Q. Are there any drills to improve the pull phase of my stroke?
A. This is probably the hardest part of the stroke as it often requires a change of arm position, as well as muscle memory and repeated practice. First, try to understand what you're attempting.
Improved catch (force exerted against water with maximum surface area and power): this means grabbing the water using the hand and forearm, and accelerating rearwards before feathering (turning the hand out of the water) at the end of the underwater phase. The hand should start forward of the shoulder and just below the water surface.
The focus now is to get the hand and then the forearm to drop, keeping the elbow high (the catch) before you accelerate, and pulling the body forward in a smooth line (the pull). Using the forearm as well as the hand to increase the pull increases the surface area against the water, thereby increasing power. Recovery of the arm out of the water should be relaxed, with a low hand position and high elbow to aid rotation.
1 Barrel Roll. Imagine reaching over a barrel with your hand and forearm and rolling it back towards your feet.
2 Doggy paddle. Practise reaching forward and then pulling back with your hand and forearm to the chest.
3 Clenched fist or spread-finger drills. Do a length of clenched-fist or spread- finger swimming, followed by a length using your normal hand position. You will soon feel the positive effects of keeping your fingers close together.
4 Hand Paddles. Swim 50m with paddles then another 50m without them. You will feel the increased surface area and power required to force the hand backwards. Using the larger muscles in the shoulder, back and chest ensures greater efficiency, power and speed. Gradually build up paddle usage to feel the increased effort on muscles.
I encourage swimmers to look at each other, above and below the water, so they can give each other feedback.
This real-time observation will make the experience of stroke development more enjoyable, help you to perform the drills properly and prevent you developing incorrect technique.
With four Ironmen, three London-to-Paris cycle rides and a selection of marathons under his belt, Dewi Winkle is a top motivational trainer, a qualified triathlon coach, Watt Bike instructor and Run In England leader, and also oversees the Parachute Regiment selection process. He has sub-1:00 Ironman swims to his name and regularly competes in triathlons and challenge events.