Total Immersion: More on Training for the Early Vertical Forearm (EVF)

Mike McCloskey, a Total Immersion swimmer, wrote to me regarding some tips on training for a Early Vertical Forearm or EVF.
Here were my replies:
What drill(s) can you recommend to entrain a high elbow catch, or, which one(s) helped you the most?
In answer to your question, first see my old post:
Total Immersion: Learning the Early Vertical Forearm – Training, Training, Training
You really have spear as horizontal as possible and you may not even know if you’re spearing lower than you should without looking at video of yourself. Spearing horizontal makes the elbow high and allows an easier EVF.
Next, watch Dave Cameron’s video. This is an excellent dryland exercise. I used to do it all the time just standing around until it was burned into my brain. It doesn’t completely make it easy in the water, but it does help a great deal.
Some drills/focal points to try:
1. Leave your patient lead arm out there as long as you can before you stroke. This doesn’t directly train the EVF but it does train critical timing and helps you resist the temptation to just stroke back with the non-spearing arm.
2. Attempt Dave’s dryland drill in the water. Keep your current spearing arm out there as long as you can, and as you spear the other arm, bend the elbow of the previously speared arm before stroking back.
3. Extend the upper arm of the previously speared arm, as you spear the other arm. This helps train you also to not just pull back the arm while you initiate the EVF. You want the EVF to complete before you start stroking back.
4. A variant of 3, open up the axilla/armpit of the previously speared arm, as you spear the other arm. Feel a big circle form from your armpit, arcing to the elbow joint and down the forearm as the forearm drops down, but the upper arm does not because you’re extending the armpit.
5. Swim forward by using the momentum of the spearing arm only, plus the hip drive and the 2BK. Resist the temptation to pull back the stroking arm for as long as possible and try to get as much forward momentum with the spear/hip/2BK. As you spear, just drop the other arm’s forearm down but do not stroke back until the last possible moment.
6. A variant of 4, use the hip drive of the spear to open up the axilla/armpit of the opposite arm. In essence, use your hip to powerfully open up the axilla and dropping the forearm down into EVF. This really helps cement the body’s role in creating the catch and the subsequent stroke.
He then asks:
1) You point out that Shinji hardly uses EVF except for races, because he feels it is too tiring for general use. Do you feel the same way and do you only use EVF for ‘special occasions’? My motivation for entraining a good EVF is in large part to train the lats to take over some of the work my rotator cuff and deltoids have been doing, therefore, HOPEFULLY, to reduce shoulder stress. But if in fact EVF is more rather than less exhausting, in particular for shoulders, maybe I’d better look elsewhere for shoulder relief.
I think you can train your body to do just about anything. I also should ask him exactly why he thinks it’s tiring for him as I’m not really sure. When you watch videos of Shinji, you’ll probably notice that his catch is not as aggressively “forward vertical” as Sun Yang’s. Still, his form is impeccable and his speed shows – he told me he swam a 1:04 100m in a Masters meet! Wow!
After doing EVF training for almost a year now, I finally think I have the hang of it and will be extending it to at least Alcatraz crossing distance (~1.2 miles).
As for reducing stress on your rotator cuff and delts – I’m not sure EVF will in itself make that better. More likely other TI aspects will have a greater effect on your shoulder joint and muscles.
As mentioned in one of my focal points about not resisting the stroke back – you should try some laps where you try to swim *with barely any stroking energy* at all. This forces you to rely solely on spear/arm drop/hip drive/2BK to send you forward, as your other arm just kinda hangs out there. You’ll be amazed at how fast you can go without relying on the stroking arm. It’s a great way to fine tune the non-intuitive parts of swimming propulsion.
Doing this also helps EVF because now your arm is just hanging out there and you have time/space to let your forearm drop down.
And of course your shoulder muscles and joint is saved since you’re swimming faster without using shoulder muscles to force your way through water.
2) In reply to the deep vs. shallow spear, early last year (or so) there was a thread on the TI forum discussing a video of Ian Thorpe, and I pointed out that his hand entry was fairly deep and steep, surprisingly TI-like, but immediately thereafter his hand came back near the surface so his forearm was nearly horizontal. Next, the forearm moved down again into a vertical position for the catch. I wondered if this ‘dolphin-like’ down-up-down motion was intentional, and Terry replied that it merely reflected Thorpe’s great ability to relax his lead arm. I never got that part, for the reason you mention elsewhere, i.e., a deep angle of entry makes it hard to bring the elbow back up, because the forward motion puts pressure on the forearm opposing that motion. In the face of that pressure, how could simply relaxing the arm allow it to ‘float’ back up?
That video is here:

Thorpe’s spear is the shallow I was talking about. I was only talking about the part of the arm when it is underwater and not about the steepness of the entry. you need to end up with a more horizontal extended arm than angled downward, which is where TI beginners may start when they first learn balance in the water.
The angle of entry is defined by the path of a cocked arm as it touches down into the water. You should not be extending the arm before it hits the water. But once it enters the water, you control the depth of where it goes. You want to drop into the water and immediately shoot it horizontally forward. So you are changing the direction spearing arm.
Thorpe is amazing actually – his hand is actually shooting higher than horizontal but he retains enough control to never break the water surface which is bad. This can get a tiny bit more elbow height!
3) In reply to your point #5 (resist the temptation to pull back) … it’s been subconscious and so deeply engrained … but at least these drills have brought it to consciousness. Even when I use what I imagine (no video or other observers yet) is something closer to EVF, and definite catch, than before, I can feel the lats engage and push water back. But that’s a forward step for now, I think, because it’s my bigger less fatigable lats doing the work my shoulders were doing.
There are lats engaging but also connecting your stroking arm to your body’s rotation will also lend authority to the stroke back without wiping out muscles. It’s a hard concept to grasp but once you have the coordination, I think one day you’ll email me back and say “Dave, so THAT’S what you meant by coordinating the stroke back with body rotation!”
Another way to look at all this is, you’re changing the timing of your arms in the stroke cycle. When you first learned TI, and usually Shinji teaches this first, you spear and stroke back at the same time. This timing is easier to master. Once you get this, then it’s onwards to EVF. NOW you’ll have to change your timing. The spear now happens first and is on its way forward, as the other arms drops into EVF and THEN strokes back. The timing is now shifted. So one manifestation is the fact that you need to resist stroking back so soon in order to change that timing….