04 PROPULSION AND PULL
What you do with your hands under the water is what generates your speed. Everything else you’re doing is about setting up this stable platform so that you can push the water backward as effectively as possible.
When your hand is under the water the key is to feel resistance, first against your palm and then on your forearm. If you’re at the end of a lane, move your hands around in the water in different directions, feel how you push it in different ways when your hand is tilted at various angles. The key here is awareness.
Drills like sculling build awareness of your hands in space at different points; entry point (position 1) scull is about controlling the water at the front of the stroke, reached forward and a few inches below the surface. Midpoint (position 2) scull is about getting your forearms and hands pressing the water under your nose, preparing for the big power phase of the stroke. Exit-point sculling is getting used to your hands pushing the water right back at your thighs where you can finish your stroke. In all cases, the real focus is on making sure that your hands face backwards as that’s the direction you want to push the water so that you can go forward.
When you aim to engage with the water, or feel the ‘catch’, you need to think about bending your elbow and reaching your hand down toward the bottom of the water. A common cue is to think about reaching over a barrel. What this really means is that once you’ve reached forward, you want to roll your arm over and down into the water so that your palm and your forearm are facing backwards. This is a key part of the stroke, as without this it makes it quite difficult to use your lats, the big back muscles. Think about pressing the water backwards rather than trying to pull it back (and, as a result, your elbows tuck into your sides).
You may choose to use paddles to help improve your pull. These can be particularly useful, but don’t go for something too much bigger than your hands, and use them as a technical tool rather than to just beast your way through a set or session. Just use the finger straps, and this will force you to press your hands on the water securely rather than grabbing and ripping at it. If you’re not holding the water, the paddles will pop off your hands.