Friday, June 08, 2012

Swim Coach: Shadow Play and Ninja Hand Entry

Hand Entry: It seems like such a fiddly little detail of your swimming stroke. Why worry about what your hand looks like going into the water? After all, it's the stroke part that counts, right? Some swimmers will even point out pros and Olympians who have seemingly terrible hand entry (like Janet Evans with her infamous windmill stroke) as rationale for not improving their own hand entry.

But the truth is, it matters where your hand ends up in the water, because that's where your stroke begins. Even if the hand entry of a top-knotch swimmer looks terrible, chances are that it is instantly corrected upon entry into the water. Indeed if you play a video of Janet Evans and hit pause just milliseconds after her hand entry, you'll see that her hand instantly assumes the correct position to begin her stroke.

Just in case you're not Olympics material and can't miraculously position your hand perfectly after a terrible hand entry, it makes sense to get it right the first time.

So what is right? You want your hand to be smooth and relaxed during the recovery (out of the water) part of the stroke, but once it begins to enter the water, it needs to engage and become first a gliding, then a stroking machine. You want your fingers spread slightly, but not too far. If you cup them too tightly together, you'll miss out on a bit of extra surface area, and you'll run the risk of your hands getting fatigued from too much muscle strain holding the fingers close. If you spread the fingers too much, water will slip through them. A light spread will create a web-like effect, thus increasing the area of your stroking surface.

Additionally, it's a good idea to enter your hand in a neutral position. Some swimmers enter thumb-down, or pinky-down, but this just means they have to fiddle around under the water to get into a good stroking position, or worse: they start stroking with their hand in the wrong position. If your elbow remains higher than the hand as the hand enters the water, it should glide in like a ninja, smooth and silent. If you drop the elbow at the end, or carry a flat-armed entry, you will hear a big splashing or popping sound, and then the first action your hand and arm are taking is to press water down, or sideways. Neither of these is good, you only want to press water in one direction: behind you.

I like to use a nice sunny day with my outdoor pool to get a good idea of what my hand is doing when it enters the water. I can see the shadow of my hand and arm on the bottom of the pool. I can tell if it is making a huge splash, or if its carrying lots of bubbles and turbulence into the water with it. I can also watch the way the ripples move away from my hand and arm - if they're moving in front of me, I'm pushing the water forwards instead of backwards, which is never a good thing. Using tools like mirrors, shadows, and video to see what our own bodies are doing in the water gives us good feedback about how to change for the better.

And to visualize exactly what it should look like, I watch this video at least once a week (yes, you heard me), and you should too!

1 comment:

Kerrie said...

I love this! I know my hand entry needs work. Thanks for the video!