Freestyle - Hand Play

Jan 6, 2006
Freestyle - Hand Play

The use of our hands in swimming is something people may overlook. While everyone thinks of their hands as holding on to the water as far out front as possible, we tend to allow them to do whatever they want, and trust that they're leading us in the right direction.

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The hands can be your best friend, or worst enemy, when it comes to swimming (and I'm focusing just on freestyle for now). They can introduce quirks, and can make parts of your stroke non-productive or, worse, injury producing. For example, feeling the water on the palm of your hand is great when you're pulling, but if you feel water on your palm BEFORE the pull, it's a drag (literally). This drill, or series of drills, will make you aware of how a slight change in the pitch, or direction, of your hand can affect your entire stroke.

Why Do It:
To become more aware of how to control what you do, as well as to keep you thinking at all times in the water...that is...if you want to.

How To Do It:
This is a freestyle drill, so you'll begin by swimming freestyle. There are four positions to think about in this drill, and the pictures show these positions. You should do only one position per lap, or length, of swim. Don't switch positions from stroke to stroke. That would simply be TOO confusing, and won't give you a chance to really FEEL how the slight change affects your stroke. You can swim either 50s or 25s when doing this. Keep the distance short so you don't ingrain anything into your stroke that you don't want.

You should also HOLD each position for a bit. The idea is to almost PUSH your hand through the water, controlling it with the strength of your arm. Your hand will want to redirect, but try not to let it. This way you can become more aware of the connection each position creates.

The first position is to pitch the fingers OUT. This is a standard position for many swimmers, but exaggerating it begins to show you how the muscles connect down the arm, and into the side.

3. In position #2, the fingers pitch IN. This begins to show you an easy way to rotate your elbow UP to begin a very productive pull.

4. In position #3, the fingers pitch UP -- as if you're trying to stop traffic. Unfortunately, this is a common hand position for many swimmers. In our search for a connection between the water and our palms, we tend to ride on our hands, literally pushing them through the water. While this is something to avoid, exaggerating this position makes you aware of just how much drag it creates and what it does to your SPEED.

In position #4, the fingers pitch DOWN. If you hold this position and allow the water to push against the back of your hand, you'll really have to fight NOT to allow your hand to move into the catch position. You'll be more aware of just how easy it can be to get your arm into a good position to pull, by working WITH the water rather than pushing so hard against it.

6. Finally, swim a bit with your normal stroke, and see which of these positions you become aware of. Are you slicing a hole through the water with your hands, or are you introducing positions that are counter-productive or restrictive?

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Make sure you HOLD each position and take a little longer glide. The video shows only a couple of the hand positions -- the ones that are most obvious from above water. You'll feel the difference when you try these, but you may not see much of a difference in the video. Take your time, and this is something you can throw into any set, as long as you listen to your body, and become aware of everything that's going on.

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