Beyond the High Elbow Catch

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Beyond the High Elbow CatchFor years, we have been preaching the importance of the high elbow catch (HEC) and pull.


Because it is the most efficient way to propel you forward for longer distances without damaging your shoulders.

Sprinters might go for a deep pull because it generates more power, lift, and reduction in drag, which is why sprinters typically swim with a deeper pull, but for anything beyond a 50 and you will be cooked. For endurance, the high elbow seems to be the way to go.

But just because you have a high elbow catch doesn’t mean you have achieved “swimming form nirvana,” so what is next?

After you have perfected the HEC, you still need to focus on several key parts of your stroke.

First, you have to make sure that your body positions is still balanced in the water. Tri Swim Coach athletes know that we spend the first couple of weeks focusing on finding your balance point, without which you will literally sink in the water and increase your drag.

Even the strongest HEC will not propel you far if your body is not in a hydrodynamic position to do so, so if you have a good HEC, make sure your body is balanced without sinking legs. A HEC will be even more effective if you have an efficient body position.

Secondly, your HEC also will not be as effective as it should be if you do not have a powerful and quick pull. Many (slow) swimmers do not apply enough force as they pull back but rather keep a casual pace throughout the whole catch, pull, recovery cycle.

Instead, you should have a quick pull back and an easy recovery (hence why it is call recovery).

Think of your stroke like the oars of a boat, they glide above the surface of the water then rotate, enter the water, and quickly accelerate through it. Your stroke should do the same thing: a high elbow catch with a quick, powerful pull through the water keeping that nice 90 degree bend, and then a “casual” recovery.

How do you improve your force? A couple of ways are to use paddles and/or a drag suit and do some strength training.

The best way, however, is to mimic the swim stroke itself on a Vasa Swim Erg or with resistance bands. The former will not only allow you to focus on power but also perfect form.

Lastly, it is increasing yardage. If your form is solid and spot on you can start increasing your yardage. Now that you are positioned to be efficient, it will be easier to handle longer practices and you will be able to add more intensity on top of that.

We have swim training plans available in our Essentials triathlon swim program, find out more here.