I promised I would write some more about swimming, so here goes.
I had my first swimming lesson in a long while today. According to Luis, my swimming coach, I've improved a lot in the last couple of years which is always nice to hear. I keep my body in a nice straight line and don't scissor kick (so much) any more. So today we worked on some other aspects, namely the pull.
I normally pull myself through the water by reaching down to the bottom of the pool in a circular movement, much like a water turbine. What I should be doing is keeping my elbows up, anchoring my hand always in the same horizontal plane and lifting my body past my hand. The exercises we did were based on accentuating the "catch" by tilting the hand downwards at the wrist and then pulling directly backwards; hand paddles helped to make it even more explicit. I definitely noticed that I was more effective at transmitting my work into forward movement which is, I suppose, what it is all about. When I was doing it right, my forearms were vertical during the pull. This way, the forearm as well as the hand act together as a bigger paddle.
I always have troubles keeping my elbows up both in the water as well as during the recovery. I guess that it feels more natural or even efficient to be lazy about it. If one imagines being a soldier hauling himself through a tunnel just wide enough for his head and shoulders to fit through then it seems obvious why the position of the elbows is important (I expect this is why the style is called "crawl"... doh!). Swimming is all about making your profile as small as possible (with the added difficulty that you haven't got a floor to grab or to support you).
Of course, you should know by now that I have a gizmo to help me with keeping the elbows up. I actually bought it ages ago thinking that it would help keep my elbows up during the recovery, but I think the idea is actually to keep your elbows up during the pull. You wrap these weird looking things (mine are in Japanese to add to the weirdness factor) around your arms and find that, if you don't keep your elbows up, they fall off. Maybe I will dig them out again.
elbow high during the catch (the Early Vertical Forearm or EVF) was something only elite swimmers could do effectively without getting injured... I found a whole discussion of the Total Immersion take on the Early Vertical Forearm here.
I get the feeling that there is no one single school of swimming technique that gets it all right: I think I am going to have to mix and match. If I can just get that feeling of working together with the water rather than against it, I might actually end up liking swimming...