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The Speed Is In Your Hands

Your hands hold the secret to speed in the water.

Once you’ve got your body position locked in, the only way to get faster is to get more out of your arms.

By changing the speed at which you move your hands during each pull, you can change how fast you swim.

There are two problems that triathletes face when they’re trying to get faster in the water.

1. They need to improve their body position.

2. They need to improve their pull.

I’ve talk about improving body position in depth, and you can check some of my playlists to get the greatest hits.

I’ve also talked a bit about the mechanics of the arm pull.

What needs to happen, how to positions the arms, etc…

There are a couple playlists you can check out about that as well.

Today, we’re going to talk about the forgotten aspect of the pull.

Today, we’re going to talk about speed.

You see, it’s not just about the mechanics of the pull.

HOW you execute the pull matters just as much as the actual technique.

If you want speed in the water, you need to learn to move the hands with speed.

Specifically, you need to learn to ACCELERATE the hands during each pull.

Accelerate The Hands, Accelerate The Water

I distinctly remember the first time this was pointed out to me when I was coaching at the University of Maryland.

It was at one of my first coaching jobs and one of my colleagues pointed it out to me in someone that was a fairly high-level swimmer.

I remember it was like a lightbulb going off, and it made sense why that particular individual was struggling.

She used the analogy of a rocket ship taking off.

There’s not much movement at first, but it builds up and then there’s lift off and rapid acceleration.

The arm pull works the same way.

You start slow, build up speed, and the hands should really be moving by the end of the stroke.

By learning to accelerate the hands, you can get a big boost in speed.

One of the key mistakes that many triathletes make is that they move through the pull at the same speed.

From start to finish, there’s ZERO change in speed.

That’s problematic because one of the most important ways to increase propulsion is to accelerate the hands throughout the pull.

It’s been shown in research, and you can see it happen in successful swimmers.

You rarely see faster swimmers moving their hands throughout the stroke at the same speed.

And you see very patient arm pulls in triathletes.

One of the problems is that triathletes are so focused on the execution of their pull, where the hand is, where the arm is, etc, that they fail to consider HOW they’re pulling.

Rather than just performing the basic positions and the basic motions of the pull, there needs to be some intent behind it.

There needs to be some SPEED.

Now, you still need to BUILD the hand speed.

It’s not just pulling as hard as you can.

The key is to start patiently and CHANGE the speed throughout the pull, finishing really strong.

When you can do that, you’re pull is going to be improve and you’re going to swim faster as a result.

Let’s take a look at how to do it.

How To Learn To Accelerate The Water

Actually accelerating your hands and accelerating the water isn’t that difficult to understand conceptually.

You simply move the hand faster throughout.

Pretty straightforward concept.

However, doing it is more difficult, and doing it well is even more difficult.

It’s hard to understand exactly what to do until you’ve done it.

So, you need strategies to help you understand how to make it happen!

I like to start with Power Pulls.

It’s simple, it’s easy, and you can FEEL the impact of accelerating the hands because you’re pulling with both hands at the same time.

What do you do?

Learn to accelerate the hands!

Focus on build speeding with each pull and increasing the speed as you go.

How will you know if you’re doing it well?

Measure your performance.

There are two strategies you can employ to take it to the next level.

Count Your Strokes

The only way you’re going to be able to take fewer strokes during this drill is by accelerating the hands and moving more water.

If you’re stroke count isn’t changing, you need to change how you’re executing the pull.

Experiment with different strategies, just get the number to change.

You may need to build up more aggressively, you may need to be a little more patient, or you maybe you just need to start accelerating the hands!

Keep track, and you’ll figure it out quickly.

Once you’re able to change your stroke count, you can deliberately manipulate it.

Sometimes you take more and sometimes you take less, making the choice ahead of time and doing it on purpose.

The goal is to learn how to control your swimming by controlling how fast you accelerate the hands.

By changing your stroke count on demand, you’re learning exactly how to do that.

You can take one less stroke per repetition.

You can take one more stroke per repetition.

You can alternate higher and lower stroke counts per repetition.

It all works!

Keep Track Of Your Speed

Again, the only way to go faster is to accelerate the hands aggressively.

If you’re too passive, you won’t be able to generate the necessary speed.

Build up the hand speed and you’ll be able to go faster.

The best part about these strategies is that they are objective.

They let you know exactly where you’re at, and what needs to change.

As with stroke count, it’s not just about going faster and faster.

You want to learn to change your speed by changing the acceleration of your hands.

Once you can, you’ve made MAJOR progress.

You can perform descending efforts, where each repetition gets faster.

You can perform building efforts, where you get faster within each repetition.

You can alternate speeds between faster or slower.

It all works!

Other Drills

Power Pulls are the place to start, but they’re not the destination.

You can build upon that with other drills that present variations on the same theme.

Once you get the hang of it with both arms, try it one at a time, alternating arms.

This is called Human Paddle.

You may find that one arm is more effective than the other.

Can you reduce the difference?

What’s the better arm doing that you can apply to the weaker arm?

Once you get the hang of doing it one arm at a time, add some rhythm to it.

Instead of pulling one arm a time, pull with a connection to the rotation and the arm recovery.

This is called Underwater Recovery.

It may be a little more difficult to keep building the hand speed at first, but you should be able to figure it out.

Lastly, try recovering one arm over the water with Over-Under Freestyle.

Can you still accelerate the hand?

Once you can execute this pretty well, you’re almost guaranteed to be able to accelerate the hands while you’re swimming, and reap the subsequent rewards.

And that’s ultimately where you want to be.

You have to actually learn to execute the skills while swimming.

Swim Freestyle

But you don’t have to go through all the drills before you start applying what you learn while swimming freestyle.

You actually want to start the process of applying what you learn during the drills to your swimming right away.

To help you do so, you’ll just perform some freestyle swimming right after you work on the power pulls, or whatever drill you’re focused on.

The goal is to execute the same skills with each stroke while you’re swimming as you do during the power pulls.

And you’ll use the same strategies of counting your strokes and keeping track of your speed.

That way you can get concrete feedback about how well you’re accelerating the hands.

If the numbers change, you’re doing something right!

This can be done with a buoy, without a buoy, or in both situations.

The buoy isolates the arms and focuses on the pull, whereas swimming without the buoy helps you learn to integrate everything together.

Both are awesome.

Here’s a set that puts it all together.

As always, you can change the distances and the speeds and the volumes.

Just keep the central concepts of measuring your performance, and changing how you pull based upon your performance.

You’ll find that you’re making progress with the numbers, and that means you’re improving your pull.

You’ll also want to ensure that you’re always coupling the drills and the freestyle swimming, so you can apply the insight you get while doing the drills into what you’re learning while you swim.

To keep it fresh and to continue to learn, change the drills, add a buoy or take it out, and mix up the combinations of speed and stroke count.

The options are limitless, and so is your ability to improve your pull.

Keep it simple...



When you're ready to accelerate your progress, check out Fix Your Freestyle FAST .

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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