Have you ever observed how effortlessly an Olympic swimmer moves through the water? It may seem strange how smooth and easy, yet unbelievably fast, they swim. One of the reasons they're so efficient is because they have a great feel for the water.
To improve your swimming speed and technique you must be able to sense and feel the changes in water pressure on your body, hands and feet. Some athletes are blessed with a natural feel for the water. However, feel is usually developed and improved over time.
The fastest and most effective way to develop water feel is to practice various sculling drills. Though they've been around forever, sculling drills are often unknown and unused by many. And while these drills can be confusing and time consuming, they are extremely beneficial in helping a swimmer learn to create lift and propulsion in the pool.
I recommend performing 300 to 500 yards of sculling drills in addition to each of your swim workouts. This will develop an advanced awareness of body balance and sensitivity of the hands and forearms when swimming.
Sculling Drill No. 1
- Floating vertically with your hands at waist level and palms facing the bottom of the pool, press your palms outward with the little finger toward the surface, then rotate your hand and press inward with the thumb up. Feel the water pressure in both directions and do a figure eight with your hands at approximately the same depth throughout. Feel your body slightly lift as you move your hands in and out.
- Lie on your back with your hands at your hips and palms facing the bottom of the pool. Scull with the same figure-eight pattern. Experiment with changing the pitch of your hands to deliver the best propulsion.
Sculling Drill No. 2: Progressive Scull
- Begin while floating face down with a pull buoy between your legs. With hands and arms extended over your head, press out with your little finger elevated and then press in with your thumb elevated. Gradually move your arms slowly downward and backward (with at least six or seven complete sweeps), continuing the sculling figure-eight motion so you're essentially feeling the arm in-sweep used in freestyle.
- After at least six to eight complete sweeps progressing to this position, bend your elbows as you continue backward, emphasizing the same motion used in finishing the freestyle or butterfly stroke. This sculling drill gives you the feel of all the various sweeps used in a well-executed stroke. Bring your arms back to the starting point underwater and repeat the sequence.
Sculling Drill No. 3
Float face down and propel yourself feet first. Your hands and arms are extended as you scull in front of your face. The wrists must be flexed upward with palms facing the wall you're moving away from. This technique will help develop maximum pressure on the hand.
At each practice, spend some time focusing on sculling and you'll begin to see significant improvements in your feel of the water. You'll develop an awareness of hand and arm position with each stroke which can be used as a base for other drills.
"No matter how hard you train, no matter how great your genius for cardiovascular work, you will not progress dramatically in this sport without good or great technique. Great technique is impossible without superior feeling and awareness with the water." - Ron Johnson