like crabs.
As soon as their hands exit the water at the end of their stroke, they lead with their hand and get it back in front of their elbow. This leads to shorter strokes, shoulder injuries and pain in the elbow joint. Also leads to heartache for your coach when watching from the pool deck ☹.
Try the ‘Stayin Alive’ (John Travolta) drill. Like the Fingerdrag drill, this one is mostly about your elbows – keeping them high and forward and getting your hands behind them.
In the Stayin Alive drill, you get both arms straight at the same time and really push them straight.
One arm is stretched forward to 10 or 11 o’clock and the other arm is stretched back to 4 or 5 o’clock.
It’s an exaggeration of good freestyle (like all drills). It will help you train your brain to tell your body to keep your strokes long and get your hand behind your elbow.