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!
A lot of times swimmers have issues with their hand entry at the beginning of their pull. The ideal entry point is with the hand faced palm down and leading with the middle finger. The middle finger should be the first finger to enter into the water.
In order to achieve this middle finger entry, the elbow must be higher than the wrist and the wrist higher than the fingers. If either the wrist or elbow is lowering the fingers, the middle finger will not be the first to enter.
When I first started coaching at Athens Bulldogs Swim Club, we had our swimmers do the “Ping Pong Drill”. Basically, they were to swim with their pointer and middle finger bent and touching the tip of their thumb–creating a circular space. The circular space is what gives this drill its’ name because it’s where a ping pong ball could be held (you don’t need a ping pong ball to actually perform this drill though). The reasoning on why this drill works has to do with the fact that some swimmers like to lead their pull with the thumb. Leading the pull with the thumb means your entry looks like a “slicing motion”. This type of entry was taught years ago, but now has been argued that it is less conducive as it puts more strain on the shoulder joint and also prolongs the time it takes a swimmer to get into the high elbow position. So in actuality, the thumb leading entry makes a swimmer’s pull less powerful.
So what does the “Ping Pong Drill” really do? Well, the drill is related to the nerves in the hand/arm. The Ulnar nerve runs from the Brachial Plexus to the ring and pinky fingers. The Median and Radial nerves run from the Brachial Plexus down and into the other three fingers. During the “Ping Pong Drill” you actively engaged the first three fingers by holding the fingers together and you are forcing the body/brain to learn what it feels like to initiate and pull with the pinky (via the Ulnar nerve) on the outside of the hand.
I know coaches and swimmers are concerned about the ideal entry and hand position during the freestyle stroke, but neither the entry of those matter–if the pinky isn’t engaged properly. If you’re only pulling using the first three fingers (and two peripheral nerve groups), it doesn’t matter entry or hand position because you aren’t effectively using the surface area available. All five fingers must be engaged and slightly cupped backwards, leading with the middle finger, for you to effectively use the entire surface area of your hand and the three major peripheral nerve groups.
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.