These last couple weeks I received a some inquiries about my perspective on what is known as the High Elbow Catch so I will share some of the comments I gave.
Appearance Or Function?
The label ‘high elbow catch’ is a descriptive term of an external appearance – and this may be misleading as to why/how we should develop this skill. Our goal is not to achieve a catch that looks a certain way, but a catch that accomplishes a certain thing. It might be more appropriately labeled “Firm Grip Catch”.
Coach Mat setting the Catch in One-Arm Drill.
The purpose of the catch is to get a ‘firm grip’ on the water so we can use the rotation of the torso’s mass to leverage our body forward – rotation is the human’s most effective means of generating bigger, long-lasting power. It is not the appearance or shape of an elbow and forearm in a certain position that we are aiming for but that effective grip itself. Ideally, we are aiming to get a grip on a point in the water, hold that point, and slide the body past that point using the rotation of the body. Some of greatest swimmers (with superior control over stroke length) actually accomplish this feat. One determines his success in achieving a ‘firm grip’ by:
- how he feels inside the body (better, more comfortable leverage, and less stress on shoulder joint),
- how his arm feels against the high pressure zone of water (holding more water),
- lower heart rate (transferring load to more suitable, long-lasting muscle groups, sliding forward easier) and
- by creating a longer stroke length (getting more distance per unit of power).
Build From Inside Out
This is how we should measure a satisfactory or correct catch. By working inside-to-out, by achieving the internal conditions and then by measuring those objectively one will, by default, produce the catch appearance known as ‘high elbow catch’.
But one who tries to work outside-to-in, trying to achieve the appearance without understanding its internal nature may achieve the form but without the effect it is suppose to provide, or worse, acquire an injury. This may be likened to a person who practices the external appearance of a martial art, without first practicing the internal centering/grounding that gives it power. Put him in a real-fight scenario and he will get annihilated. True form (fashion, appearance) emerges from true function.
Paddles Versus Fist
One tip for you: using hand-paddles can actually make it harder for you to develop the best internal conditions for the catch, unless you have already got it, and know how to use those paddles to train the proper sequence of muscle-firing.
Most people I see using paddles are training inferior timing and grip which is setting up higher risk of damage to the shoulder. Until you are a master of catch timing I highly recommend you use fist-swimming instead – make the hands smaller rather than larger, and your brain will be forced to find a better grip on the water using the entire forearm, which will require you to lift the elbow and keep the hand under it – since the small area the fist by itself can no longer do all the work for you.
After all, you are preparing to do what? To swim a race with paddles on? (Granted, you can in the Ötillö, and that is a pretty cool race!) Or must you use what your body naturally comes with to get the job done?
Learn to use what you’ve got better, and continually train the brain to use all the piece working together.