4 Foolproof Freestyle Catch and Pull Drills

Conquer Training

The catch and the pull phase are often referred to as the most complex part of freestyle swimming. An efficient and powerful freestyle stroke requires an often difficult to attain balance between your strength and your technique. Because simply having great strength doesn’t guarantee speed in the water. In this blog article we are going to tell you more about balancing freestyle catch technique and timing of the pull phase, and present you with 4 foolproof drills which will make your freestyle catch and pull more efficient and more powerful.

The catch phase of your freestyle stroke

The catch refers to the initial phase of your freestyle stroke, in which your hand enters the water and begins the underwater part of your stroke. Often the catch is also referred to the initiation of your pull phase. The way you perform your catch influences the rest of your freestyle stroke.

The catch consists of three separate phases:

  • The hand entry into the water after your recovery phase
  • The reach of your hand along the water surface to prolong your stroke
  • The initiation of your pull by tipping your hand and lower arm downwards and maintaining a high elbow.

As you enter the water with your recovering arm in front of your body you goal should be to maintain a downwards slope with your fingers below your wrist and your wrist below your elbow at all times. This downward slope will set you up for a great high elbow catch and later pull phase. The transition from an almost fully stretched arm after the recovery phase, to a bent arm position, ready to explode into the pull, is the most important part of your stroke. The key to a great catch is a precise and smooth motion. Avoid fast and lashing motions during your catch, because the catch phase is all about feeling the power and setting up your arms for an efficient and powerful pull.

The pull phase of your freestyle stroke

The pull refers to the action of moving your arm and hand through the water from the front of the body towards the hips to propel yourself forward during a freestyle stroke. To get the most out of your pull, keep your elbows high while your arms pull towards your hip. Your goal during your pulling phase should be to always keep tension from the water against your hand and arm. You can attain this tension by constantly accelerating your arm underwater. 

The primary muscles used for the freestyle pull are the major back muscles, especially your lats. Your ultimate goal should be to pull a nearly linear pathway along the frame of your body while maintaining a high elbow at all times to attain maximum pulling power with every stroke. In the next chapter of this blog you will learn how to set your catch and pull up for success with some foolproof drills.

To learn more about the 3rd and 4th phase of your stroke, the exit and the recovery phase, be sure to check out our How to Have a Flawless Freestyle Swimming Recovery blog. 

4 foolproof freestyle catch technique and pull drills

To improve your freestyle catch and pull phase, we are going to describe two easy to do, but essential drills for each your catch and your pull.

Foolproof Drill #1 – The Catch Up Drill

Push off the wall with both your hands shoulder width apart in front of you. Do one stroke at a time while your other arm is always leading you in front of the body, resting on the water surface. Make sure that your leading arm doesn’t sink towards the bottom while you are taking a stoke with your other arm. Keep your elbow of the leading arm as close to the surface as possible at all times.

The catch up drill is a great and easy to do drill which allows you to focus on and get a great feel for your catch. It also improves the timing of your stroke and strengthens your shoulders.

Foolproof Drill #2 – The Doggy Paddle

The doggy paddle is not only a fun to do drill, but also an extremely important drill to learn how to improve your freestyle catch. It allows you to slow down and break down your stroke and analyze it without having to worry about the recovery phase of the freestyle stroke. Use a pull buoy for this drill and start with your hands in line with your shoulder. Focus on getting a great catch, pulling underneath your body, all the way to the back, just like when you are doing a regular freestyle stroke. While you are pulling with one hand, slide your other hand forward underneath your body. Then catch at the front again and do the same motion with your other hand and arm.

If you keep your head above the water for this drill, you can breathe as you like and you can observe your catch. Try to keep your catch as close to the water surface as possible and maintain a high elbow at all times.

Foolproof Drill #3 – The Deck Up Drill

Deck ups are a very good drill for both better understanding your pull phase and for improving your power during your pull phase.  Swim towards the edge of your pool and place your hands on the pool deck. Now pull yourself out of the pool while maintaining a high elbow and then fully extend your arms. After each deck up, drop back into the water. For starters, try doing 10 deck ups. After your first set of deck ups, swim a few laps of freestyle and focus on that same motion you just experienced during your deck up.

Make sure you keep your hands at least shoulder width or wider apart when placing them on the pool deck to start your deck ups. If you place them too close to each other, you will notice that it’s almost impossible to do a deck up.

Foolproof Drill #4 – The Reach Full Pull Drill

Similar to the doggy paddle, this drill takes out the recovery phase of the freestyle stroke. Push off the wall with your face down, keep one arm extended at all times while your other arm is doing a complete catch and pull phase under water. Instead of recovering your arm above the water, bring it back underneath your body while keeping your leading arm in the front of the body. Take a 2 second break with both arms in front and do another pull with the same arm. After each lap, switch arms and repeat the same drill.

This drill gives you the chance to observe your entire pull and also feel the power of each pull you take. Try to change up little things, like your elbow position, your body tension, your pull power etc. and see how they influence your stroke and your power while moving through the water.

Now it’s time for you to take the guesswork out of swimming faster freestyle! Implement these 4 foolproof freestyle catch and pull drills into your training sessions and become a better freestyler. With our foolproof drills you will learn how to swim an efficient and powerful freestyle stroke. If you want to further improve your overall freestyle stroke, we recommend our 5 quick tips to improve your freestyle stroke blog.

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