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Thread: Isometrics

  1. #1
    Very Active Member
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    Aug 2006
    Grand Rapids, Michigan


    Hello Everyone,
    I hurt my back fishing and driving 7 hours in a car with bad seats for my lower back. Anyway, I don't train more than a few hundred yards and now I was skipping the water most of the week but I did religiously perform some EVF isometrics and I believe that helped me tremendously.
    I simply put my arms up, over my head in an EVF position and did some virtual swimming everyday for about two weeks. I've attached an article that I hope you like. Please place close attention on the isometric part. Thanks, Coach T.

    Another EVF article

    There are many components to swimming that contribute to the net product of a swimmer’s speed. The start, the turn, streamlining, timing, tempo, breathing, and a propulsive pull and kick. When coaches must determine what their primary focus should be when teaching the freestyle, or any other competitive stroke, what should they choose?

    In the following Swimming World website video/interview titled Freestyle Coaching - Catch or Release, eleven coaches attending the recent Senior National held in Irvine California, answered the question; what would you teach first when teaching the freestyle. Nine of the eleven said the catch (Early Vertical Forearm EVF), one said the release, and one said both are equal. Nine of the eleven said things like: a great catch leads to a great release; absolutely and definitely the catch (should be taught first), without the catch the rest doesn’t matter; elbow over the hand is what we teach. It’s time that everyone knows that the catch is not just an important component to swimming fast, it’s vital for every stroke and every swimmer can improve it.

    The catch or specifically the Early Vertical Forearm position was brought to the forefront of competitive swimming in the early 70’s by the research and swimming video taken by Dr. James E. Councilman. One of the many things “Doc’s” underwater video found was the beginning hand and arm motions during freestyle looked as if the swimmer were reaching over a barrel (the EVF). Doc found that the hands of great swimmers, like Mark Spitz, entered and exited the water at the same spot. This meant that great swimmers hold onto water and pull their body over their hand, versus slower swimmers who move their hands past their body.

    Each competitive stroke can be separated into four different segments or quadrants. The front quadrant is where propulsion initiates; the second quadrant is where the acceleration of the stroke occurs; the third quadrant where the recovery is initiated and the fourth quadrant is where the recovery makes the transition to the entry. The all important EVF position can be found in the first quadrant of each stroke.

    The following website article, by Rich Straus, “Where Power Begins,” does a great job at helping coaches understand what a catch is and why it’s important to swimmers. Straus, a triathlon coach and specialist, describes this crucial skill in the following bullet-points:
    • When your hand enters the water, palm is down towards the bottom of the pool.
    • If you start pulling now, without doing anything else, you will be directing force downward and lifting your body, rather than moving your body forward.
    • This continues until the natural sweep of your arm stroke eventually directs forces rearward.
    • The correct idea is to get your palm from "down" to "facing rearward" (and thus pushing you forward) as quickly as possible.
    • The proper way to do this is by bending the elbow, or "catching" the water as soon as possible. For cycling, this would be analogous to "rolling the barrel" at the top of your pedal stroke and beginning to apply power at noon, rather waiting until 2:00 or 3:00.”

    Today, swimming researchers from all over the world continue to look for ways to dissect, define and prioritize a swimmer’s propulsive mechanisms, and most notably the researchers from not only the U.S. but also from Australia. The Aussies have spent a great deal of research refining the nuances of propulsion; swimmers such as Olympians Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett, Markus Rogan, Jodie Henry, Brooke Hanson, Leisel Jones, and Petria Thomas, show they are reaping rewards for their efforts.

    More than a few technical aficionados have noticed that the Australian’s are focusing on improving their swimmer’s “feel” for the water. One of those noted enthusiasts is Ron Johnson, the only coach named NCAA Division I and Masters Coach-of-the-Year, the only man to have held Masters World Records in all four strokes simultaneously, and coach of 31 Olympic finalists and 14 Olympic medal winners. Ron will tell you that the key to becoming a great swimmer is the ability to “feel the water”. Johnson describes a component of the EVF as a “Shoulder Shift” and he refers it as a new Australian swimming technique. The technique is very similar to the “over-the-barrel” technique shown in Doc’s underwater films. Johnson tells it like this:
    “Shoulder shift is the movement forward and backward that takes place in the shoulder girdle during the sequence of all competitive strokes. Once a swimmer has reached forward to full arm extension, a few additional inches of reach can be achieved by not only extending the arm, but also by shifting or advancing the shoulder. It also refers to the movement of the shoulder backward from the point of the catch through the pull and push phase of the cycle.

    One of the primary differences between the novice swimmer and many of America's best distance swimmers, when compared with the Australian distance swimmers, is the lack of a shoulder shift in the former. I believe that if the shoulder stays fixed in a constant position, propulsion occurs with a restricted overall arm and body action.”

    Another noted swimming author, Marshall Adams, the swimming coach at the Cincinnati Country Day School in Ohio, draws special attention to Australian swimming success and their emphasis on the catch, in his article, Thoughts on the crawl stroke, published in Swimming Technique, Jul-Sept 2000.

    In regard to the surge of Australian swimming champions, Adams answers the following question, “What are the stroke characteristics that the current Australian star freestylers show that may be lacking in many of their competitors?
    • Number one is their form, which essentially follows the description of Silvia's "Big Four." Most notable is the catch at the beginning of the propulsive phase of their strokes. Silvia would have described this as an inertial positioning movement before the main propulsive phase begins.
    • At this point in the stroke, it is obvious that the great Australian freestylers take the time to assume the high elbow position about which all good coaches teach. They accomplish this act by internally (medially) rotating the upper arm bone (humerus) and flexing the elbow. This action ends with the forearm and hand assuming an almost perpendicular position in relation to the surface of the water, before the elbow is moved (adducted) toward the feet. The positioning movement of the arm takes place in the shoulder with very little muscular force”.

    These last two sentences by Adams are extremely important, because they direct coaches and swimmers to important propulsive mechanisms in swimming and how the all-important EVF can be attained. The position of the hand and forearm as it moves through water, determines the efficiency of a swimmer’s propulsive mechanics. Adams finishes by telling his readers that it doesn’t take a lot of strength to acquire the shoulder, forearm and hand position responsible for attaining an effective EVF. Adams basically tells everyone that the secret to swimming fast is out.

    So maybe the secret to faster swimming is out but unless coaches and instructors understand the underlying propulsive mechanics and how to teach swimmers to effectively apply them, the secret is almost worthless. Let’s look at two of those important propulsive principles and how they relate to swimming.

    It’s generally accepted that lift forces (sculling) and drag forces (pushing water backwards) are the primary propulsive mechanisms in swimming, but which is more important? In an article presented by Ross Sanders from Eidth Cowan University in Perth Australia, called “Lift or Drag? Let’s Get Skeptical About Freestyle Propulsion”, he talks about propulsion and whether it comes primarily from lift forces or drag forces.

    Sander’s believes many coaches assume that lift forces contribute way too much toward freestyle propulsion. “Recent studies quantifying whole body motion indicate that the hand paths of successful swimmers are not as curved as initially thought (Cappaert, 1993). Thus, swimmers are tending to use a straight pull, rather than to maximize pulling distance and speed by using a curved path. If the path is not very curved then the major contributor to force in the desired direction must be drag regardless of whether the hand is angled to the flow”. The article does more than dispute the dominance of each force; it encourages coaches to look at the relationship between lift forces and drag forces. This is one of many technical topics on propulsion all coaches should be familiar with and I’d like to take a paragraph to share my views on the subject.

    I believe that lift forces should be looked at as a propulsion synergy that help eliminate or lessen the vortexes behind the hand and thus allows it to improve the drag coefficient. In other words, sculling isn’t really adding a great deal (some) to the propulsion of the stroke as much as it allows a greater opportunity for the hand to increase the leveraging (drag) of water. This later explanation is why an EVF is so important to every stroke. An effective EVF allows swimmers to leverage and hold water better then their competitors.

    One thing is for sure --- and as David Marsh, then Auburn University coach put it, “It differentiates every level of swimmer”. Coaches must be able to discern between an Early Vertical Forearm position, a Late or Lagging Vertical Forearm position, and the antagonist of the EVF, the dropped elbow. These varying degrees, from an EVF to a dropped elbow, are the differentiating propulsive pulling factors, separating fast swimmers in a race from the slower swimmers. Unless coaches know what a great EVF looks like it and how to correct and improve a “dropped elbow”, helping swimmers get faster will be much more difficult. Let’s look at what another coach thinks and an interesting story he tells about how an improved EVF helped a world-class swimmer.

    Jonty Skinner is a well respected coach and swimmer who coordinates all the testing, tracking and assessment, of USA Swimming National Team coaches and athletes. Skinner is also in charge of organizing technical support and information for National Team coaches and athletes at national and international competitions. In his article, “Transformed Stroke – Transformed Swimmer”, , Jonty talks about the positive effects a straight-arm or EVF position had on a nationally ranked swimmer. The article shows the “before-and-after” pictures of Kayln Keller as she improves her EVF from 2002 to 2004. The pictures illustrate how improvements in a swimmer’s EVF can significantly contribute to improvements in speed. A picture is worth a thousand words, but there’s even a better way to conceptualize what a great EVF looks like.

    One of the best ways to understand the EVF is by seeing underwater videos of great swimmers performing the skill. At the end of the article I’ve attached short video segments I found on various websites. These websites show the front quadrant EVF skills performed by Olympic and Nationally ranked swimmers. The breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, and freestyle are all demonstrated by the best swimmers in the world and every stroke shows an effective EVF.

    Let’s put EVF into perspective as it relates to another important swimming fundamental. If we use streamlining as an example of a coach’s focus; the best streamlined body position, without a great EVF only contributes to a sleek, but slow, swimmer. With that being said, coaches and swimmers should realize that the EVF goes along with other swimming fundamentals like peas and carrots.

    This skill isn’t exclusive to sprinting, but is equally important in the 1500 meter swim and longer open water swims. Watch the underwater video of the first and second place finishers in the Women’s 1500 freestyle at the Pan Am Games and there should be no question; an effective EVF is what both champions displayed through the entire 1500 meters. In longer swims Rich Straus, the noted triathlon coach and swimmer, knows the catch in Open Water swimming is vital for swimming speed. In his article called Propulsive Swimming and the catch he tells his readers that swimming balanced is very important, “However, if your body position is dialed in, then this aggressive catch is where the money is”.

    Now let’s talk about EVF training strategies or where the rubber hits the road. There are many new EVF training strategies that are scratching their way to the forefront of our swimming community. As these strategies and techniques become easier to teach, this vital skill will no longer be looked at as a gift. In fact, just a few years ago, the only avenue a coach had to encourage and develop an EVF was repeating and sometimes incessantly yelling at their swimmers not to drop their elbow. Now, EVF is viewed as a skill, and like any other skill, it can be taught, learned, and improved upon with proper training. It’s all about developing an effective and efficient EVF habit.

    That brings up another very important subject; how can coaches train their swimmers to make this skill reliable for every race? If an EVF is learned early, it can become an invaluable habit, but anything less becomes a bad habit that must be broken. If coaches understand how habits are acquired and broken it can help them become better at their job. After all, an important part of a coach’s job is to help their swimmers form good habits, - right?
    An article called, “Habit formation: How to change”, by Ailleen Ludington M.D., and Hans Diehl Dr.PH., talks about this thing called a “habit”, “Most people find it takes about three weeks to form one new habit, (and) only by building new habits that are stronger than the old. The new choice must be made repeatedly, over and over.” Ludington and Diehl explain the physiology of why habits are so hard to change and why it’s easy to revert back to an old habit. This information shows coaches why it’s so important to maintain a consistent and effective EVF training regime in their daily dry-land and swimming workouts. These habit training strategies in this article will strengthen the swimmers’ ability to concentrate on this vital skill.
    The need to strengthen the muscles responsible for holding the forearm in that “over-the-barrel” position is essential to a swimmer’s EVF acquisition. The development of an effective and safe strength training program, including specific EVF exercises, isn’t hard and doesn’t take a great deal of time.

    Rotator-cuff exercises, done in a safe and progressive manner, will create a foundation of EVF strength. These exercises begin with and revolve around static and isometric exercises. They require no weight and the arms don’t move.

    Swimmers must understand what exactly an EVF looks like and what a great EVF feels like. Coaches need to see that the swimmers can physically show them the proper EVF position, and if swimmers can’t demonstrate the EVF position out of the water, a vast majority won’t accomplish the skill in the water. Dry-land exercises give the coach the opportunity to see that their swimmers are performing the skill correctly. Please look at the pictures showing swimmers of all ages performing some EVF dry-land drills.
    Swimmers should be able to show the EVF position while: standing up, bending over as they mimic swimming, and while lying on their front and on their back (on a bleacher). From these dry-land positions, the coach or instructor can tell their swimmer what they’re looking for, and then coaches can manipulate a swimmer’s arms until they can hold that effective EVF position without help. When these EVF motions are mimicked everyday, swimmers will learn the concept, connect with the feeling, and transfer the EVF position more successfully in the water. Coaches will love it when swimmers begin to tell them that they are “getting it” (the catch), or telling them that they’re losing it (and need to drill some more).

    The thought that resistance exercises for the shoulder may hurt a swimmer makes it easy to avoid shoulder specificity training altogether. Coaches need to know that there are safe strength training drills that will help defend swimmers against shoulder related problems. The avoidance of shoulder strengthening exercises may actually increase the chances of shoulder problems in the future. A proactive approach that has swimmers performing specific shoulder strengthening exercises should be incorporated by every coach and competitive swimmer.

    I’d like to support the above contentions about shoulder exercise by providing the following article found on this website. This article gives the research and many reasons swimmers get shoulder problems.
    • faulty stroke mechanics
    • sudden increases in training loads or intensity
    • repetitive micro-traumas related to overuse
    • training errors (such as unbalanced strength development)
    • use of training devices like hand paddles
    • higher levels of swimming experience
    • high percentage of freestyle swum in practices
    • weaknesses in the upper trapezius and serratus anterior
    • weakness or tightness of the posterior cuff muscles (infraspinatus and teres minor) or a hyper-mobile or very lax shoulder joint.

    After you read the article and find that a swimmer may cycle their arms as many as 16,000 times in a week, it’s easy to realize why a coach should develop a proactive strategy designed to strengthening the posterior rotator cuff muscles. It is also easy to realize that if you believe the EVF is critical to speed, without strong upper trapezius and serratus anterior muscles, and without a strong shoulder cuff, improving swimming speed becomes much more difficult.

    Another great article on Shoulder Injury Prevention was presented by USA Swimming and the Network Task Force on Injury Prevention. (April 2002). The introduction was by Scott Rodeo, MD, Chair of the USA Swimming Sports Medicine/Science Committee and Team Physician for the NFL’s NY Giants. Please go to the following website for the article.

    Isometrics greatly reinforce the EVF position and the ability of the swimmer to maintain it as they fatigue. An isometric exercise can achieve a training response if it’s performed for ten to twenty seconds at 80% effort. Please look at the following website articles relating to isometric exercises.

    Even the disadvantages expounded in the last website article, listed above shows benefits of their application for swimmers. Isometrics isolate and strengthen only the muscles they train. They may slow down muscled contraction response and this may help slow the swimmers “dropped elbow” habit or discourage it. It’s important to remind coaches, it doesn’t take a lot of time to perform these isometric exercises.

    New EVF training equipment, solely dedicated to improving the catch, is drawing interest among competitive swimmers, triathletes, Master swimmers, coaches and instructors. This revolutionary equipment de-emphasizes the area of the hand, putting them in a different ballpark from every other hand paddle. Forearm training equipment responds much differently than hand paddles and may be intimidating at first but with consistent use every swimmer will soon be comfortable using them.

    The most effective way to use EVF equipment requires slow and deliberate motions. When swimmers use EVF equipment for the first time they often feel awkward because the feeling of hand pressure is taken away. That awkward sensation is a small price to pay for the improved propulsive feeling swimmers experience when they take off the forearm trainers.

    EVF equipment encourages the direction of the hand to move under the elbow. When the area of the hand is lost, some EVF equipment replaces that loss with a paddle located on the forearm. When the area of the hand and fingers is gone, an EVF trainer forces the swimmer to use the forearm as a propulsive mechanism. There are two or three EVF devices on the market and all are designed to promote an effective EVF position.

    EVF trainers are primarily used to improve the first quadrant of each stroke by allowing swimmers to focus on the catch. A forearm paddle puts pressure on water when the forearm is vertical and that is the essence of EVF trainers. A forearm paddle that attains a vertical position early helps swimmers develop the muscle memory needed to repeat the position when the forearm paddle are taken off.

    EVF paddles promote early forearm pressure and discourage downward pressure with a straight arm, during the first quadrant of the stroke. Coaches and swimmers need to be reminded that an effective EVF is a habit that may take weeks or months to acquire. Coaches and swimmers should also remember that an effective EVF is a conditioned response that must be reinforced everyday. The learning curve is different for every swimmer, so be patient and persistent and good things will come!

    Some EVF equipment helps teach timing, tempo, and also helps swimmers concentrate on the propulsive front quadrant of each stroke. A good analogy is a golf swing; you can’t start your swing in golf with a fast motion because it contributes to a loss of tempo, timing, and ultimately, the loss of power. When the hand and arm move too fast after the extension, the swimmer is creating an environment ripe for a dropped elbow. Pulling too fast and too hard at the start of the pull increases vortices behind the hand, increases air on the hand, and promotes a dropped elbow, all of which hinder swimming propulsion. This is another reason why EVF training can become a huge benefit to both short-course and long-course swimming speed. It teaches efficient tempo.

    There’s another interesting phenomena that often occurs after swimmers take off their forearm trainers. When swimmers remove the forearm paddles, they often feel an immediate residual kinesthetic pressure. In other words, the swimmer retains the feeling of a “high-elbow” when they swim right after they take the trainers off.

    The following examples are designed to help coaches effectively incorporate isometrics and understand how to effectively use EVF Training equipment


    Before getting into the water, you should begin every practice with EVF isometric drills. The session doesn’t have to be much longer than fifteen to thirty seconds, once the training regime is understood and becomes an honored team tradition. The program should be expected to evolve where distance swimmers may have a different regime than sprinters just as flyer’s may follow a different program than backstroker’s, but a daily routine must be adhered to by every swimmer.

    The body-type of the swimmer will dictate the amount of bend they’re able to demonstrate (i.e. a stout individual will have their forearm more outside the mid-line of the body than a slender swimmer).

    When a training response is realized, an increase of resistance, time or both should be initiated. Performing and exercises that fall outside the competence of the coach, or without the approval of a physician, must be avoided.
    There are three pieces of equipment currently on the market that can be called EVF Equipment; The forearm fulcrum, the fist glove and the forearm trainer called the techpaddle.


    While using EVF Training equipment it’s important to use slow and deliberate EVF movements. Have the swimmers focus only on an improved EVF while swimming. Warm-up with one or two lengths using EVF Training Equipment then remove the forearm trainers and swim one or two lengths very slowly, focusing on only a great EVF. Repeat this drill after the main set or in the middle of practice and then at the end of practice.
    o Alternate Right arm only / Left arm only
    o Hesitation Drill where they hold (or scull in) the EVF for a few seconds


    1. Non-swimmers - Use an inflatable inner-tube and have the swimmer paddle around the pool. It’s easy to see that a tube forces the toddler to use a nice EVF as they propel themselves around the pool. This method of instruction is very non-threatening and can be loads of fun.
    2. Beginning swimmers – Use a floatable noodle and have the swimmer use an EVF breaststroke motion to paddle around the pool. This is another non-threatening exercise that prevents the swimmer from dropping their elbows (the antithesis to an EVF).
    3. Head-up swimming. Begin with short sets (widths of the pool) and then increase yardage. You can avoid potential impingement problems by making sure the palm of the hand faces toward the swimmer as they exit their hand. Variations:
    o Use a water-polo ball and have the swimmers swim head-up with it.
    o Use EVF equipment while swimming head-up.
    o Alternate head-down a few strokes, and then pop the head up a few strokes.
    4. Use a rectangular raft, boogie-board, surfboard, where the swimmer’s arms will dangle in a 900 angle over the flotation device. In this drill the swimmers take turns paddling up and down the pool using an early vertical forearm stroke. Variation:
    o Use EVF equipment.
    5. Dog-paddle drills with EVF Training Equipment. Regular dog-paddle and two-arm dog-paddle drills where swimmers only move their arms from the extended position to a 900 EFV position.


    A training response can be gained from an isometric drill performed at 80% of maximum effort for six to twenty (20) seconds or more.
    1. Isometric drill where the swimmer has both hands over their head in an EVF position. You’ll be surprised how difficult it is to keep the elbows slightly above the shoulder for any length of time.
    2. Isometric drill where the swimmer has both hands pushing up and/or against an immoveable object like a wall or a starting block.
    3. Using light weights and the most forgiving surgical tubing, have swimmers hold the EVF position for short bouts and slowly increase resistance and time.
    4. Have swimmers, while standing, mimic the EVF stroke, moving their hands up and down but never past their shoulders.
    5. Have swimmers hold a rescue tube, noodle, kick board, etc., above their head in the EVF position.
    6. Have swimmers bend-over and mimic the swimming stroke of world-class swimmers using a great EVF position.
    To go along with your EVF equipment, every coach and swimmer should have more than a few technical videos showing the EVF. The following website from has great EVF DVD’s like this one with Karyn Pipes-Neilsen

    Let’s finish by saying that the following underwater video snips, are among a few that can help swimmers conceptualize what an EVF is all about. Please look at these underwater videos of great swimmers, performing every competitive stroke and with great EVF’s
    Good luck and fast swimming,
    Coach T.

  2. #2
    Very Active Member 3strokes's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Ottawa, ON, Canada

    Re: Isometrics and EVF

    This was part of an article
    about EVF.

    It's too funny not to share.

    Use a rectangular raft, boogie-board, surfboard, where the swimmers arms will dangle in a 900 angle over the flotation device. In this drill the swimmers take turns paddling up and down the pool using an early vertical forearm stroke.

    How does anyone (short of a worm) achieve a 900 degrees angle?

    I know it was meant to be 900, but still...
    ..... Where, Oh, where did I last see my swimming suit? Oh well!

  3. #3
    Very Active Member geochuck's Avatar
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    Jul 2004
    Vancouver British Columbia Canada

    Re: Isometrics

    Wow now I say keep it simple.
    Keep it simple George Park
    Swimsuit Sale

  4. #4
    Very Active Member
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    Aug 2006
    Grand Rapids, Michigan

    Re: Isometrics

    Sorry guys! The format on the original text was actually superscript. When I downloaded it the superscript came up unformated. Again sorry for the mistake. Coach T.

  5. #5
    Very Active Member 3strokes's Avatar
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    Mar 2007
    Ottawa, ON, Canada

    Re: Isometrics

    Quote Originally Posted by tomtopo View Post
    Sorry guys! The format on the original text was actually superscript. When I downloaded it the superscript came up unformated. Again sorry for the mistake. Coach T.
    No apologies necessary.
    No Problem. My Chiro, my Physiotherapist (and My Psychiatrist) and I finally figured out how to get me out of the pretzel position.
    ..... Where, Oh, where did I last see my swimming suit? Oh well!

  6. #6
    sǝssɐןb ɹǝʇʇǝq ʇǝb That Guy's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
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    Re: Isometrics

    Quote Originally Posted by 3strokes View Post
    No apologies necessary.
    No Problem. My Chiro, my Physiotherapist (and My Psychiatrist) and I finally figured out how to get me out of the pretzel position.
    Good effort! When I play Twister, I usually fall over well before that point. Odd set of dinner party guests though.


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