This is a guest post courtesy of Abbie Fish of RITTER Sports Performance. From qualifying for the Olympic Trials to working at USA Swimming’s headquarters, Abbie has been on all sides of swimming. Abbie is a stroke mechanics guru and believes anyone with the heart to train can benefit from technical advice!
Last week we touched on why it’s important to pay attention to your pinky finger during the Freestyle Pull. If you haven’t had a chance to read Part I of this series, you can access it here. I would recommend reading Part I before Part II, as you will have a better understanding of this concept.
This week, I’d like to dive deeper into this subject and specifically focus on why properly engaging your pinky and ring fingers during the Freestyle Pull–actually makes your Freestyle Pull stronger.
Let’s do a test. Stand up and put both of your hands at your side (you really only need to do this test with one hand—so if you’re holding a phone or tablet, put your hand without any device relaxed at your side). Perform a variation of the “Ping Pong drill” (as described in Part I of this series)—make a fist with your thumb, pointer, and middle finger and do a light squeeze.
Where do you feel any sensation and/or muscle contraction?
Now, try making a fist with your ring and pinky fingers (while relaxing the other three fingers)—where do you feel any sensation and/or muscle contraction?
If you performed this “test” correctly, you should have felt the first variation (with three fingers) contracting muscles on the front side of your body–specifically your bicep and chest muscles. In second variation (with two fingers), you should have felt a contraction of muscles more so on the back side of your body–specifically your triceps and lat muscles.
What just happened?
Without going into some hardcore anatomical terms, you just felt the difference between engaging a muscular chain that connects through the front of your body versus the back side of your body. When you performed the second variation, you engaged a system called the Posterior Oblique Subsystem (POS). The POS engages two main muscles in your body: the respective Latissimus Dorsi (of the side you flexed) and opposing Gluteus Maximus (the muscles that make up your bum).
What does the POS have to do with the Freestyle Pull?
The POS engages the corresponding lat and tricep muscles of the side you chose to contract. The contracted tricep is connected (fascially) to your pinky via the Ulnar Perosteum (and the Ulnar nerve). As shown in the second variation test, recruitment of your lat and tricep muscles is engaged when the pinky and ring finger are activated. Lightbulb, yet?
In conclusion, if you chose to not properly engage your pinky and ring finger during your Freestyle Pull: maybe you enter with your thumb, lead the pull with your elbow, or pull using your first three fingers—you are actually making your pull weaker. In order to fully recruit all the muscles in the POS system, the pinky and ring finger need to be flexed and slightly cupped backwards during the Freestyle Pull.
Stay tuned for Part III on how the pinky affects a swimmer’s kick strength and rhythm.
Want more great technique advice? At RITTER Sports Performance, Abbie offers remote stroke technique coaching. Learn more here at RITTERSP.com. Abbie coaches a swim club and has worked with swimmers of all abilities from ages 5 to 90.