In working recently with some VERY fast freestylers, we’ve noticed that they let the fingers separate slightly at the catch, and that sometimes there’s a dramatic separation between the thumb and the fingers. Here’s a drill that lets you experiment with this aspect of your stroke.
Why Do It:
Great swimmers do certain things instinctively that make them faster. Separating the fingers at the catch may be one of these. One theory is that by separating the fingers slightly at the catch, you create a webbed effect, and create more surface area for the catch and pull.
By separating the thumb from the fingers, you "activate" the fold of skin in that area and can create a larger pulling area. And, who knows, for some swimmers, separating the fingers and thumb may just make them FEEL more powerful. It’s worth trying, in any case, to see if separating the fingers does something positive for your stroke.
How to Do It:
You don’t need any equipment for this drill, but if you use a pull buoy or fins, you can focus a little more intently on your hands, and that’s a GOOD thing for this drill.
Start with one length of freestyle, spreading your fingers as wide as possible as you extend into the catch. Exaggerate the stretch, and imagine that you’re trying to palm a basketball with your open hand.
On the next length, relax your hand…but still keep a bit of separation between your fingers as you extend and catch. See if you can feel a "web effect" — where the water is HOLDING between your fingers rather than slipping through your fingers.
Now try a length of freestyle, spreading the thumb as far as possible from the fingers. Exaggerate the stretch, and see how this affects your hand and elbow position during the catch and pull.
On the next length, relax your hand, but still keep the thumb separate from the fingers.
Continue to alternate…
One length with an exaggerated spread of the fingers…
One length more relaxed but still with separation…
One length with an exaggerated thumb position…
One length more relaxed but still with the thumb away from the hand.
Keep experimenting until you can decide for yourself whether separating the fingers makes a positive difference in your stroke.