Fix your fingers: Hand entry for freestyle

Your fingers need to lead the way when it comes to proper freestyle hand entry, something many triathletes are missing as they try to improve their swim stroke.

| March 15, 2017 | TRAINING

Ian Mackinnon swims for the University of Toronto at a dual meet in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Ian Mackinnon swims for the University of Toronto at a dual meet in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Photo >Kev

If you're old enough to have been taught to swim in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, you are likely to have the same issues I struggle with when it comes to freestyle: your hand enters the water thumb first. After your hand enters you probably do what they taught us back then - push down on the water to generate some "lift," then cock your wrist and start pulling back. The goal was to have as long a stroke as possible, which that long reach at the front of the stroke helped us achieve.

Problem is that's not as fast. These days our kids (that's my son in the photos) are taught that their hands should enter fingers first when they are doing freestyle. There's next to no "reach" out at the front end of the stroke other than what is generated from the shoulder roll. The "lift" we all were told we need to create by pushing down on the water? That comes from a strong pull that is possible thanks to that shoulder roll and by engaging your back muscles.

The following photos demonstrate how your hands should be entering the water when swimming freestyle. For all this to work, it's critical that your shoulders roll to ensure you're allowing the lat muscles (the largest muscle group in your back) to really engage and help pull you through the water.

A few other tips to help perfect your freestyle stroke:

  • You want to have your hands enter the water about shoulder width apart - if your entry is across your body you'll generate a body weave as you move across the water.
  • Your hand should always be facing the wall behind you as you pull - starting from that fingers-down position at entry.
  • Don't think of reaching forward - any forward movement of the hands should be generated from your shoulder roll.
  • A high elbow recovery (the part of the stroke where your hands move from behind you to out in front) will make it easier to have a proper finger-first entry.
  • One of the best drills to do to help with your hand entry is "finger drag" where you finish the stroke and drag your fingers across the top of the water until you enter. This works on both the high elbow recovery and the finger entry.

Of course your hand entry is just one aspect of your stroke, but if you can work on this it will make other parts of the stroke easier to correct and perfect, too.

 

The hand should enter the water fingers first, at about shoulder width. Notice that as the left hand enters the water the right hand is under the body.

The hand should enter the water fingers first, at about shoulder width. Notice that as the left hand enters the water the right hand is under the body.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

As your hand enters you roll your shoulders.

As your hand enters you roll your shoulders.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon