Powerful Front Crawl Arms. T.T.E. - Technique, Timing and Emphasis
Updated: Mar 30
To achieve Powerful front crawl arms there are 3 key elements involved. Considering the upper body / arms are responsible for up to 90% of the propulsion through the water in Front Crawl, it would make sense to apply 90% of our focus to this area of our stroke. It's often the timing and emphasis elements that are neglected when approaching this stroke, so I hope this article helps to both explain what they all are as well as give you the necessary focus on how to improve them when swimming Front Crawl.
It is in this order that I recommend they are tackled:
Technique - I think it's fair to assume that most swimmers understand the importance of technique and how this will improve stroke efficiency. Hence I often receive enquires and questions regarding swim coaching technique. What I'm referring to here is the anatomical positions and movement pattern adopted by the arms and legs when swimming Front Crawl. I.e. position of arms underwater, keeping the elbow high while dropping the forearm to perform an effect catch phase etc. The clips below will highlight how to perform effective underwater and overwater technique:
Swimming Front Crawl - Underwater technique
Swimming Front Crawl - Overwater technique
However, once you feel the arms are repeatedly performing the correct technique it is now time to focus on the next element - Timing.
Timing - often overlooked in Front Crawl but very much focused on in other strokes like Breaststroke for example. If you want to make your stroke much more efficient, it's important to gain as much distance per stroke as you possibly can and its timing along with correct technique that achieves this for you. Setting off with the next stroke at the correct time will help to avoid the inefficient, windmill like arms you sometimes see swimmers perform. Imagine walking using much smaller strides than you normally would. Tiny little steps rapidly repeated will require you to expend more energy without travelling that far overall. Now imagine walking without the correct timing with your legs. It's hard to imagine isn't it? We know it is likely we'll fall over if we were to do this. As one foot lands the other is about to leave the floor and begin its journey to the front in order to plays its role in walking. The same effect can be said for the arms in Front Crawl. As one arm has completed the catch phase of the underwater pull the other arm should be entering the water and reaching forward. So we complete a 'bow and arrow' movement pattern. Take a look at the clip below to help illustrate this timing pattern for powerful and effective Fromt Crawl arms:
Swimming Front Crawl - Slow motion arms underwater with pop ups highlighting technique and timing of arms.
A drill that can help to improve distance per stroke and encourage effective timing change of the arms is the Front Crawl catch up drill:
Now with these 2 elements in place, its time to focus on the final element - Emphasis.
Emphasis - it's great to now have these 2 elements as part of your overall stroke but this final element is what really knits them all together. An emphasis of the underwater pull is now required. You can have the greatest on technique and perfect timing yet if you fail to emphasise the underwater pull it simply won't allow your Front Crawl stroke to deliver its full potential.
What I mean by emphasis is taking advantage of the momentum build up of the underwater pull from the beginning phase of the catch up until the end phase of the pull exiting the water around the thighs. As this arm stroke progresses, it will gather momentum and strength the closer it draws toward our body. Being conscious of this will allow us to add a strong emphasis of force throughout the entire pull and really 'use' the stroke to drive us forward.
Imagine performing a lat pull down exercise on the weights machine in the gym. At the beginning when your arms are fully extended, you will be at your weakest but then as you pull the bar toward you, both the momentum of the move along with the shortening of your lever length (arms) will result in the repetition becoming stronger and more achievable. By a similar effect we are looking to take advantage of this stronger phase of the underwater pull by applying more force. We can increase the force applied as the underwater pull progresses and hence ensure this emphasis provides as much return power and momentum as possible / stroke.
Swimming Front Crawl - strong swimming.