The Ever-elusive Feel for the Water

I know you have heard some coach say, or read it in an article, and you know you don’t have it. The ever-elusive “feel” for the water. You may not be sure what it is, but you are sure you don’t have it. Let’s look at what it is and simple steps to help develop feel, making this subtle skill not just for the elite swimmer anymore.

First, let’s address what is feel.  Simply put, it is the ability to feel the water against your hands as you pull. The best pull depends on your ability to “catch” water with your hand, and keep your entire arm pressing against that water to pull yourself forward. This is the first shift I want you to make, don’t pull your hand back, but pull your body forward past your hand. I admit this is subtle, so I want to give you a building block to help you build sensitivity to the water to help you get better at the body awareness needed to “feel” your pull.

The first step in developing feel of the water is to begin by feeling your body’s position. While every part is important, I am going to focus on two body position issues that rise to the top to help you develop “feel”.

Your neck: The head and neck position are a great place to begin learning feel. Here is what I want you to do: Swim a 25,  in the middle I want you to say “relax my neck” and feel it drop. As you relax your neck, feel it drop in the water and pay attention to the way it feels to be relaxed.  To be clear, I don’t want you to engage muscles to move your head, I want you to relax your neck muscles and feel what happens.  While ideally, the head should be at or nearly aligned with the spine, the real purpose of this is to feel the changes this makes in the way your body rides in the water.

Keep swimming, and do this again. If you do not normally swim with a low head position, your head will naturally return to the high head position you have been using in the past. This time, pay attention to the neck and head as you breathe. Try to keep your head relaxed as you take a breath, minimizing the movement and attempting to eliminate lift.

This is one of the most dramatic feel differences in swimming, for someone who can already swim freestyle.  Repeat this multiple times, until your head no longer drops when you say relax (because you are already relaxed).

While the purpose of this exercise is to help you develop an awareness of your body in the water, it is also a great change for your freestyle to swim in balance. This exercise is meant to help you develop body awareness in the water. Before you can feel the water against your hand, you must feel your body position in the water.

Your hand: Now let’s move to the tougher feel, the catch. At first, wear paddles, this will make the ability to feel easier. Ensure that paddles you are using have wholes in their surface to allow water to flow onto your hand.

As you start your pull with the catch, feel the pressure of water against your hand. Try changing your stroke, it doesn’t really matter how, as long as you pay attention to how the pull feels against, the water. Can you feel pressure against the hand? Or does the hand seem to move rapidly past the water?

I won’t fool you into thinking that developing a good feel for the water with your hand is easy, but with time, these exercises will help you develop the body and water awareness you need.

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