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The TBN #40-Swimming speed secret: Built a Strong Catch!

Updated: Apr 8

Read time: 4min.

By Coach Yan Busset

The most important phase of your stroke is the catch!

...but do not worry I will show you how to built a strong one.

The catch phase in swimming is often is the cornerstone of speed and efficiency in the water. The most important phase of your stroke. As I described  in a previous article, the secret to propelling yourself forward efficiently is not by pulling your hand under you but rather ensuring your body passes over your hand. To achieve this you need to "anchor" your hand in the water, catching a significant volume of water to apply force correctly and propel yourself forward. But how can you build a strong catch? Fear not, I am here to guide you through simple steps to get you there.

The Importance of the Catch Phase

The catch phase is crucial for a reason: it sets the stage for your entire stroke. Achieving a position where your elbow is high, your fingers are pointing downward, and your arm is not dropping but rather hugging close to your cheek, maximizes your efficiency in the water. To picture it I would like you to imagine swimming and that there is a barrel right beneath the surface in front of you. The goal is to wrap your hand and arm around this imaginary barrel and, and once securing a good grip, "send it toward your feet," aka using it to  propel your body forward. The catch should begin as early as possible in your stroke, depending on your flexibility and range of motion. It's crucial to avoid pressing down at the stroke start, instead, wait until your hand and forearm are correctly aligned to push backward, propelling you forward.

Building a Strong Catch: Key Strategies

1. Developing a Feel for the Water

A strong catch begins with finesse, an acute awareness of how your hand interact with water. Increasing your feel for the water is about motor skills. It’s about building new nerves to neurones path ways with a mix of specific drills, consistent practice (Swim volume and frequency in your training schedule), and dedicated dryland exercises for mobility and strength.

2. Incorporating Specific Drills

To fine-tune your catch, consider integrating the following drills: 

Hands in Fist: Alternating between swimming with closed fists and normal hand. Reopening your hand will help you to feel their trajectory underwater. 

Paddle Grab: Using paddles by gripping them over the top without straps on, develops precise hand placement.

Sculling: this drill is often considered a bit too advanced level for age groupers, but if you want to develop your swim on the long term it’s a great one that also helps to strengthen the shoulder stabilization muscles. the sculling move is like a 8 shape/ back and forth move. same as the one you would do to keep yourself at the surface, when standing in the water. But this time do it in swimming position hands in the position of the early catch phase. You can help yourself with snorkel and pull buoy. 

Single-Arm Drills with Kickboard: using one arm at a time while holding the KickBoard with the other hand from the upper edge will allow you to focus on technique. Do it with head out of the water so you can look at what you do and correct yourself.

Water Polo or "Tarzan Swim": Swim normally, but with your head out of the water, looking all the time forward. You will quickly notice that it forces you to go directly into the catch phase to maintain your speed. It can be a bit tiring since you don’t have the longer extension or "gliding" phase but go straight to the goal. A side benefit of this drill is that it also helps you understand the importance of head position, as keeping it up is very demanding.

3. Dryland Training

Off-pool exercises, such as mobility routines and strength conditioning, play a crucial role. Additionally, using stretch cords is a great addition to your swim fitness. It increases your specific swim strength and also serves as a great visual aid to help you understand the correct catch. How? Think of these two elastics as "the vector of force," or in simpler terms, the line where your hands should travel. If you were to "press down," you would see right away that you don’t bend the elastic bands. The only way is to pull them in the right direction. Additionally, you can do this in front of a mirror or windows, so your reflection will provide great feedback on your arm position and help you achieve an early vertical/high elbow form.

Bonus: Fingers Position: Wide Open vs. Closed?

The optimal fingers position is when they are slightly apart, same as the natural spacing of a relaxed hand. This slight separation counterintuitively maximizes the surface area for your catch compare to having fingers tight close together. But you need to keep your finger firm so they won’t open too much or you will lose that extra surface benefit.


Building a strong catch is a blend of understanding the mechanics, consistent practice, and incorporating specific drills and dryland exercises. By focusing on this crucial phase, you can unlock greater speed and efficiency in the water. Remember, the goal is not to "pet the kitty" but to firmly grip and propel yourself forward with each stroke.


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