Improve Your Speed By Changing Your Freestyle Hand Shape

person swimming in the pool

Freestyle Hand Shape

The biggest element that makes a difference to how far/fast you travel for each stroke is how much water you can engage or “feel” with your hands. I regularly get asked how you should keep your freestyle hand shape, and if there is the best way to keep your hands.

Recently in the Netherlands, scientists have investigated which hand position is more effective in the water. They looked at spread fingers and raking the water or closed fingers using the hand as a flat paddle.

At issue is the question of how you should hold your fingers when swimming. Even though seemingly minor, it appears that finger position can make a big difference in how much water you control. Many swimmers have been coached to swim with closed fingers, or even with cupped hands.

Researchers measured force under five different conditions of finger spread. Measurement began with the closed position of 0° (all digits pressed together) and fingers spread progressively wider through 5° intervals to a maximum of 20° of spread.

They took measurements on various spread conditions in both the wind tunnel and through numeric modelling. Because air and water both behave as fluids, they chose a wind tunnel to model freestyle hand shape in the water.

Compared to a closed-paddle hand position, even the smallest spread-finger position of 5° enhanced the drag coefficient by 2% in the numerical simulation, and by 5% in the wind tunnel experiment.

Freestyle hand shape

Changing how you hold your hands under water can generate more propulsion

Basically, keeping your hands relaxed and slightly loose is the best way to improve your hold on the water. That said, if you’re busy thinking about other parts of your stroke, it’s probably best to keep your fingers together. You can practise this with sculling in different places: out in front at the entry point; at midpoint under your elbows but in front of your shoulders; or back by your thighs. Play around with your hands in different shapes, work out where you feel like you gain a little more resistance.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

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