Why Armpits are the Key to Better Freestyle

That’s right! The key to more efficient and faster freestyle lies in an… oft ignored… seldom lauded body part…your armpit. Generally speaking, learning high level freestyle can be needlessly complicated. For the casual swimmer and triathlete, we can part with (for now) potentially confusing topics such as scapular connection and angle of attack.

Skeptical? Let’s check it…

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Head Position: Unanimously considered one of competitive swimming’s most elemental skills, having a still and balanced head position is fundamental to freestyle efficiency. As promised, your arm-pit can be your guide here. After breathing return your head to a neutral position and make sure your eyes find your reaching arm’s pit. If you do so, you will be looking down and this will elongate and balance your body position - as an added bonus this may help bring your shoulder (scaps) forward as you prepare for the catch.

High Elbow Catch: High elbow catch is perhaps the most important and, at the same time, difficult to learn skills in freestyle. Utilizing the principles of "equal and opposite”, we aim to position the palm and forearm backward as early in the pull phase as possible (forearm facing the wall you are swimming away from). Neglecting to do so, will lead to your arm pressing down on the water, which will elevate your body in the water, but will not move you forward. High elbow catch has been traditionally taught using pulleys, on-land demonstrations and focus on the wrist/ elbow. However, it is possible to accomplish much of the same aim with a simpler focus on the arm-pit. If you keep your arm-pit wide open when you initiate the catch and through the beginning of the pull, it becomes quite hard to drop your elbow. Try it, you’ll see!

By Republic of Korea from Seoul, Republic of Korea

By Republic of Korea from Seoul, Republic of Korea

Shoulder Rotation: Aside from USRPT (ultra-short race pace training), rotation seems to be the most feverishly debated topic in the swimming world at the moment. It was once considered appropriate to rotate nearly 180 degrees through the hips… this is now believed to be less than ideal. Swimmer should not give up the tempo that would be necessary to rotate this much - amount of rotation should also be relative to the distance of your race (perhaps point within your race as well). However, there should be NO DEBATE as to whether swimmers benefit from a significant rotation through the shoulders. You can ensure great shoulder rotation by thinking about the arm-pit on the recovery arm. While recovering, try to get the recovery arm’s pit clean out of the water. A dry arm-pit in the recovery arm will ensure two desirable impacts, 1) the underwater shoulder will be closer to an ideal catch position, and 2) the top, recovering arm will encounter less frontal drag through the recovery.

Body Alignment: dovetailing on the discussion of head position above, you can utilize your arm-pit placement to assure great body alignment. Regardless of the medium we are swimming through (pool, lake, ocean), we would ideally like our body to be as high on the water as possible. We should feel like we are swimming on top of the water, rather than under water. If a swimmer looks down and slightly back into their reaching arm-pit it will lower their head position slightly. A slightly lower head position will almost always lead to your hips elevating higher in the water. In turn, higher hips will buoy (pun very much intended) the feeling of being high on the water and will alleviate the need to drag your lower body like an anchor.

I’m always looking for topics to cover in this space, so if you have a suggestion or request please send them to me at jeff@techniqgroup.com.

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Thanks for reading,

Jeff Gross

Founder, Techniq Group