How well do you hold the water?

‘Hold of the water’ is something that coaches often talk about to swimmers. It’s normally a good thing and you can sometimes feel when you are doing it well, but how do you define it? More importantly what can you do to improve it?

the catch

In all strokes there comes a point where your hand stops moving forward and starts pulling back past your body and against the water. This stage of the stroke is known as the catch and it’s at this point that getting a good hold of the water is most crucial. In an ideal world you would be able to anchor your hand stationary in the water, so that as you exert a force your hand doesn’t move relative to the poolside, but instead stays still as your body moves past this point. Of course this being the real world it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Even the best swimmers in the world can’t achieve this perfectly as water is not solid, but they are as you’d imagine considerably better than the average swimmer. The pictures on this page show underwater shots of Ian Thorpe and Peter van den Hoogenband, taken from the Sydney Olympics. In the top picture of each set, the hand position at the catch is marked with a red line. In the second picture, the actual position of their hand when it leaves the water is shown in green.

Pieter van den Hoogenband

Also shown is the absolute position (i.e. relative to the poolside, and not necessarily he point of view, which may change slightly between pictures ) of their hand at the catch, again in red. Hence it becomes possible to see how much their hands slip through the water during each arm stroke – in each case the actual distance that the hand moves is very approximately 40cm. Remember these are two of the best freestylers in the world, so how much water could you be wasting by not keeping hold of the water? But how can you improve this?

Ian Thorpe

To promote a “feel” for the water, Swim with both of your hands clenched in a fist. Swimming like this gives a far better appreciation of how your hand and arm slip though the water. Swim like this for a couple of lengths then gradually unclench your hand, you should notice a difference in pressure on your hand until when your have finally flattened you hand out, the force becomes greatest.

Once you reach this stage, try to keep your hand holding water as you move through your pull pattern and don’t let the water go towards the end of your stoke – imagine that your are swimming with a ladder underneath you, and each stroke you take you are not just holding the water but actually grasping a rung of the ladder which would give you something solid to pull and push against.

From this point on, in common with most other techniques, you need to apply this to every stroke you take – it can seem easier just to let the water go, particularly at the end of a stroke, but you need to make as much out of each one as you can. In the end you will end up taking fewer strokes per length and become a more efficient swimmer.