Total Immersion: Learning the Early Vertical Forearm

A few weeks ago, I had another coaching session with the elusive Coach Shinji, who is flying all around the world promoting Total Immersion but I managed to catch him back in the Bay area!
This time I asked about Early Vertical Forearm, or EVF. I had thought I was trying to do EVF and wanted him to video me to see how it looked. But it turns out I wasn’t even close!
When you look at this sequence of photos of Grant Hackett and Ian Thrope, you can see that their forearms are perfectly and fully vertical, well before the arm starts stroking back. Wow. I atempted to visualize that and put it in practice, but underwater video of me trying showed my technique nowhere near theirs.
Shinji taught me two very important things, which were:
1. My spear was way too low, even though it was not wrong. I was spearing at an angle down which is appropriate for typical Total Immersion style swimming. However, trying to get EVF when the elbow is so low is very hard, if not impossible because you have to lift the elbow up to get your forearm vertical and that is super hard, given the weight of water pressing down on the elbow. However, spearing low is great for balance in the water and keeping your hips up.
So I needed to spear straight ahead which is hard considering I had been spearing forward and down for months now, perfecting my balance and keeping my hips high. To spear horizontal, the feeling of the trajectory of my spear is almost that I’m spearing out of the water! Thankfully, my water balance was good such that my hips didn’t drop when my spear was much higher.
Now that my spear was horizontal, my elbow was in a very high position and thus I could just bend my forearm down to EVF.
Theoretically. More on this later.
2. There are two surges of power in the actual stroke. The first surge happens when you bend the forearm down and the surge of power is in the forward part of the stroke. Then there is a lull as the arm moves back past the shoulder. The second surge happens when you engage the lats and press through to the end of the stroke.
This was hard to grasp; I had to work on other things first. At this point, I was hoping that once my form was looking good, that the 2 surges of power would happen naturally.
Then I went to a Total Immersion Tune Up with Dave Cameron who taught me another critical part of EVF. For details, check out his post High Elbow Catch Introduction. Basically, he showed me the sequence of moves to shift from recovery to spear and EVF. The video in that post shows the practice sequence – see it below.

You stand upright and one arm is speared while the other is preparing to recover. Then as your hip comes around (you take a small step to simulate), you keep the speared arm forward and bend the forearm to EVF position as you spear with the other arm.
I melded this with Shinji’s tips, especially on spearing high and horizontal, while in the pool. I had two video cameras on me at the edge of the pool, videoing underwater and above water. I tried swimming fast but I felt that I was getting messy and that my elbow was dropping. However, I felt that I was getting a lot more power – I could get across 25y in only 13 strokes when it was taking me 14+ with regular TI style low spearing. But it was very tiring.
Shinji did tell me that he almost never does EVF style swimming unless he is sprinting or in a short race. Otherwise it is too tiring to maintain over long distance.
I tried slowing down a lot. This helped me focus on mimicking Dave’s upright practice movement while lying in the water. I felt that I was making strides in practicing EVF as I was still reaching 25y in 13 strokes.
Analyzing the video showed a bit otherwise – I certainly did not look like Grant Hackett or Ian Thrope in that post! I thought I was spearing horizontal, but I was still angled downward. I did not bend my forearm down early enough as my nervous system is too programmed to start stroking. I need to keep my upper arm horizontal as my forearm drops down and resist the temptation to stroke before my forearm is vertical. I also need to turn my forearm/elbow so that my elbow is pointing up – this is a move I can do on dryland but I have not noticed happening in the water as too much is happening. But turning my arm like that means I can bend my forearm downward. Still, something interesting was happening as I could get more stroking force ahead of my shoulder whereas before there was not as much and I could get across 25y in at least 1-2 less strokes.
More work to be done here for sure, but at least now I know the secret of EVF!

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