NOTE: Portions of this post were drawn from my posts in the Total Immersion forums.
A while back, I wrote a post about my path to achieving the Early Vertical Forearm or EVF. Over a year now of coaching TI, I thought I’d capture all my EVF thoughts into one place.
Pre-requisites for EVF:
1. First, the high elbow catch requires some mobility. You must have sufficient mobility in the shoulder, arm, and elbow for you to perform this movement at all. So if you have restrictions or are stiff, you need work in this area before any progress can be made. I would search out a good physical therapist/sports medicine person to help with this. If you want to try it yourself, probably the best text I’ve found is Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett. You can also find some free resources at his website MobilityWod.com. Someone trained in the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) will also be a big help (this is why I certified in FMS; to learn how to address mobility and inbalances in the whole body, and as a coach not as a clinician).
2. You must be able to spear higher, about horizontal. The higher your elbow is at the start of the EVF, the easier it will be to let your forearm drop underneath it. But you shouldn’t be spearing horizontal to try for EVF if you haven’t perfected body balance to a point where spearing horizontal means your hips start to drop!
TI teaches a deeper spear in the beginning to help our students learn proper balance in the water. At some point, you should start seeing if you can derive proper balance through the body alone and not rely on your arm’s depth for balance. Once you have great balance no matter how deep you spear, you can then start moving towards imprinting the EVF.
Next comes neuromuscular patterning of the movement. I would break that down into 2 parts, what happens in the extended arm and what happens in the overall stroke/switch in the entire body and arms.
After you address mobility, then you need to be able to get your elbow on top of your arm, or at least somewhat on top if not a bit to the side. If you cannot, you will not be able to drop your forearm/hand under your elbow – it will fold inward towards your head.
On dryland, try this drill. Extend one of your arms with your palm facing down, as if you just speared. Now, without a ton of movement in the shoulder AND keeping your hand still, rotate just your elbow from its down/side position to the top of the arm. Nice parlor trick right?
Here is a video of me explaining this movement.
That was the advanced and most desirable movement. For some, shoulder and neuromuscular issues may make this movement difficult. An easier path is to just rotate your hand inward, with the thumb starting to point down, about 5-10 degrees. This also gets your elbow nearly on top. You do not want to rotate your hand all the way inward to get your elbow all the way on top; this is bad because now your palm is not facing backward and is not in the optimal position to catch water.
In the water, you must imprint this movement as you spear. So as the spear extends outward, you must either turn your thumb inward/down slightly, or better rotate your elbow on top (without excessive rotation of the shoulder and no movement of hand). Either way puts your elbow in a more optimal position to just let your forearm drop underneath it, or nearly under it – it may bend slightly inward.
But also remember, your entire body is in motion at this point. So even if your elbow is not all the way on top, the moment you bend is when you spear the other hand so that it will end up with the hand pointing down once your body rotates with the other side spearing.
This is a good segway into the patterning of the entire movement:
I highly recommend practicing Coach Dave Cameron’s dryland drill. It is one of the best ways to drill the spearing and EVF movement.
In the water, the EVF has many elements.
First, you must be able to do this movement WITHOUT moving your upper arm during the time to stroke back. Most swimmers have imprinted just moving the entire arm back during the stroke back; this habit must be changed. So at the time when you would normally move the entire arm back, you just drop the forearm under the elbow. This is the essence of Coach Dave’s video.
Second, you must adjust the timing of your stroke back. Here is a textual description of this movement while swimming:
1. You are at the end of recovery. For the sake of clarity, let’s say the right arm is in proper spear-ready position, the left arm is extended in front of you. As we discussed before, you already have your elbow on top or near-top of the arm. Your fingers are relaxed and drooped slightly, such that your palm is facing somewhat back.
2. As the right arm begins its spear, it drops into the water. Your left arm is still extended – remember the patient lead arm!
3. As the right arm spear starts extending forward (and your body is beginning to rotate, probably getting flat at this point), your left arm bends at the elbow WHILE keeping the upper arm still extended forward. Thus the left forearm is dropping below the elbow to catch water with the entire forearm, not just hand.
4. The right arm spear is now extending forward and the left arm has a full vertical forearm now. Your body has rotated almost its finished position on the other side.
5. As the right arm spear is shooting forward, only now do you stroke back with the left hand, keeping its path straight backward which results in the elbow moving “high” in the water back with the hand. The stroke back along with the 2BK and hip drive through the torso and shoulders is what launches the spear forward, and you along with it.
Most of the time, the main issue is that you want to get your whole arm stroking back as soon as possible. You need to change that and delay it until you drop the forearm under the elbow first before stroking back.
You must leave your patient lead arm left extended forward a little longer until the recovering arm has entered the water and begun its path forward. At this point, most swimmers have imprinted a timing which is to pull the lead arm back as the recovering arm has dropped into the water. Now you must delay that by a tiny bit more to let the forearm drop down first and then stroke back.
Note that Coach Shinji has described two phases of tension. The first is when you drop your forearm down and you place pressure on the water you’ve caught with your entire arm, at the beginning of you stroking back. Then as you pass your shoulder, the tension lessens until you get a bit further down your torso and then again you use tension to push water back strongly, as you finish the stroke back to your hip. This is apparently very present for sprinting; for longer distance, they have found that there is more tension at the back of the stroke near the hip, versus in front.
All this takes a ton of practice and work, some out of the pool, but it is definitely achievable by everyone.
CoachDShen coaches in the SF Bay area. Read more about training at his blog.