You wouldn’t think elbows are that important for swimming. Like most sharp and pointy objects, they don’t provide much propulsion. Unlike thighs or shoulders, they aren’t laden with big muscles to power you through the water. Aside from using them as weapons in crowded swim starts they wouldn’t seem to have much utility in the water, you’d think it would logical to focus on body parts like hands or feet or glutes.
It turns out, however, that my swimming issues right now are all about the elbows, specifically the misuse thereof. In the underwater portion of my stroke (technically two distinct parts, the "catch" and the "pull") I drop my elbow too soon or, in the case of my left arm, seem to forget about it entirely. From the time my hand enters the water to where it drops to point to the bottom of the pool (the catch), my elbow should be at or near the surface. I’m trying to correct this and I can tell you definitively that keeping your elbows up uses a lot more muscles, ones that I’m obviously not used to using as they’ve been seriously fatigued and sore at the end of my recent workouts.
In the out of the water portion of my stroke (the recovery) I lead with my hand, not my elbow, which throws off my body positioning, uses more energy and could also lead to rotator cuff issues. All through the drill set this morning I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong but when Paul threw in a length of finger tip drag in the main set everything clicked. What he was seeing was that my hand wasn’t point to the back wall on my recovery, focusing on that did nothing for my stroke but in the FTP length I realized when I had to pull my elbow forward to get my hand in the right place everything clicked into place.
These may seem like minutia, but in the water the devil is in the details – every little thing you do wrong has a huge impact on your efficiency and, more importantly, your speed.