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Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 16 total)
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    Tim Gofine


    I feel like I’m starting all over again. How I missed the basics of the catch after all this time is astounding. I quickly got out of the low elbow angle: I had adopted that, thinking it was a correct way to feel the water and set the pull, from an element in Tai Chi. There, elbow drops and the palms press forward; that creates a linkage involving palm-wrist-arm-shoulder-back; tilt the pelvis, drop the hip, extend out the inner thigh, sink the weight through the feet—firmly rooted and linked you have power. But that is wrong in the water. Got it. Now here is the struggle: Set the catch with the palm, turning the elbow slightly out, high attitude; start the pull which tells the hip to rotate, then moving shoulder so you can rotate through the arm as it maintains it’s set form but pulls back; or, start the rotation with hip/core abdomen, keep the arm set position through pull while experiencing the arm as weightless? There is a huge difference. Which is correct?

    As for both sides/ whole stroke—overwhelming at this point. Same with head turn. And as for the legs, next.

    Tim Gofine
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    Mat Hudson

    There are two extremes we want to avoid: yanking back on the water too abruptly, and pulling too delicately.

    I believe some of the original advice we got in TI was intended to counter the first extreme, but not meant to shove people over into the opposite extreme. The physics fact remains – you can only generate as much forward thrust as you can create resistance against your arm and then effectively transfer that wave of force from the catch side, through the torso rotation, and into streamlining side of the body.

    We can be powerful in our movements but power in water must always be applied smoothly. There has to be resistant pressure built up behind that catch arm, otherwise there is nothing to push against and no wave of force can be generated. But yanking on the water causes more turbulence than thrust, and an illusion of being productive.

    When you first ‘gather’ water with the pivot of the forearm, you are seeking some initial pressure against the palm and forearm, signalling that you have indeed started to get a grip on the water. The better that catch arm shape at that initial moment, the more potential grip, the more resistance you can create behind the forearm. And just as the hand is gathering, then you hold that arm-shape and use the torso rotation to pull against it (‘pull’ is sometimes regarded as a bad word in our circles, but it refers to the movement of the arm, relative to the torso).

    You feel that initial pressure against the palm and forearm and then carefully hold it and GRADUALLY increase the press, gradually increase the pressure as you rotate – like a smooth acceleration of a sporty car going up an onramp to merge with freeway traffic – make your passengers feel comfortable while you accelerate.

    Mat Hudson

    When we do this well, we should have more of a sensation of ‘holding a point in the water with one arm and sliding the other side of the body forward, past that point.’

    Sometimes I have swimmers focus on the pulling action, because we need to build that sense of pressure, that sense of grip and the connection of the catch and torso rotation on that side of the body. Then we switch to focus on the transfer through the rotation into the entry/extending lead arm. Then we work on using that grip to ‘hold the point’ and slide the body past.

    Mat Hudson

    I like how your body tried to find relationship to tai chi movement, but perhaps not quite the same context for the movement.

    There are deeper and deeper layers to developing this skill so that it eventually is an action that originate from the core – the catch power is rooted down into the pelvis. But I don’t expect people starting their examination of this to go that deep, quickly.

    Instead, focus on the shape of the arm, to feel a better amount of resistant pressure.

    Then pull on it by rotating, tapping into the muscles along that side of the torso. By using the torso (or hip) to pull on that catch, it can make it seem like we are not having to pull as hard against the water as we would if pulling only with the shoulder (as most swimmers are doing without knowing there is another way to do this).

    Tim Gofine

    I just came back from the pool. I was working on the counter balanced foot on both sides. I didn’t have a problem towing inward the ankle and finding it behind and on top; the subsequent hip rotation makes perfect sense. The left side was easier than the right, oddly. But then it seemed everything else dissembled. If my mind was on my feet, then I couldn’t get the catch. Focusing on the catch made me realize that I wasn’t sure in the most confident way how to ensure my elbow was high. When I focused not on the elbow, I then realised I was forgetting the recovery. And so it went. Near the end of drilling in the shallow end for 30 minutes certain things were coming together; I stopped because of I was mentally tired. So some essential points:

    1. how can a I drill to focus on the catch and making sure my elbow is high?The long head of the biceps on both arms is sore, I think from concentrating on rotating the elbow out after the pull. Regarding the catch: is contact established with the hand first then through the forearm as the shoulder compels the elbow to rotate externally; and, is there a pause, even a very slight one, anywhere?

    2. on the CBF drills, I progressed from Superman to skate to two strokes. There is no question that my right side is more of a problem than my left. I think the mobility issue , if anything. is the arthritis in my hips; my shoulders are fine.

    3. I noticed that if I’m concentrating on one arm, or doing a one arm drill, if I keep my torso angle slightly open, not feeling completely closed to the water, I can catch and pull much easier. I wonder if that is in fact the correct position: the torso feels slightly open at the conclusion of the entry. I guess that is what over rotation is all about. It occurs to me that I was thinking of over rotation only as the arm is recovering so that the torso is too open; however, one can also over rotate as the torso closes when the arm extends. Is that making sense? I’m not sure if this a eureka moment or a nonsense moment.

    I have the unwelcome feeling that I’m trying to accomplish at 64 what I should have better done at 24.

    Mat Hudson

    If you are making big adjustments in arm position under loading, then be gradually about it – I mean, lower the loading as you do many reps so that you lower the strain on muscles working in an arrangement they are not used to. I am feeling some soreness myself in around that same spot after making an angle adjustment in the way I set my catch in at strong pace. It reminds me I need to gradually phase in that change of position.

    Yes, as you set the catch, as you ‘gather inward’ with the forearm, the sense of pressure will be first and more pronounced on the hand (which is easy), but it is helpful to keep attention on the forearm to assure that it engages the pressure as well.

    When teaching one to set a better catch, I may prescribe a pause between two distinct actions: the gather, then ‘the pull’ (or we may choose to focus on ‘the rotation’). But you should aim to smooth out the transition between the gather and the pull, to remove the appearance of a pause, such that the gather happens just a moment before you engage the torso muscles to pull against the resistance.

    There is another reason for this gather+torso rotation, but very subtle detail – the upper arm needs to get in alignment with the scapular plane before you load the back, and it might not be in alignment in Skate if the swimmer is every so slightly overrotated when he starts to gather. The upper arm needs to get into alignment with the scapular plane and that happens by the torso rotating into position under the scapula. To do this  the rotation might also need to start just as the hand gathers, so the elbow and the torso get into position relative to each other, while the actually pulling, the loading of the muscles along the torso needs to lag behind just a fraction of a second to allow that upper-arm and scapula to get in that good position. It’s hard to prescribe this without watching carefully up close to see if a swimmer actually needs this instruction or not. But you might appreciate this subtle point and see if it applies to you or not. I hope I don’t confuse things for you.

    Yes, the CBF will ask new things of the hip/buttocks region, and expose some limitations if present. Also, be persistent, but gradual about requiring CBF so that the tissues have a chance to adapt to their new role.

    I am intrigued by your use of the descriptor ‘keeping the angle open’ versus closed. Do you mean open toward the bottom versus facing more toward the wall? My colleague in UK likes to use cheeky cues/phrases and one she shared with me recently (perhaps made up by one of her swimmers) was that our streamline angle should have us ‘squishing the boob’ – as if we rocked slightly from flat onto the breast and the front of the pelvis, but not even close to feeling like we are on our side. Am I connecting with what you are referring to?

    The CBF is meant to help resist over-rotation also, as that heel pulls to the surface, the band over the hip becomes taut, resisting further rotation of the upper body. It helps stabilize the front of the body in ideal skate position.

    Mat Hudson

    Though it feels harder to learn, the fact of the brain challenge means this is really good neural exercise for us. If only more mature people were willing to stretch themselves and use that brain matter rather than let it fade away! Good work!

    Tim Gofine

    I’m not sure I’m visualising the scapular plane properly. Do you mean medial/lateral or dorsal/proximal?

    Open versus closed is a descriptor from Tai Chi and qi gong movement. Imagine this posture: the right foot leg is extended, the right foot pointing forward; the head is eyes forward; the left leg and forward back and forward. The torso/hips are facing 90 degrees to the right. The hips are now open. To close the hips, I rotate my hips/torso in the direction of the right leg that continues to face front. Opening and closing the hips are essential to the generation of force; subtle differences in degree of closure can be crucial. This is also linked to the dropping or tucking in of the pelvis. If the pelvis is not tucked in ( also can be conceived as ‘dropped’), the closure of the hips will waste energy. This is essential in the martial application; without closing the hips, a forceful strike or throw will not be achieved, or an opponent will not be moved; similarly, if an opponent is made to be unbalanced, and if a connection is made,  then all that is required to quite literally send him flying may be an opening of the hips, linked to pelvis, torso, back, arm, hand. It’s even better if the opponent is massive, as his momentum is now working against him.

    I think that I was not really understanding what was meant by over rotating. I think that I did not feel that I was ‘closing’ too much, so that I wound up -5 degrees instead of 0 or even +1 from neutral–flat on the water, head forward at 90 degrees– which would be much better for all the reasons we have discussed. That difference is obvious when I am able to do a one-armed drill easily. I used to think that was cheating, like doing a side stroke, but I am seriously wondering if  that perception was completely incorrect.

    Speaking of intrigued, I was wondering what you mean by the catch being connected to pelvis being a deeper idea. In the Tai Chi style I practice, there is a hand form of 108 movements ( as distinguished from the weapon forms). For almost 15 years I have been studying these 108 movements, so one might say that  I’m starting to get the hang of it. Every few months, my teacher says, ” Now let’s go to another level” and introduces another subtlety that, of course makes a big difference . Much of going deeper means an extra few millimetres of stretch ( previously thought to be impossible)  or a changed angle ( previously not even thought of) or a more refined linkage of body parts ( previously thought achieved) . Once the deeper level is experienced, then the previous way of doing things seems elementary. My curiosity is pricked: how is catch and pelvis linked? Can you tell me simply, or should I be patient for the right time?

    As for the neural work out. The irony is this: I said to someone the other day that from Tai Chi I have a much better body sense and can much better appreciate how very small changes in my position can make a vast difference in stability, balance and kinetic energy generation. However, I may have a better body sense but I have worse body.


    Mat Hudson

    Scapular Plane/Plate

    You are much more practiced at using the anatomical language to describe the positioning of body parts! Thank you for your patience.

    On a person standing with good yoga like posture, let’s image the scapula as a dinner plate fastened to the back of each side of the torso, the upside of the plate facing forward. The plane of that plate would not be parallel to the frontal plane. The lateral edges would be angled forward slightly. Let’s hide the frontal plane for a moment. If we project a plane out from the plate itself parallel to its top surface, that is the scapular plane that I have in my mind. That plane is angling forward slightly.

    If that person standing with good posture brings his hands together and interlocks his fingers in front of his belt buckle, like a butler waiting patiently, then the elbows are pulled slightly forward from the frontal plane and approximately onto the scapular plane. If he keeps his fingers interlocked and raises those hands straight up in front of his face, this will keep the elbows slightly in front of the frontal plane, approximately on this scapular plane. It seems to be more comfortable for most people to raise their elbows along this plane and if they were to let go of the fingers and raise the elbows while on the frontal plane.

    This plane is approximately the plane we want the elbow (which positions the whole upper arm) to travel along during the recovery swing, and back, during the catch. It’s right at the beginning – at the transition from full extension to the set of the catch and the first gathering, and first moments of torso rotation that we need to make sure the upper arm gets onto that plane (if it is not already there), in order to get into the most stable position for handling the stroke force and transferring the load to the bigger torso muscles.

    I’ve spent some time with a renown PT in town to try to help me look at this moment of the stroke and work on my understanding of the choreography and language to describe it. I need to keep working on it. I can feel what’s happening, but I am still developing the technical language (and then lay language) to describe it.

    Mat Hudson

    Open/Closed Hip

    Oh, your description of the open/closed hips and the pelvis is wonderful. That’s the kind of discussion and teaching I am looking for in tai chi. Too bad you aren’t close by to show me these things! I appreciate your attempts to explain. There is so much to learn there. You make me want to go find another class (the teacher I started with moved away).

    I think I may comprehend what you are saying about the open/closed hip. While we swim, could one side be open and the other closed? On the streamline side of the body, that foot is pigeon toe inward, (or heel turning outward) torquing the hip joint on that side inward = closing it, right? But we’re not necessarily trying to close the other side (no torque on the other hip), though the legs are held close (stacked slightly).

    The torquing of the hip joint supports the rotated position – Influence #1. However, the reaching of that same heel toward the surface stretches along the hip flexor, resisting the torso’s further rotation – Influence #2. The multidimensional positioning and tensioning of that leg both supports the rotation and limits it.


    Mat Hudson

    Catch Connected To Pelvis

    If you stand tall with good posture, then lift your hands up as if reaching up to a high shelf in the kitchen (the hands are reaching at an angle in front of the frontal plane), and then you have to reach 2 inches higher so you get on your tippy toes to do that. Now, reach one hand a little higher – can you feel a tug at that pelvis? Then if you are just there on the very edge of your reach and the very edge of your balance, you may feel the connection of the chain of tissues, or a band of tissue, down into the abdominal region.

    If you can feel that tug while reaching up, now imagine you were going to pull down on a resistance cord with that high reaching hand. Imagine starting the pull from a contraction just above the pelvis. If you could reach up and put your hand on a shelf or a bar or a door jam, you could actually apply a little downward force to feel it for real.

    On the extension into Streamline we want to stretch the tissue band to this point, but do it without straining or distorting the spine or rotating farther to do it – just from lengthening on that line from wrist to pelvis. Now that the band is stretched out, when its time to set the catch and rotate, we want to contract that band, using it all the way down to the pelvis. The rotation of the torso plays into this pulling – you’re pulling the hand toward the pelvis but you are also rotation the pelvis away from the spot the hand is pulling toward. This is slowing down the rate of the shortening of the muscles in the torso, extending the time those can remain engaged in the pulling action.

    1-Arm Swimming, especially with the other arm tucked against your side, is a good way to explore this catch-pelvis connection because the brain quickly realizes it is tiring to pull without partnering with that torso.


    Tim Gofine


    I’m in Panama at a resort with beautiful pools and time to swim. A video will a number  of views will come from this trip.

    1. ventral/dorsal etc.. is easy. I thought you were avoiding technical language for my sake. I understand the dinner plate analogy:it’s a good one.

    I have a question about catch exercises. I’m trying to avoid at all costs scooping, especially on my right side. When I’m aware I’ve done that, I stop immediately and return to a sequence of two cycles, trying to get them close to perfect, and then stopping. I’m becoming so caught up in drills or exercises that I realize I can’t swim whole stroke any more. Today I spent a full hour in the water doing nothing but catch, one arm pulls and focusing on toe/heel. I’m quite happy, but I wonder if I’m becoming a musician who can play scales and chord patterns but not a note of music.

    2. That aside, should I break the catch down into 1-2-3, or try to get the wrist bend/ forearm/ elbow rotation all in one smooth motion?

    3. open/ close. When in skate, with the left arm extended and the right hip up, the right hip would be considered open, ready for closing if the right arm  became motivated.

    4. regarding one arm drills. I was doing them with a small ball in the streamline side hand. Should I do them with my arm along my side, or do both?  And: I realized today that I was never attempting a full extension with some propulsion on the one arm drill. I was extending, but not with authority. When I try that, it’s way harder: am I making something too hard in doing that?

    5. I don’t think I properly understand even yet how long I can glide before staring another cycle? Does there have to be constant motion, or is the motion on each side to be constant when both arms are moving, gliding when both sides have completed?

    6. I understand much better than one has to keep the extended arm under tension, all the way down ( your description of the pelvic involvement was very helpful). I was really swimming like a jelly fish before, even when I thought I wasn’t.

    Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year and much success in 2020.
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    Tim Gofine


    First of all: best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful 2020.

    I made a few clips in the pool, and by and large I don’t like any of them. The biggest issue was that, true to performance anxiety, my weakest link was exposed: my feet are not in synch. I’ll send it along later when I’m back home, but seeing the video did help me today in the pool as it turns out. Learning to swim is like being on a wheel: you learn one thing, forget it while having to learn another, then rediscover in a different form as if it was new. See what this sounds like.

    I kept trying to find a means of cueing my right arm to rotate and not scoop. I tried pointing my fingers down to the bottom as soon as extension was reached, but it occurred to me that I was then creating rudder that would brake the glide. I then had the physical sensation of flicking my foot, as in the TI days, which cued the hip turn which then cued the shoulder, the elbow, and the hand. This solved the previous problems I was describing: it is hip or arm and how do you prepare the catch. I think I over complicate the heel turnout/ pigeon toe. I have to find a means of simplifying that so that I keep the fundamental, essential aspect of rotating from the hip. If I think of constructing a link starting from toe to heel of the top foot/ hip-torso/shoulder/elbow/ hand, with motionless head, I think I’m on the way. Then, of course, the whole breathing thing which is feeling impossible at this point.



    Mat Hudson

    Happy New Year!

    I do want to avoid complicating or overwhelming with details, though, on the other hand, when someone starts probing those details I am glad to go there.

    The first thing we are aiming to establish is this full body streamline position, with a position for each part of the body, including the legs and feet. In the first time through we work on just getting the legs straight and hidden behind the torso without much more detail than that. When we go through again, if I sense the student is ready, we’ll work on placing those feet in the CBF position, and work on even finer details with that position (such as a more precise positioning of the toes or heel). In the end, one should begin to feel the body tied together from wrist to ankle.

    After establishing the streamline position, then we can work more on the transition from streamline to streamline, which involves just switching the feet smoothly, no kick pressure. The hip rotation remains the primary mover.

    Later, when that smooth switch of the feet is familiar and consistent, we can work on add more of a press of that top foot, so that it assists or accentuates the hip rotation. Only in sprinting, where the swimmer’s torso rotation is challenged to keep up with the tempo, might we use the kick closer to what feels like an initiator of the rotation, rather than coming in a micro-second later to assist.

    So, yes, I would agree that you want to keep the sense of rotating from the hip – as long as the hips and shoulders are one solid unit and the hip is a representative of that unit and so one could say shoulder driven, torso driven or hip driven and it would all result in exactly the same sense of torso rotating together as one. For your current mode of swimming the torso rotation, or the hip drive, if you prefer, starts just a fraction of a second before the press or flick of the foot.

    For the catch – yeah, we only want to slide the hand/forearm into catch position at the moment you are ready to start the catch. Ideally, that hand will grab a point in the water and literally become almost fixed in place, with no resistance against the forward side because it is pressing back and not traveling forward with the rest of the body.

    Are you struggling to get the right shape? Or to get a more solid sense of grip?

    ‘Scoop’ could be a positive cue in certain contexts, and I don’t have a clear picture of how you are trying to get your arm to rotate into the catch, so I am not sure how to comment on that.


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