This post was sparked by some discussion in the forums on finding the perfect spearing angle. Here’s my take on all aspects of the spearing angle during Freestyle.
There are two spearing angles: depth and horizontal.
Most people think of spearing angle as mostly depth. Actually, you can also spear at a horizontal angle. Using the shoulder line as center, you can spear inward towards your body centerline – a bad thing to do – or outwards or away from the shoulder line – much better and safer.
Spearing depth angle helps with body balance.
The depth angle at which you spear your hand/arm into the water can greatly affect your balance. Spearing deeper will tip more weight onto the front of your body and bring your hips up like nothing else. Spearing higher is possible, but there is a higher risk of your hips dropping unless you have good control of body balance independent of spear angle.
Spearing horizontal angle can alter direction of travel and affect stability.
You can definitely spear wider of the shoulder lines and still go in one direction. However, spearing in a direction can also start you moving in that direction as well. So horizontal angle spearing acts a method of steering.
We have also found that spearing wider can improve your stability in the water. It provides an anchor on which you can ride your body on its edge, thus improving streamline and reducing drag.
In open water when the conditions get rough, spearing wider can help you stay stable and on course when the water is constantly moving and waves are present.
Spearing angle is dynamic, not static.
Given many different factors, spearing angle can be very dynamic. For example, if you are swimming a long distance using Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) and you are getting tired, you may want to switch to a lower depth, non-EVF spear to recover a little. As mentioned previously in open water, you may need to adjust to different conditions by altering the depth of your spear. In an open water race, you may need to do a turn around a buoy and horizontal spearing angle will help you make the direction change quickly.
Spearing angle can also be dynamic based on what you’re trying to do. For example, when I practice Skate with Kicking, I always spear much deeper than when I swim full stroke because I instinctively know that I go horizontal with a depth of spear, and it helps me kick my way across a pool while in Skate position.
Spearing angle will also change based on your skill level. A deeper spearing angle is great for beginners because it is the quickest way to achieve good balance in the water. But as your skill increases in affecting body balance, you can start spearing more horizontally to learn other aspects like EVF which require a horizontal spear to perform.
Spearing deeper provides many advantages for beginners.
In TI, we teach a deeper spearing angle to most beginners. There are many advantages to this for someone just beginning to learn and imprint good swim habits.
We have already mentioned one, which is a deeper spearing angle is the easiest and fastest way to achieve a horizontal body position. The other ways: pressing the chest, leaning the body, using the weight of the recovering arm, etc. all are much more difficult and require time to master. I have found that spearing deeper is much quicker to learn and affects body balance in a positive manner the most, than any other balance aspect.
Another advantage of spearing deeper is that it helps cure the dropped elbow problem which sets you up for a poor catch and less than effective stroke back. By getting your hand/wrist below the elbow with a deeper spear, you simply cannot have a dropped elbow.
With the hand pointing at an angle downward, we say to relax the fingers and let them droop downward. When this happens, your palm is already nearly, if not fully, facing back and in perfect position to catch and push water straight back. This removes issues with spearing more horizontally with the wrist locked, and then the stroke back happens with either locked straight wrist which results in water being first pushed down – dropping your hips – then pushing back – adding finally to forward momentum – and then pushing water up at the end – again dropping your hips down. A similar thing can happen when the stroke back occurs with a locked straight entire arm.
Deeper spear angles does not necessarily mean you swim slower.
It is true that there is more frontal area exposed on the upper arm to the forward direction of motion when the spear is deeper. In theory, this does mean that a deeper spear should have more drag than horizontal spear. But in reality, we’re only talking about a thin sliver of an arm. When compared to the drag created by dropping hips due to a horizontal spear, the drag of a slightly deeper spear is pretty miniscule. The optimization of this aspect should be left to those who have sufficiently developed their skills such that they need that extra bit of speed to win a race.
There are many swimmers who do not spear horizontally, nor do they use EVF, and still swim VERY FAST. They have awesome body balance and streamline, and they have fully developed their coordination of using the entire body during a 2BK to drive their bodies forward. These factors are much more important in speed than worrying about whether your deeper spear angle creates that much more drag.
If you have to, use the deeper spear to get your hips up. This will give better results than spearing horizontal to attempt EVF but your hips start dropping.
As mentioned previously, when you fully extend your spear, your hand is already in “catch” position. All you need to do from there is pull it back, pushing water straight behind you. Accomplished swimmers will also have perfected their ability to keep their palms pushing water straight back, versus pushing in all sorts of directions other than back.
In order to swim with EVF, you must adjust your spear depth angle to horizontal.
There are many factors related to achieving EVF. One of those is that you need to get your arm as high as possible in order to be able to let the forearm/hand drop below the elbow. If your arm is not horizontal, then your arm isn’t really dropping too much since you are partially “catched” already. You also lose a little bit of stroking length in front of you – spearing horizontal means you can get your arm as far forward as possible and use the full potential of stroke length to push water from front to back.
To many swimmers, there is THE spear angle that they must find. In my experience, spearing angle is a complex, dynamic element of swimming that changes given conditions, fitness and skill level. The ultimate skill, therefore, is to build your ability to swim at a multitude of spearing angles and you can easily switch between all of them depending on what situation you find yourself in.
Coach DShen is a TI certified coach teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more posts at his blog.