How to develop a high elbow catch to pull water with your entire forearm

Sculling is one of my favorite drills to do with athletes in the pool because it helps develop two critical skills – a high elbow catch and pulling water with the entire forearm.

The catch is the first part of the stroke and when a swimmer drops their forearm vertical in the water so that they can then begin the pull which propels their body through the water. The key to a good catch is to keep the elbow high – near the surface of the water – and to catch as early in the stroke as possible – notice in the picture below how the elbow is even with the forehead. This allows the swimmer to press back in the water with a vertical forearm which propels the athlete through the water.

Sculling - correct

Notice instead that if the athlete let’s their elbows drop, that it creates more of a 45-degree angle in the water. This is a less efficient position because now instead of sending all of the pressure back in the water, the swimmer is sending the pressure back and down – towards the bottom of the pool. This causes the chest to lift and the legs to sink in the water. 

Sculling - incorrect

To do the sculling drill, position both arms at the catch and then windshield-wiper the arms. This is the same type of motion you make treading water. Focus on keeping those elbows high and pressing back with the entire forearm. Check out this quick video to see what it looks like.