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Swim Faster With Smarter Hands

You can dramatically improve swimming speed by improving your feel for the water, and you can do it quickly.

Most triathletes don’t have a lot of experience in the water, which means they don’t naturally interact with the water very well.

By improving how your hands interact with the water, you can make big improvements in your swimming.

It’s simple and anyone can do it.

Improving the mechanics of the pull is important.

I’ve certainly addressed it in the past.

But there is another way you can improve your speed by improving your pull.

You can improve your feel for the water.

I’m not sure when I first heard about improving your feel for the water, but I remember the first time I felt it.

I had a coach who made me swim with my hands closed.

Of course, I thought it was stupid, and swimming with my hands closed felt terrible.

Until I opened them up and it felt AMAZING, like I was holding TONS of water.

Almost immediately, I was swimming faster and easier.

It’s a simple idea.

If you change the position of your hands while you swim, you can change how you interact with the water.

If you can change how you interact with the water in a positive way, you can change your performance!

You’d think I would have done it all the time.

Well, like most good ideas, I promptly forgot about it.

It wasn’t until later in my career that I really started to use these ideas systematically to help people improve their swimming.

After I lot of trial and a lot of error, I learned to REALLY get the most out of changing hand positions you have to use them strategically.

It goes way beyond just swimming a couple laps with your hand closed.

You have to use different positions, you have to improve your performance while using these positions, and you need to know how to vary those positions.

That’s what I am going to share with you today.

To get us started, let’s get into some of the best positions.

I’ll show you what they are and why they work.

While it starts closed fist, there’s plenty more that you can implement right away.

Here is your simple solution.

Close Your Hands

The simplest way to change the size of your hands is to just close them.

It works for two primary reasons.

Swimming with a closed fist prevents you from using your hands to move water.

As a result, you have to learn to use your forearm to create propulsion.

Ever hear of establishing an early vertical forearm?

That’s what swimming with a closed fist can help you do.

The second reason is that closing your hands prevents your hands from FEELING the water.

For the first time, the go silent.

While this may seem like a bad thing, it actually re-sensitizes the hands.

The magic happens when you open them back up.

All of a sudden, you can feel EVERYTHING.

It can feel like your hands are giant dinner plates, and that’s going to have a major impact on your pull.

Another great variation of this strategy is to hold tennis balls in your hands.

If you need something tangible to hold on to so that you actually close your hands, this works really well.

Devil Horns

This is just like swimming with a closed fist, but more extreme.

Even though you have two fingers that are exposed instead of zero, your hand is even less effective.

My suspicion is that this position breaks up the flow of the water, making it harder to feel.


That means more forearm interaction and further desensitization of the hands.

When you open the hands back up, they feel even bigger!

That means more effective pulling and more speed.

Hold Your Paddles Upside Down

There are ways to make your hands smarted without making them smaller.

In fact, paddles can be very effective…if you use them the right way.

Simply wearing paddles tends to make swimming easier, and it doesn’t promote learning.

However, if you hold your paddles upside down, it can make a big difference.

Just grab the paddle by the bottom and hold it so it’s flat against the underside of your forearm.

What does it do?

It forces you to lock your wrist, ensuring that the hand and the forearm move together.

And because the hand is going to move backwards and at some point, so too is the forearm.

Remember the early vertical forearm?

That’s exactly what this is.

By holding the paddle upside down, it forces you to execute this skill correctly.

That means your hands are going to be interacting with the water more effectively, which means more speed.

Pinch Your Paddles

While holding your paddles upside down is a great for getting in the right position, pinching your paddles takes it to the next level.

Just grab a hold of the paddle on the side and swim like that.

It’s the same concept as holding them upside down except the wrist isn’t locked.

It’s free to move.

However, if you don’t lock it, it’s going to be really difficult to go anywhere with a floppy wrist.

You need to create a stable wrist so that you can hold the paddle stable.

Of course, this also forces you to move the forearm and the hand together, so you’re getting a BIG surface area with the pull.

Even better, you’re developing the strength to hold the correct wrist position.

That all means smarter, more effective hands with one simple change in how you use your paddles.

Getting Strategic

While doing a couple of laps with these different positions can be helpful, it’s nothing compared to using these hand positions strategically.

That’s where the magic happens.

So, how do you actually implement these ideas strategically?

I’m glad you asked.

Here’s the simple solution

Let’s get into it.


When you’re using any of the different hand positions, it’s important to do more than just swim.

You want to measure your performance.

You want to measure your speed and your stroke count, and you want to improve.

There are different ways to implement both.

When it comes to speed, you can try to descend, or make each repetition faster.

You can try to build, go faster within each repetition.

Or you can alternate speeds between faster and slower.

When it comes to stroke count, you can try to take away strokes, you can try to add strokes, and you can alternate between lower and higher stroke counts.

All of this can be done on lap-to-lap basis or from repetition to repetition.

It works because it gives you concrete feedback, and because your hands are in certain positions, the only way to create change is by executing better pulls.

The specific goals and the concrete feedback accelerate learning, and in this case, you’ll learn how to be more effective with your hands!


I’ve given you 4 great ways to modify your hands.

How should you implement 2, 3, or all of the different versions?

The simplest strategy is to vary your hand position

The strategy can be used with drills, with freestyle swimming, or with both at the same time.

You’ll simply vary your hand position by repetition, or by round of the set.

Because you’re constantly switching your hand position, you need to find ways to accomplish the goals of the set with similar, yet different situations.

This variability is a potent stimulus for learning.

Plus, it’s fun!

You don’t need to be strategic with HOW you switch it, just keep changing what you’re doing.

Check out this set to see it in action.

You can use whatever hand positions you’d like, and you can use any distances or performance goals.

The options are endless.


For this strategy, rather than varying what your hands are doing repetition to repetition, you’re going to vary them at the same time.

How do you do that?

One hand has one position and one hand as another.

Here’s one version of what it looks like.

It’s a simple version where you just closed one hand.

It works because it allows you to feel differences in the stroke at the SAME TIME.

Your goal is to pick up the differences in how your hands are interacting with the water.

It helps you FEEL.

Once you can feel, you can do something about.

For instance, using the single closed fist example above, you can try make the closed fist feel as good as the open hand.

The closer you get, the more you’ll improve how well the hand is interacting with the water.

The possibilities for different combinations are endless, and they’re ALL good.

Experiment and find out what helps you the most.

As with any set, add some performance measure to accelerate your learning even more.

If you want to improve your speed, you need to improve your pull.

Beyond working on specific mechanics of the stroke, improving how you interact with the water is a simple and effective strategy for doing so.

Keep it simple...



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Take your swimming to the next level with world class insight into exactly what you need to do to improve your freestyle, and everything you need to make it happen.

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