Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Soft Hands

Soft Hands
By Terry Laughlin.
From Total Immersion Swimming www.totalimmersion.net
Last weekend, while waiting for my heat of the 1650-yard Free (equivalent of 1500 meters) at a Masters meet, I overheard a coach reviewing with a swimmer who had just completed his heat in the same race. One comment was that the swimmer had kept his fingers spread while stroking and this would compromise his grip on the water. This piqued my interest, because I was specifically planning to concentrate on “relaxed hands” – i.e. allowing my fingers to spread – as one of my two primary focal points for the first 500 yards.I’ve seen accomplished swimmers use many hand configurations, from an unbroken pinkie-to-thumb surface to irregular spacing. Recently (after 40 some years of swimming without giving it much thought) I’d decided to explore the significance of the fact that that the fingers on my right hand remain closed as I stroke, while my left hand is spread. I could feel no difference in “grip” between the two. And when I experimented with closing the fingers on my left hand, the only result was that my left forearm throbbed with fatigue within a few laps. So much for that experiment. Thus, I’ve instead experimented with the opposite – softening my formerly-rigid right hand. When I do so I feel just as much control of the water, but it also promotes a general sense of relaxation in my right arm. So I’m going to continue with this focus. Right now I can swim with soft hands at low speeds, but when my effort approaches the “red line” I can feel my right hand reflexively tense up. Last night at Masters, I did manage to complete a set of 20 x 25-yard repeats at fairly high speed (16 seconds) but with a low stroke count (13SPL). During this set my primary focus was on keeping my right hand relaxed and open. The most challenging thing was to relax my hand on the first stroke. When I did I was able to keep it relaxed the entire way. I was encouraged that the spread fingers also helped me feel as if my hand was a “bigger paddle.”There may be honest differences of opinion about whether one’s fingers should be open or spread, but here are some other aspects of how you use your hands that will make a difference in your swimming and that you’ll find worth thinking about:

Knifelike entry. When watching swimmers underwater, the arms of some are surrounded by bubbles as they stroke. Those who pull “quiet” water have a more propulsive stroke. The secret to “quiet” water is a “quiet” entry. If you smack the water loudly with your hand on entry, you’ll feel as if you’re pulling 7-Up, when you want to feel as if you’re holding molasses. Just listen to your entry; anything that makes it quieter is more effective. One way to make your entry cleaner on freestyle is to visualize sliding your hand and forearm though a mail slot as they enter the water.

Patience before pulling. In every stroke, I’ve noticed that the best swimmers are the least hurried when making their “catch” -- even at high speed. I.E. Fast Catch equals Slow Swim. Slow Catch equals Fast Swim. After your mail-slot entry, take the time to extend the hand fully (giving your arm more time to shed the bubbles it might have brought underwater) and whatever time it takes to feel the water return a bit of pressure to your relaxed hand and forearm before you stroke.

Fingers down on freestyle. After your silent entry, you should also focus on pointing your fingertips toward the bottom so your hand is below your elbow as you extend. This helps your balance and helps provide a better surface area for holding water. If you can establish this position before you begin stroking back, you shouldn’t have to think much about your hands again, until you make a quiet entry on the next stroke.

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