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Freestyle Correct Arm Movement: Straight Arm Pull v S Shape

The Great Debate: S Pull vs. Straight Pull in Swimming

The debate over whether to pull straight back or move your hand in an S shape has been ongoing for decades. However, we know the answer now. Adopting the S-pull swimming technique can help you swim faster and more efficiently. This debate needs a clear explanation to convince swimmers to try it. Once you experience the benefits, you'll likely share it with others, sparking a cycle of faster and safer swimming.

image of a swimmer, viewed from under the water, reaching out as if to try and catch the correct arm movement for their freestyle. Is it straight arm or s-pull.
Looking for the correct freestyle arm movement 

The Evolution of Swimming Techniques

I learned to swim in the 60s when the straight pull was the standard. However, the swimming community is now revisiting techniques from the 70s but with better understanding and refinement. Legendary coach James “Doc” Councilman revolutionized swimming by using underwater cameras to study his swimmers' techniques. He discovered that top swimmers, including Mark Spitz, naturally used the S-pull swimming technique. This method involves the hand entering close to the centre, sweeping out, then in, and finally out again.

The Science Behind the S Pull

Councilman explained the superiority of the S pull using Newton’s third law and Bernoulli’s principle. Despite his compelling explanations, the 80s and 90s saw many experts favouring the straight pull due to physics experiments suggesting it generated more force. Consequently, my coaches taught me the straight pull. However, after closely observing Olympians and reading the book "Swim Speed Secrets," I noticed that top swimmers still use the S-pull swimming technique.

Personal Experience with the S Pull

My experience confirmed the S pull's effectiveness. While teaching Aaron to swim, I realized that pulling straight back is almost impossible. Three issues arise with the straight pull: it's dangerous for the shoulder, inefficient, and compromises the pull's length. A straight pull fails to utilize the forearm effectively, which reduces propulsion. A very wide pull can strain the shoulders and neglect larger muscles like the pecs and lats. Not bending the elbow also leads to inefficiency since body rotation naturally moves the hand slightly outwards.

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Customizing the S Pull

Everyone's S pull will look different based on shoulder mobility. For instance, Aaron has great flexibility, allowing him to bend his elbow with his arm in front. However, this is not a strong shoulder position. To better engage major muscles, we advise Aaron to start the catch wider. This keeps his forearm in a strong position and maximizes propulsion when he pulls his elbow close to his body.

Key Points to Remember

For swimmers like Aaron, the main effort should focus on anchoring the forearm and hand during the pull. Starting the catch wider and pulling the elbow inwards creates a natural S-shaped movement, enhancing speed and efficiency. Maintaining a slight shoulder shrug at the beginning further optimizes the technique.

Final Thoughts

The S-pull swimming technique promises faster swimming and safer shoulder mechanics. Experiment with this technique and observe its benefits firsthand. Stay tuned for more detailed explanations in upcoming videos. Swim fast and enjoy the journey to better swimming!