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Setting up your swim stroke for an explosive pull

How to Teach the Freestyle Catch in Swimming
Coach Matt Kredich, the University of Tennessee Swimming, teaches the catch.

Matt Kredich, Head Swimming Coach at the University of Tennessee, explains how to set up your swim stroke for an explosive pull to gain more power in your swimming.  Coach Kredich often relies on the Vasa Trainer, equipped with the forearm cuffs he innovated, to teach swimmers how to feel this in the water.  

Matt first started using Vasa Trainers in 1991 while assisting Richard Quick at Stanford, and he has been using them ever since. He likes the utility of Vasa Trainers and Vasa SwimErgs because it goes beyond swim-specific strength & force production.  He uses these tools to teach 3 important swim technique concepts to his swimmers: high elbow catch, proper pull pattern, and efficient body posture. One of the most valuable assets of coaching with Vasa Trainers is the ability to isolate positions, teach concepts and communicate at the moment with the athlete while on deck, which are difficult to do while they are in the pool.

Matt Kredich at ASCA

Below is a transcription of the video recorded at his presentation from the ASCA World Clinic in San Diego, CA.

“So Jeff [athlete demonstrating] is in the position we want.  The elbows are underneath the shoulder somewhat, and the fingertips are pointed down, which creates a great angle on the water.   Now his lats are really stretched and if you hold a swimmer in this position, if you let them stretch in that position for a while, I really believe they’re going to learn something.

They’re going to learn how to relax. The Vasa Trainer, through the use of gravity, is creating some pressure on the forearm and that’s what’s stretching them forward. I think that when the best swimmers enter the water, they let the water stretch them forward. They find a way to let the pressure of the water, through a balancing of forces, stretch them forward and really load up the lats, load up the abs connected to the hip, and set up the swim stroke for an explosive pull.

So let’s have Jeff start to pull up a little bit. One of the teaching cues we use is always to make sure your fingertips are pointed down (toward the bottom of the pool or floor).   We want this angle from the elbow to the fingertips to be perpendicular to the flow of the water.  So water’s flowing this way and we want the elbow to fingertips as a whole to be perpendicular the entire way through.

Set up your stroke for an explosive pull

Jeff’s in a great position here, and some of our swimmers get into trouble at this point in the stroke. When swimmers start thinking exclusively about pressure on the hand, the hand starts leading at this point.  The problem is that puts a lot of pressure on the small muscles in the rotator cuff, it disengages the lats a little bit, and we’ve also created this angle that’s driving the swimmer down when they’re actually trying to rotate up this way, and I think it’s counterproductive. 

We ask our swimmers to stay strong at this point and start focusing on leading with the elbow. I hesitate to say it, but we want them to drop the elbow a little bit, we want them to drop it back here [see video] because it’s not only strong but look at this angle that he’s got. He’s keeping this angle, putting a tremendous amount of surface area on the water, all the way back through what Dr. Prinz yesterday described as what should be the most propulsive part of the pull.

Power up your propulsion

It’s the most propulsive part of the pull because we can keep that angle on the water right all the way through here. But you don’t have to give it up at this point [in the stroke]. If you’re continuing to keep your elbow down a little bit and keeping this angle and all the surface area in the water, then it looks really different; we’re not trying to push the water up, we’re trying to push the water back. And this [Vasa Trainer] is a great tool for teaching swimmers how to finish the freestyle stroke, because what we’re actually trying to do is lift the elbow at the end and keep some pressure on the forearm, keep the fingertips down, and essentially roll that pressure right off the fingertips, and it’s always that.”


Setting up your swim stroke for an explosive pullHere is a link to his bio Matt Kredich, Head Swimming Coach at the University of Tennessee