Less Is More: The Power of Powerful Pullouts

Courtesy of James Fike, Founder and CEO of Fike Swim.

Two weeks ago at the KMSC Pro-Am, I failed to go a best time in either the 100 or 200 breaststrokes (yards or meters) for the first time in four years. My pullouts were the bright spot in an otherwise disappointing weekend. They were on a whole new level thanks to all the ways I work on maximizing efficiency and power. Let’s walk through them…

There are five big, common mistakes swimmers make in pullouts:

  1. Bad body line off the wall immediately slows down the fastest part of each length: the push off the wall/block, or wall speed. This usually happens in one of two ways. The first is a straight body line, but one that is directed to the bottom of the pool with hands at a depth lower than the feet, such that the back of the legs cause drag. The second is a bowed body with an arched back, which creates resistance at more than one point along the body. THE FIX here is a strong core (see below) and lots of practice pushing off the right way. This mistake usually boils down to the swimmer simply not noticing what they are doing in practice.
  2. Collapsing elbows during the pulldown eliminates the acceleration that the pulldown should provide. Ever look at a great pullout and go “wow!” during the pulldown? That’s because the swimmer gathered water out in front of themselves, pulled their bodies over that water like it’s a hard object, then accelerated their arms to their sides once they had a good “hold” on it, all while maintaining forward elbows. Unfortunately, some swimmers pull their elbows back behind their hands at around the point their hands cross in front of their face. THE FIX here is to roll the shoulders forward to help the elbows get over top of the hands and to treat the water like a solid object (say, the side of a barrel) that you are pulling yourself over.
  3. Bad body line after the pulldown where, like in the first mistake, the swimmer allows their legs to drift up, such that the legs are shallower than the hands. At the heart of this common mistake is a weak core or a failure to engage the core. THE FIX here is a strong core (see below) and to tighten your abs and glutes to try to draw the legs down.
  4. Flaring the elbows after the pulldown during the recovery makes you wider and creates more resistance. THE FIX here is to press the elbows against your side and cross the forearms over each other close to the chest.
  5. Lastly, lifting the head to the surface at the end of the pullout creates drag when the water rushing over you hits your forehead. THE FIX here is to keep the head down and press your chest into the sweep of the first stroke, allowing your hips and legs to get up on the surface right away.

Other than #2, those problems are primarily efficiency-related corrections you can make to go farther, faster. So how do you make the pullout extra powerful?

Here are some exercises that will take your pullouts to the next level:

Lower-body gym work like deadlifts and squats are a must, along with plyometric movements like med ball toss-ups and box jumps. This is the work that will translate into monster push offs, allowing you to delay the start of your pullout and enjoy the ride.

Core exercises and creating variety within those exercises are an undervalued piece of training. To maintain a good body line throughout the pullout, you must have very strong core engagement, and thus very strong core. I prioritize stability exercises like various planks on a yoga ball and pallof variations.

Upper-body gym work to strengthen the upper back is crucial for powerful pulldowns. There are a lot of muscles in the upper back and tons of different ways to work them. Balancing the work is very important. My favorite movements are decline pullovers, med ball slams, horizontal lawnmower pulls with a power band, and, of course, pull-ups.

Extreme DPS (distance per stroke) develops both your pullout and your stroke. For this kind of work, your goal is 1-2 strokes in a 25 yard pool or 2-3 strokes in a 25 meter pool as fast as you can go. It forces you to maximize every millimeter of every movement and to put 100% effort into movements that often get lost in the rigors of long, painful breaststroke sets. Once you get to a place where you can do a 25 really well, try to keep the stroke count and speed for 50s, 75s, and even 100s! Why isn’t the goal 0 strokes? Because to do that, your body would come to a stop several times, for which most swimmers would find it impossible to control their body lines and to execute good pulldowns, especially for distances greater than a 25. Plus, a big part of this is learning to work with your momentum and not how to recover from a dead stop.

I hope this gives you some alternative ideas for training and inspires new approaches. Don’t be afraid to break away from tradition and SWIM DIFFERENT! Good luck!

If you like this article and still want to know more, stay tuned to the Fike Swim:


About Fike Swim

“We design products exclusively for the toughest sport in the world.  We unapologetically place swimmers on a pedestal.  The rigors they embrace on a daily basis can only be understood by another swimmer and they deserve a company focused 100% on helping them succeed.  Whether you’re just starting out or training for Paris, we stand behind you.”
James Fike, Founder

Fike Swim Products was born when founder James Fike put a brick on top of a kickboard and transformed just another legs-only kick set into a total body workout felt into the next day. Since then it’s been our mission to create unique swim equipment with the single-minded goal of making you faster. We don’t sell toys. We create tools to help you reach your potential.

Fike Swim is a SwimSwam partner.

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