Strengthening the Catch
Dryland exercises for more speed in the water
The catch position and phase of each stroke is paramount to a swimmer’s success. Swimmers who improve their catch will automatically increase their power and endurance without any metabolic training. Once a great catch has been established, it can cover up a lot of other technical flaws in the stroke.
Conversely, swimmers who lack an effective catch will never fully achieve their best performance; you can’t “out-train” a poor catch in swimming.
Strengthening and improving the catch is yet another reason why getting stronger results in faster swimming. Bottom line: start with the catch when making technical changes.
Connect the Core
The first avenue to improving the catch is to encourage active engagement of the core muscles and connect the pull to the core. I think of the core as starting from the ribs all the way through the bottom of the hips. Many swimmers have no idea if they’re activating those muscles to create a solid foundation for force while they’re swimming.
Legendary swim coach Bill Boomer used the analogy of a rubber raft and a kayak to illustrate what it means to connect or activate the core. The rubber raft requires much more effort to move because it’s not tight; rather, it’s flimsy and flops around in the water. By contrast, a kayak takes much less effort to move because it’s tight and transfers energy far more efficiently than a rubber raft.
Think of the core as the foundation and connection for the pull to become even more powerful. You can still swim fast without this connection, but improving it is a simple way to become even faster with very little effort. Use the core progression exercises outlined in a separate article to help your swimmers learn how to activate and connect the core.
Strengthen the Pull
Once the core is connected, the swimmer can focus on actually strengthening the pulling motion through a few different exercises. The point of these exercises is not to perfectly mimic the catch, but to develop muscular strength and endurance in the same movement patterns that are used while catching and pulling in the water.
The mistake many swimmers make is trying to perfectly mimic their catch on land. In the water, you only need a few pounds of pressure for a great catch. On land it’s a better use of time to strengthen the pulling movement as much as possible, which creates more power when swimming. The exercises described below can help improve your catch and all have accompanying video demonstrations.
- Pull-ups. Use an overhand grip and start at full extension. Pull yourself up so that your chin is all the way above the bar before lowering back down to the starting point
- Bent knee row + TRX. Using a TRX or other suspension system, place both feet on the ground and bend your knees so that your head, shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line. Once you’re in this starting position you can pull yourself up and lower back down to the starting position
- Speed skiers + band. Holding the handle of a band in each hand, start with your arms extended forward and then pull back with straight arms until your arms are almost touching your legs. Repeat, quickly.
- Slam + MB. Standing in a tall posture, hold a medicine ball overhead and slam it into the ground directly in front of your feet without bending forward while throwing it down.