The high elbow catch and pull, also known as the vertical forearm catch is one of the most critical and allusive parts of the swim stroke. But to become a stronger more efficient swimmer, you need to have one. Without it, you will tear up your shoulders and only make marginal gains being left tired and exhausted after longer sets. Why? Because all your power comes from this part of the stroke.
Have you ever tried hoisting yourself out of the pool or over a wall while keeping your arms straight? If you have successfully, well done, because it is hard to do and strains your shoulders tremendously. Chances are, To do either task, you needed to bend your arms and engage your lat muscles and pecs. Your swim pull works the same way.
Perfecting the high elbow catch is hard to do because you shouldn’t be looking at your arms when swimming so it is hard to visualize what your arms are doing while looking at the bottom of the pool. However, here are five, easy things you can do now to improve your high elbow catch.
1. Watch this video. It gives the best visual representation of high elbow catch both in and out of the water. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTQpF_mmg44
2. The Vasa Erg or resistance bands: The Vasa Swim Erg is an awesome way to work on your high elbow catch because you can see and monitor your arm as you pull. The forearm cuff attachments as well will slip if you straighten your arms and not keep a high elbow. Muscularly, the added resistance also make you feel your lats and pecs engaging while taking pressure off your rotator cuff. If you do not have a Vasa, you can rig one up using a resistance band anchored to a door. Simply bend over like you are in the water and pull back keeping your arm at a 90 degree angle.
3. Lat pull downs: you can mimic the high elbow catch while getting a great workout in by standing in front of a lat pulldown bar and pushing the bar down while keeping your arms bent at a 90 degree angle (like you did in tip number 1). I would keep the weight light and high to start and build from there.
4. Deck ups: Like the previous three drills, these help you get used to engaging your lat muscles. Check out this video on how to do it: https://youtu.be/fgS_sA3m1fA
5. Fist drill/tennis balls: taking away your hands for propulsions forces you to use your forearms and have a high elbow to keep moving. Once your form gets good enough, your fist drill split and your normal swim split should only be a few seconds apart.
The high elbow catch is one of the cornerstones to successful freestyle. It can take some time to really get good at. Don’t give up! The effort you make to break out of bad habits and develop this new, effective one will pay off in terms of a faster, smoother freestyle.