View Full Version : Slipping Water during the arm pull ?

Gareth Eckley
October 10th, 2003, 07:16 AM
I have recently become aware that i was slipping water during the underwater pull. This was happening because I have unusual flexibility in my hand.

I can lay my hand flat on a surface and raise my fingers up to 45 degrees while keeping my palm flat. They will bend back to 90 degrees from the palm with some pressure.

I had read "Colwin's" info on hand position in "breakthrough swimming". This discusses whether the hand should be cupped or flat for good propulsion during swimming. I was also watching a sequence in "New ideas in free & back" by "Marty Hull" where he has the swimmers deliberately " SLIP " water during the pull. They did this by allowing the hand to bend back from the arm.

When i was next in the water I checked my hand position and during the pull my fingers bent back quite far, even though my palm was still at 90 degrees to the water. This allowed the pressure against the water to " flow away".

New fluid dynamics research has shown that the water pressure flows from the fingers up the hand and to the forearm. If the fingers are not slightly cupped then this flow cannot happen as effectively and pressure against the water is lost.

I realised that I was swimming with only my palm (and forearm) providing propulsion. I corrected by making a real effort to slightly cup my fingers and instantly I held more strongly onto the water. My stroke count dropped by 1 - 2 strokes per 25m and my time was 5% less.

I have a meet coming up and I will see then whether my race times will drop after making these changes. Has anyone else noticed this effect while they are swimming ?

October 10th, 2003, 12:17 PM
Originally posted by Gareth Eckley
I can lay my hand flat on a surface and raise my fingers up to 45 degrees while keeping my palm flat. They will bend back to 90 degrees from the palm with some pressure.

GAHGH! (cringing at the thought of bending fingers) :eek:

Just kidding. :) (I have kind of the opposite situation. I can "catch" a lot more water than my puny arms can handle, so I'm usually deliberately "slipping" to avoid burning out the muscles.) You mentioned Colwin's book. Have you tried any of the hand-sensitizing (flow) drills he mentioned? I'm surprised that your fingers bent that much without you noticing it before now.

October 12th, 2003, 03:15 PM
if you get a good "catch "of the water,i think this is more important,as for muscles coping with this i think fewer strokes will help rather than hinder the muscles,try not slipping the catch but do the stroke slower and build up to your original arm speeds by then you will be going faster and doing fewer strokes....i think!!!

October 13th, 2003, 02:34 AM
I have the same "phenomenon" with my fingers... granted they don't flex as much as 45 degrees, but I'd say 35 degrees, and about 80 degrees with some pressure...

I tried cupping my hand, and I do feel increase in pressure...however this didn't really improve my strokes, as I am not reducing stroke per length...as to speed I cannot tell significant difference....

speaking of using your forearm, I am really trying to get the feeling of forearm pushing against water without much success... It feels like most of the pressure is on my palm/fingers... Just wondering, does your palm lead your forearm, lag your forearm, or stay pretty much in the same axis of your forearm?


Gareth Eckley
October 13th, 2003, 05:35 AM

Just wondering, does your palm lead your forearm, lag your forearm, or stay pretty much in the same axis of your forearm?

Try to put your arm around a "balance ball" in the swimming position at the start of the pull. There will be a curve running from your shoulder to elbow to wrist to hand and finger-tips. Your arm should feel like a "blade" or "boomerang" where you trap a "ball of water" within the distance from your armpit to your finger-tips. Do this with the elbow rotated up and away from the body to get the classic "high elbow".

For this to work well your hand should be vertical with your fingers slightly cupped so that your finger-tips are slightly "ahead" of your palm. This position will keep a firm pressure against the water throughout the stroke.

For myself I have to work hard to keep the wrist and fingers in this position. As well as the "freakish" range of motion of my fingers, my wrist will also bend easily back to 90 ' from my arm. I actually have twice the normal range of movement in these areas.

Unfortunately, the one area where abnormal ROM would help me, Plantar-flexion in my ankles is not there. I am at 72' for my left foot and 65' for my right foot. So my kick is adequate at best.

Why have I not noticed this before ?

Well no coach has ever spotted it, I have not been videotaped from underwater and I have never read about the possibility of this happening.

It was just chance and a "hunch" I had that something was not quite right. I will often get in the water to demonstrate to the swimmers I coach. I try hard to show correct form so I am looking out for any "faults" that I may have.

I had also worked on having 'a relaxed hand with slightly open fingers', but this tip is no good for me. So good old fashioned 'cupped hand' works better in my case.

I have worked on some of the "flow shaping" drills. I find that my swimmers can only feel this if they wear fins and kick fast. I do like the concept of teaching the "feel of the water" and i try to feel the water pressure to figure out what is going on.

So much to learn !

October 13th, 2003, 08:52 AM
To learn to feel the pressure of the water on your forearms you may need to remove the hands and palms from the equation. Try making your hands into a fist or using fist gloves (the hands don't get tired from holding them in a fist, less chance of "cheating" , and they remove all feeling of the water from your hands). With your hands out of the equation and all their nerve endings the brain may now be able to focus on the nerve endings in the arms.

October 13th, 2003, 04:30 PM
thanks for the advice! (it's always interesting how a "asking" post can turn into an "answering" post, isn't it.. :P) Yes, I will definitely try the "boomerang" concept the next time I get into the pool...

Yeah, someone 2 days ago just told me to try the fingers loose and open method... Didn't seem to work for me either! I guess swimming really depends on each and every person's physical characteristics!

My wrist flexes to 90 degrees as well! Before your post, I thought it's perfectly normal for ppl's wrist to bend like that... In terms of plantar flexion (pardon me if spelling is tototally wrong), do you measure from the tip of your toe, or do you measure the back of your feet (the part that parts the water when kicking down)?

October 15th, 2003, 03:05 PM

Once you have a good hold on the water with hand and forearm and a high elbow position, do you teach your swimmers to pull straight back from that position to the hip?

The reason I ask is I've never had much success following directions in various swimming books for a "S" pull, which seems to place the pulling arm too far across the centerline of the body.

October 16th, 2003, 10:12 PM
Doc Counsilman's writings examined the hand position for effectiveness in the water with the following conclusions: the worst position is with the super extension of the wrist (a dorsi-flection of the hand?), Less bad, but not good, is the cupping of the hand, while the best position is to have the fingers extended completerly, thus making the hand as big a "paddle" as possible. Doc also said his studies also showed that it wasn't necessarily better when the fingers were tightly closed.

What follows is from my own interpretation of Doc's teaching and is begun with the dry land observation of what you want to accomplish as the hand goes from one extreme to the other. I suggest that you stand with one arm extended at shoulder height and study it to affirm that it is absolutely as straight as it can be from shoulder to finger tips. Correct any deviations.

Now stand and hold the arm extended with the hand directly over your head with the thumb pointed kinda forward, checking to see that there is no bend in the elbow. This is the glide position which you keep until it is time to stroke that arm which you do by simply bending your elbow. No shoulder, no wrist, nothing else at this point. In this dry land exercise remember that the hand is quicker than the eye, so bend the elbow abruptly stopping with the thumb in front of the opposite eye.
Do this a few times to see the simplicity of the movement. But take the time to notice that when your thumb is in front of that eye the angle of bend in the elbow is + or - 90 degrees.

In swimming you do the same thing and at this point the shoulder enters the process by continuing the stroke to the point where the hand is fully extended. In practice I try to touch the outside of my knee on each stroke, at which point think of pulling your hand from deep in your pocket. The pocket thought gives you the elbow bend which is necessary for the high elbow recovery which is ballistic with the thumb down entry into the water in front of the head.

The timing of the arms takes into account that the recovering hand goes faster through the air than the stroking hand goes through the water, so they don't act as though they were like bicycle spoke and pedal arms, thus the gliding position is held until it is time to stroke.

I've tried to keep it as simply stated as possible, but there are a few important principles to mention. Such as, the stroking arm is always under the body, the thumb first entry assures that one escapes the sin of the dropped elbow; the entry in front of the head assures you that you will not hit the lane line with your hand; no thought need be given to making anything like an "s" curve, seeking "still water", or any of the other elusive stuff such as" feel of the water", "catch", etc.

This not to say that this is every thing one needs to do to swim well. I've not mentioned breathing, kicking, body position. etc.
nor any of the specialty strokes that make up the individual medly.
But I 'll conclude with Doc Counsilman's "Always Accent Acceleration!!!"

Gareth Eckley
October 17th, 2003, 07:30 AM
In swimming you do the same thing and at this point the shoulder enters the process by continuing the stroke to the point where the hand is fully extended. In practice I try to touch the outside of my knee on each stroke,

In "Swimming fastest" 'Maglischo cautions against fully extending the arm at the end of the stroke. The reason is that there is upward movement of the fore-arm against the water as the hand moves past the hip. Even if the hand is kept vertical by flexing at the wrist, the drag created by the fore-arm moving up is greater than the extra propulsion generated by the hand pushing thru to close to the knee.

He suggests stopping the push backward at the hip, basically when the forearm and hand are still vertical. This also makes the recovery faster and can help to keep a higher stroke rate.

He is very concerned in the arm action on all 4 strokes to avoid exerting force against the water when the forearm is not vertical.

The thumb down entry if too pronounced can cause shoulder impingement. I am now teaching a hand entry that is almost flat, thumb slightly down to save stress on the shoulders.

I was demonstrating the arm action in exactly the way you described in your post.

October 17th, 2003, 05:47 PM
Doug, You have posted the clearest description of the free-style arm pull that I have read and I have read alot of swim books and magazines. I hope you will submit the description to a swim magazine for inclusion in their instruction section. By the way, using a mental image of the description I improved immediately. My stroke length decreased by 3. Thanks!!

October 18th, 2003, 04:55 PM
thanx gil,

You've made me realize that not everyone has gotten the full message of the crawl stroke, and that I should mention a few more negatives to complete the thoughts.

It's been over a decade since I was swimming in a lane next to a visiting swimmer who had neither hands nor feet. He told me that he had been a "thalidamide baby" and was in training for a special olympics to be held later that summer. He seemed to be perfectly normal except that his arms and legs terminatedd at the wrists and ankles. Yet he moved through the water perfectly naturally. I don't remember his speed except that it was not slow. Observing him even casually brought home to me the fact that the were a whole lot of things I had to learn about the mechanics of swimming.

The negatives? Not 90 degrees. Neither water temperature (just kidding) nor thumb entry, nor hand position against the water. Hand position against the water 0 degrees? It might be worth a try. It might not be too far wrong for you. It will certainly accent accelleration in that aspect of your stroke. I don't know what the ange should be, but somewhere there is a secret angle that will be best for you. If I remember right, 45 is
likely to be mentioned in most books, but for you it could be less.
As for thumb entry, 90 degrees is probably too drastic for most swimmers and not helpful since it could cause imingement at the shoulder (I guess), and would lead to too deep a penetration below the surface for best stroke movement. My thoughts about how deep the stroke should go include my worrying about my thumbnails being too long and might scratch my chest as they pass by.

Touching the knee? Who could ? Arms aren't that long, but full length extension without stretching or hyper extending might contribute to the longer, fewer stroke count. The pace clock is able to confirm this and most anything else. Touching knees is what I try to do in practice, knowing that Doc said that studies show that the hand too close to the body creates a drag. In competition I don't want to have that part of my attention.