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How To Use Sculling To Improve Your Feel For The Water Part I

Sculling is all about learning how to change the direction of your arm actions while maintaining pressure on the water.

While it may seem like it, the arm patterns you use to pull are NOT linear. There is a lot of vertical and lateral movement. As opposed to pulling where the focus of the arm action is on moving forward to backward, sculling consists of arm actions that focus move side to side.

During an arm pull, the primary action is backwards accompanied by a small amount of side to side and up and down. In contrast, sculling consists primarily of side to side actions accompanied by a small amount backwards and vertical motions.

Because of water’s physical properties, both backward and lateral motions can be used to create propulsion. However, backward motions tend to be a lot more effective. As you’ll notice when you pull, it tends to be mostly backward.

Even so, because of the anatomy of the arms, there are definitely lateral movements in each and every stroke. Managing these side to side motions is a critical component of feel for the water. It’s during these lateral movements and transitions in direction that swimmers often ‘let go’ of the water.

This means extra effort for less speed.

As a result, improving your feel for the water must include not only the ability to move water backwards, but also the ability to subtly change the direction of the water you’re moving backward.

This is where sculling comes in as sculling is all about constantly changing the direction of the water you’re moving by managing pressure differences while switching the direction of the water.

How to Scull

Great sculling is achieved by maintaining pressure during lateral motions, and maintaining pressure as you change directions. Sounds simple enough. Once you get the hang of it, it IS simple enough.

To get to that point, I’m going to help you explore some of the ‘rules’ that can be quite useful in learning how to scull more effectively, ultimately helping you learn how to manage and control pressure on the water, regardless of how your arm is moving.

In this first article, we’re going to explore the single concept that best characterizes sculling-

Wrap the water.

More than anything else this is the key concept to understand and implement. When you’re changing direction during your sculling, you want to WRAP around the water. Changing the direction of the water you are already moving is the key skill that sculling is help you learn.

This happens every swimming stroke you take, in both subtle and not so subtle ways. The more effective you can be with wrapping the water, the more water you’ll hold with each and every stroke.

If the arms are moving out and it’s time to switch direction, rather than simply switching directions and moving the arms back in towards the center, it’s critical to wrap around the water as you switch directions.

When sculling out, the palms will be facing outward.

As you transition back in, the palms and forearm are going to rotate back in.

The opposite is true when you reverse directions to scull back out.

There is nuance to this action. HOW you rotate is as important as whether you rotate at all. As opposed to simply rotating your arm, you want to envision making this action a wrapping motion, where you wrap around the water, thereby helping to move it back to where it came from.

This wrapping action can be big and round, or it can be really tight and subtle. For starters, it’s much easier to maintain pressure with much larger, smoother changes of direction. Because the change in direction is much less abrupt, it’s a lot easier to control the water.

Once you can manage large, smooth changes in direction, it’s time to tighten up those transitions. It’s still the same basic concept as you’re wrapping around the water as you change direction. The difference is that this action is happening much more quickly and over much less space. You have to be deft and skilled to make it happen. When you’re working with a short change in direction, start off slowly and then work to increase the speed at which the change happens.

Think cotton candy. Just like wrapping cotton candy, you’re constantly encircling the water, rather than just swinging your hands back and forth. The transitions need to be circular so that you can keep the water moving in the same direction. How much cotton candy is going to get wrapped up if you’re simply waving the stick back and forth? Not much. You need to wrap it.

With this core concept in mind, there are further strategies that can assist your sculling efforts, developing the nuance required to better feel the water. I’ll lay out those strategies in the next article.

Faster. Better. Easier.


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