Here are some great questions from a comment on Opportunity Cost. He is asking about Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) and what to expect in establishing this skill:
I’ve been musing on this very thing [opportunity costs] in my TI practice. I’ve recently started paying a lot of attention to a vertical forearm, high elbow catch. I find I can DO it–but only VERY slowly and with intense concentration, otherwise my old catch takes over and I’m pulling without that EVF position.My conclusion has been that I should concentrate exclusively on holding correct form without worrying about the higher SPL and slower times it’s giving me for now.Is there a rule of thumb for how long I can expect building this new habit to take? And do you think I’m right to avoid all compromise in form while trying to make a permanent change in my stroke this way?
Here are some thoughts in response, though I bet these will cover more than he was asking for. I offer the abundance for the benefit of more readers…
Better Catch Form
I bring up form because the Catch only works well if it is formed well! We may compare my notes against yours…
We need to keep in mind the purpose of the Catch – to catch a pocket of high pressure water (or to use Terry’s metaphor for this, ‘a pilates ball full of water molecules’), hold it, then use the rotation of the torso to leverage against this hold which enables us to steadily drive the body forward on the path of least resistance. It is NOT so that we can push water back longer.
EVF is not just early, it can also be extreme in what it does to the shoulder joint if not done with extreme care and perfect timing. Even then, in the style admired and imitated among the elites, it may be technique fit only for the lucky or freakishly injury-proof. Pursue with caution.
Rather than early ‘vertical’ forearm I would rather think of it as an early effective catch. The purpose, after all, is not to get the arm to look a certain way but to get a good grip on the water.
Therefore, I would encourage you to use these three Focal Points, and let the early-ness and angle of the catch happen (more safely) as a byproduct**:
“Reach For A High Shelf”
When the spearing arm is extending underwater, on its track, let it try to reach just 1 cm further than normal- as if you were trying to touch a shelf just slightly too high. Reach further by opening up the axilla (the armpit) rather than by contorting or over-rotating the body. Just slide the whole shoulder unit (scapula and clavicle bones together) forward another couple centimeters. (I can think of a few rock climbing moments where I was trying to get my fingers on a hold just a fingernail further away than I was comfortable reaching. It’s amazing how the body can loosen up just a little more when we try… or are desperate!)
“Quicken The Recovery”
If you want to create a few more microseconds for a longer extension, and catch further in front, then speed up the recovery. But keep the catch/pull as steady as possible. Even at slow tempos this exercise will show you how to redistribute microseconds around the stroke cycle so you can keep a patient lead arm at faster and faster tempos. You should be able to use this approach to hold a front quadrant stroke roughly up to .90 tempos (in my experience). Past that point you may need some guidance on how to adjust other parts of the stroke cycle to draw the most effective compromise between competing interests of power and drag reduction.
“Hold The Ball Of Water Molecules”
When you form the catch you want to hold that (metaphorical) pilates ball of water molecules with the entire hand, gently splayed fingers, and forearm. You will hold it with your full hand and forearm and feel a consistent pressure along this entire inner surface of your skin. And you train to feel it and hold it during the entire catch/pull phase. Mixing in a lot of closed-fist swimming is a great way to build this skill.
The shape of the arm, rather than truly vertical is more like hugging that giant pilates ball over the top hemisphere. The elbow is pointed straight out to the side (during the ENTIRE stroke cycle) and slides outward to allow the hand to stay directly in line with the shoulder, palm ALWAYS facing directly back.
And it is critical – for the safety of your shoulder, not to mention the power advantage – that the moment of the Catch be synchronized perfectly to the start of the core rotation. When the two come together you can start to feel magical ease in the stroke (depending on a few other details in your body also).
** These focal points assume you already have basic TI skills in place such as good rotational balance control, your spearing arm extends to the target directly (no clock arm) and a patient front arm in a wider range of tempos. If not, you will find yourself somewhat hindered in imprinting the new skill.
A couple of my Catch drill demos- just a little practice forming the Catch in Skate Position.