I’ll admit it.

I’ve been racing triathlon for 10 years and never really, truly, deeply understood what a “high elbow catch” is.

This includes going to clinics with Olympians, several times.

Several times I was told Michael Phelps describes the motion as “swimming over a barrel.”

All of that is well and good, but it never got into my thick skull 100%. Maybe 80 or 90% of the way…

Don’t drop the elbow: check. Feel the lats engaging during the pull: check. Fingers pointed to the pool floor: check

But somehow I felt like I was always missing something to my comprehension.

My mind just couldn’t quite visualize what it meant for the elbow to actually be high.

Am I supposed to be pointing my elbow at the ceiling? Jamming my shoulder out of its socket to make sure I have a shark fin like arm cruising through the water? Surely that doesn’t feel right so I would give up on my shenanigans and Dory it up (just keep swimming).

In the video above Brenton from Effortless Swimming finally breaks through to my brain that the high elbow catch is much simpler than I thought.

Here you can see that you’re trying to maintain this nice clean line during the catch phase from hand to shoulder where your elbow is higher than the imaginary line.

Mind blown.

All of these years where I wanted to make it so complicated and it’s so straight forward.

I guess that’s what happens when you put a runner in the pool sometimes.

He’s got a few simple tips on how to maximize your ability to maintain your high elbow catch and the power of your pull.

Keep your shoulder higher near your head during all phases of the stroke

Good shoulder position

When you keep your shoulder up, it’s much easier to also keep your elbow above that imaginary line from hand to shoulder.

Here’s a shot of another swimmer Brenton shows with a lower positioned shoulder

Bad shoulder position

This lower shoulder leads to dropping the elbow during your pull. Destroying that high elbow position your coach is always yelling at you about.

Elbow is dropped during the pull phase

 

Take another look at your elbow during almost the middle of the pull phase.

As Brenton describes it you are going to make that nice triangular shape. This is what I associate in my head with a high elbow, but couldn’t originally wrap my head around how you’re making that shape in the glide and catch phase (because well, you aren’t.)

 

What can you do to improve your high elbow catch?

Fortunately Brenton has some unique drills for you to try out in the pool. I won’t spoil them for you so jump to 3:30 in the video above and let Brenton explain it himself.