Sculling: The Forgotten Drill

Sculling is arguably one of the most underused swimming drills to increase good feel of the water and improve the initial catch and thrust of all strokes. There are many positions for good sculling. I have listed here a few keys points to implement for more effective sculling:

Hand Position

The hands are the key to sculling. A strong stroke starts with a strong catch in the water. To have a strong catch, or feel for the water, the hands need to be strong against the water. While you scull, take notice of how your hand is angled as well as the pitch of your hand (the downward angle). Slide only your hand back and forth in eight- to 10-inch sweeps while also tilting your hand to the appropriate angle.

Think of your hand as a canoe paddle. If you want to go sideways, you would pitch the paddle in such a way that would move you the best way possible. You will NOT go fast doing these drills correctly. This is sculling, NOT pulling! Keep your kick minimal and concentrate on propulsion just from the scull. Your hands and forearms will begin to feel the focus.

Body Position

Body position is very important. You want to always be mindful of both your body and head position in the water. Whether you are sculling with hands in the entry position, mid-body catch, or finish thrust, remember that you are simulating your stroke exactly as you would race--only in a broken way. You want to move through the water as smoothly and as efficiently as possible. Your body position is a key to making the sculling drill more effective.


If at all possible, utilize a snorkel for breathing during sculling to maximize the drill without affecting your body position. If you don't have a snorkel, just lift your head either in a simulated race breath or out front and quickly put it back down. Make sure your head and body return to correct position, even with the surface again.

Front Catch Stroke

There are many sculling positions but the most important one for a better stroke technique is the front catch. Ideally, you want to make the catch as soon as possible when you begin your stroke. By sculling right at the entry point you are able to develop a strong feel for the water.

This can be accomplished on your stomach with a good neutral head position, or you may choose to scull on your side for the long axis strokes (free/back), to simulate the position of the stoke itself. The most important aspect of this sculling is to maintain the elbow above the hand, and position the finger tips so they are tilted more towards the bottom of the pool.

The Don'ts of Sculling

  • Don't scull near the surface. The surface of the pool is not where your stroke is most efficient in moving forward. Correct position feels a little awkward. It is like you are sculling over a big oil barrel, reaching around in an arch with your shoulder blades lifted up, elbows high and finger tips to the bottom of the pool.
  • Don't go for Speed. I mentioned before, with drills, you do not want to rush them. The point of the drill is to increase your hand strength and the feel and catch of the water.
  • Don't let your legs override the purpose of the drill. Don't use your kick for propulsion during sculling. Also don't allow your legs to drag down behind you. If body position is an issue, you can put a pull buoy on and let your legs float behind you staying even with the surface of the water.

I guarantee that this sculling drill will allow all of you to have a better front catch and feel for the water which will, without a doubt, improve your ability to move through the water faster.

Find and register for a swimming or triathlon event.

This tip was provided by Adam D. Schmitt of LSU Swimming and Diving. Since becoming head coach in June 2004, Schmitt has seen the team steadily improve while earning numerous All-America honors. On the international level, Schmitt was a member of several U.S. National Teams and participated in the 1986 Goodwill Games, the 1987 World University Games and the 1991 Pan-American Games. He was the 1989 U.S. Open Champion in the 50-meter free, and he was a finalist in that same event at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Discuss This Article