This week’s drill is meant to counterbalance our series of paddle drills — just to make sure everyone knows we’re not schilling for the paddle companies! It’s also a reminder that the BEST paddles are the ones at the end of your arms… your hands. By manipulating the SHAPE of your hands, you can learn all kinds of things about your stroke, and you can even get the FEEL of wearing paddles — without spending a dime.
Why Do It:
Experimenting with, and understanding how you already use your hands is a good thing. Far too many swimmers don’t even think about what their hands are doing, and are surprised when they discover how small changes — and a little bit of focus — can improve their feel for the water.
How to Do It:
We’re going to show six quick exercises, or focal points you can incorporate into your practices… today. Counting strokes is always good to compare how you’re doing.
1. FIST. The old standby. Close your hand into a very tight FIST and swim. You’ll be surprised how horrible this feels when you do it right. You’ll lose the feel of connection out front, and feel like your arm is plummeting through the water, barely moving you forward at all. Why is this a good thing? Because it FORCES you to use the REST of your arm to grab water. It makes you connect with your forearm and biceps, it encourages body rotation to connect better, and it teaches you how to power through the water. Don’t cheat by opening the hand every so slightly… trust us, we know that one. One way to avoid opening the hand is to hold two pennies in each hand as you swim.
2. TIGHT. This gives you back SOME of your hand, but not enough to feel really good. Open you palms and hold ALL your fingers together very tightly, even your thumb. Many people actually swim like this, and even cup their hand, which is about as effective as swimming with the fist… only not so useful. Again, you’ll have to learn how to use your entire arm for this one.
3. RELAXED. Ahhhhhh… doesn’t that feel good? Just allowing your hands to freely connect with the water. Those small spaces between the fingers are now productive, capturing the thick water and giving you a larger surface area. When you start to get a feel for this, watch the fingers wavering or fluttering as they pull through the water. Just feels really nice.
4. SPLAYED. I like to think of this as palming a basketball. OK, a small basketball. But if my hands were bigger, this is what it probably feels like. While this looks crazy, it feels pretty good, and gets you thinking about what you do with your hands — how each finger can do its part to hook in, and help you go forward. Besides, with all this hand play going on, this actually stretches out your fingers.
5. PINKY. While this could also be called the outsweep, thinking of it as a PINKY drill helps you understand what to lead with. Slow your stroke rate down just a bit, and allow your pinky to slide OUT prior to the catch. Somehow… this simple move makes it easier to engage the muscles needed for a high-elbow catch. It awakens a connection all the way down the side of your body. Never knew the pinky was so powerful, did you?
6. ROLAND! Sure, I could call this THUMB, but after watching Roland Schoeman’s video, how could it really be called anything else. Stick out your thumb as you begin your catch, and TRY NOT to feel aggressive. You just feel like you’re GRABBING onto something, and for some reason, that grasping instinct also helps you connect the hand and arm… to your entire body. It’s almost as if your mind links that GRAB with the sensation of pulling yourself forward, and you just start using everything. It’s pretty cool.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Make sure you give each of the hand positions a chance. Each one will feel weird when you first try it, but if you give WEIRD a chance… sometimes it starts to feel GREAT. Try at least 100 yards of each, and really THINK about what you’re feeling. You could use one per day at the start, and then mix them up in a single set once they start to feel more natural. Have fun, and paddles are coming… if you still need them.