When swimmers start to learn breaststroke, they tend to make the pull the biggest part of the stroke. This is usually counterproductive, so we try to introduce the pull as a very small move. In fact, we try to introduce the pull as a TEENY, TINY, MINISCULE move because what FEELS small to the swimmer usually ends up being too big. So we exaggerate the smallness. We ask for TEENY TINY, in order to reach the goal of small and just right. Tiny Hands is the drill that we use.
This kind of exaggeration or over-teaching is common in swimming — especially in backstroke. If you’ve ever worked with someone (or had a coach work with you) on backstroke hand entry, you know what I’m talking about. Most swimmers THINK their backstroke hand entry is at 10/2 or 11/1, when in fact they are over-reaching. You have to really exaggerate the wideness in order to get the hand entry to happen where it should. The same is true for the breaststroke pull.
Why Do It:
What’s the advantage of having a small pull in breaststroke? It keeps you from having a start/stop kind of stroke, and lets you maintain your momentum. Most people simply pull back too far. This is because it feels good and "correct" to be doing as much work as you can. But a big powerful pull can set you up for a disastrous recovery. It leaves your hands tucked under your body, with a LONG way to go to reach full extension. It leaves your body in a more upright position, which creates drag. And if you stay in this position too long, taking a long gulp of air, your body can start to sink. In short, all the momentum gained from the pull is lost if you don’t get your hands immediately back into extension. This "push me – pull me" type of swimming is what the best swimmers strive to avoid. Instead, they work toward a stroke that maintains constant momentum.
In drilling, using a tiny pulll does two things. 1) it allows you to work on the timing of the stroke without having to worry about how you’re pulling, and 2) it reveals whether you use your hands and arms to lift your body to air…or to send your body forward (heard that a few times?).
How To Do It:
1. Start by swimming very slow and long breaststroke. Keep your arms and hands fully extended until it’s time to pull.
2. When you’re ready to pull, focus your attention not on your hands, but on your elbows. You’ll goal is to move forward without moving your elbows at all.
3. Breathe as usual, and make sure you’ve finished the hand sweeping, pulling motion prior to initiating the kick.
4. Finish in a forward, extended position… and repeat as necessary until you get to the other end.
How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Start small. Get smaller. And then get even smaller — to the point where it feels as if you’re moving only your wrists. If you do this on your own, chances are you’re going to have to continue to remind yourself this isn’t about the pull, but about timing the stroke. This is about making sure the pull isn’t getting in your way while you work on the timing of the pull, the breath, the kick, the extension. It’s about making sure you don’t pause during the breath and hold yourself UP with your arms.
You’ll feel yourself falling foward into extension, and you have to remember… that’s a GOOD thing. Don’t fight it. Remember the way it should be when you’re doing most drills — take your time, and enjoy the opportunity to learn in the water without having to WORK SO HARD!