Learn to Ignore Your Hands When You Swim!

Here’s something really cool and really easy to try…

Have a friend hold their hand out, palm up, at about the height of your shoulder.  Now, imagine you are swimming “up” toward the ceiling/sky.  Reach up with one arm and start to take a stroke. As you “pull” down toward your feet, have your friend catch your hand with theirs, palm to palm, and resist your pulling motion.  While you are doing this, think about which muscles are engaging to press your hand and arm through the stroke. You will most likely feel your forearm, biceps, triceps, shoulder, and perhaps a bit of your neck and upper back.  Once you have a decent sense of which muscles were engaging, stop, bring your hand back up over your head, and start your pull again.  This time, have your friend catch you so their palm makes contact with your wrist and the very heel of your hand.  It’s not a particularly big change in location or distance, but notice which muscles engage this time.  Along with substantially more of your shoulder muscles, you should also feel your lats (the muscles along the side of your torso) engage.  And along with the added muscle engagement, you should notice a good bit more leverage and power, enabling you to press your friend’s hand toward the floor with much greater ease!  

When a swimmer focuses on their hand for their pull, they use much smaller muscles, which will have less overall power and will fatigue more quickly.  Biomechanically, the swimmer will be far more likely to drop their elbow as well, effectively reducing the total pulling area of the arm to just the hand, sacrificing a huge amount of potential value from the stroke.  Simply by changing the focus of your catch to the wrist and lower forearm, the elbow remains much higher, larger muscle groups are recruited, leverage improves significantly, and for reasons I’ll skip over here, drag is reduced substantially!
Better technique, better power, better endurance, better hydrodynamics, and most importantly, greater overall speed, performance, and results. Not too shabby for just moving your focus a few inches, huh?  :-D