More than any other part of our body, the hands are critical for effective swimming, particularly when it comes to creating propulsion.
I'm sure you've seen swimmers with 'magic hands' that just seem to glide through the water.
I want to help you learn those skills.
One of the biggest challenges in establishing a better feel for the water is that you are constantly bombarded with the SAME sensations and the same information.
You’re not experiencing anything novel, yet you’re hoping they’ll begin to feel differently.
It’s not going to work.
If you expect to feel something different, you need to experience something different.
Because the hands provide so much sensory information, and because they’re so critical to effective swimming, this should be our first stop.
We need to change how the hands are being used to create the right environment for learning.
Let’s take a look at those strategies.
Decrease Surface Area
Although the effective use of the hands is the secret weapon of any effective swimmer, you are going to something counterintuitive.
You’re going to take them away from yourself. Most swimmers will use various paddles to make their hands larger or more effective.
You’re going to do the opposite.
You’re going to use various strategies to make your hands smaller.
Not only does this change the sensory input the hands receive (very good!), it you have to use your forearm as a propulsive surface.
Because the hand is gone, you’re FORCED to use the forearm. It’s not necessarily that the forearm is better than the hand, it’s that the forearm can be used in addition to the hand.
The problem is that this type of action FEELS much different than you’d expect, and attempts to verbally describe the action don’t do it justice.
There’s more to it than just learning how to use the forearm more effectively.
By reducing the action of the hand, the sensory information is greatly decreased. The hand goes ‘silent’.
The magic happens when you open your hand back up and you’re FLOODED with new information.
I guarantee you feel your hands in a way that you’ve never felt before. The learning happens while the hands are closed AND when they’re opened again.
It’s much more effective to be forced to make a change as opposed to ‘think’ your way or be instructed to a change.
Remember, it’s not going to feel like you expect, so let an external tool move you into the right positions.
Here are some great ways to reduce the surface area of the hand. No one strategy is necessarily better than another.
They’re all good.
While there may be a position you really like, be sure to use multiple ones as they all provide different and novel stimuli.
Closed fist. Just like it sounds. Close your fist and keep it closed. Start swimming! While you don’t need to clench your fist tightly with a lot of tension, you don’t want to hold it loosely as that defeats the purpose. A loose fist will have more surface area and there will be more exposure to sensory information.
Horns. Similar to a closed fist, except you extend your pointer finger and your pinky finger. The configuration looks like a round head (your fist) with horns (your extended fingers).
OK. Make an OK sign. Create a circle with your pointer finger and thumb while extending your other three fingers. This one will be interesting. Pay attention to how water flows through the circle, or not!
Single finger. Make a fist and then extend a single finger. Try using different fingers. It will feel different for each finger you choose to extend.
Double finger. Just like the single finger technique, but extend two consecutive fingers at the same time.
Tennis ball. If you’re having trouble with the closed fist, and it feels awkward holding it closed, trying swimming while gripping a tennis ball. It will have similar effects. Any similar sized ball will work. Tennis balls tend to work well because they are widely available, cheap, and they are light. keeping it cl
Golf ball. This is similar to the tennis ball, but much smaller. You want to hold the golf ball in a circle with the pointer finger and thumb, just like the OK sign. It will be similar to that position with some subtle differences. It draws a lot of attention toward what you’re doing with your other three fingers.
When to Use Decreased Surface Area
Now that you know how to decrease the surface area of your hands, it’s worth exploring when you’d want to do so.
While the short answer is any time you’d like, these configurations tend to work really well during any aerobic level skill work, warm-ups, warm-downs, and during portions of aerobic endurance training.
It can add a little novelty to any type of training you’re doing.
This strategy tends to work better during slightly slower training because it can be a lot of pressure on the fingers while going fast.
The exception to this is closed fist, tennis balls, or golf balls.
Once you have a baseline comfort level with these tasks, higher velocity swims such as race pace work and sprints can be performed for some of your repetitions.
Performing any set entirely with various reductions of surface area is warranted.
Spending a lot of time with these tools can be very valuable, particularly for those that are just beginning their journey of improving their feel for the water.
Tune in next time where we discuss the merits of INCREASED surface area.
Faster. Easier. Better.