Fist freestyle is one of the most valuable drills to improve technique. Swimming with your hands balled into tight fists drastically reduces the surface area of your hand, thus reducing the resistance you are able to create in the water to move forward. To avoid a feeling of complete arm slippage and making no forward progress, the swimmer must adapt by using their forearm to pull the water, essentially forcing them to learn the elusive yet critical high-elbow catch, or Early Vertical Forearm (EVF), that everyone is talking about. The idea is to master EVF with your fists closed, and then maintain that feeling when you open your hands back up (which is a great feeling in and of itself, as your hands feel huge).
However, it is that great feeling of having large hands that can cause the swimmer to forget about EVF. Keeping the hands closed causes you to lose feel for the water, and when it is regained you will feel faster, regardless of technique. Solution? PT Paddles.
PT Paddles are designed to mimic the benefits of fist freestyle without needing to alter your hand position or lose feel for the water. The convex shape on the bottom of the paddle splits the water gradually, rendering your hand’s ability to grab water essentially nonexistent. Although difficult to believe for those who have tried fist freestyle, your hand slips even more with these paddles. You will go nowhere without a great EVF, which you quickly learn to develop almost subconsciously.
The greatest benefit to the PT paddles is not only do they allow you to maintain proper hand position (making the drill much more freestyle-specific), but also the surface your hand is against has small raised bumps. This allows your hand to still feel the water, so when you take them off there is not such a drastic difference that you forget to engage your forearm.
Like regular paddles, if your hands are large enough that you could wrap your pinky or thumb around the paddle, don’t! This would negate the very problem the paddles fix, as you would no longer be using your normal hand position.
A great time to use PT Paddles is during a warm-up set before your main set so you can understand the EVF technique and then carry that throughout your practice. Swim several 50s with the PT Paddles, and then take them off for a 100 or 200 build, focusing on maintaining EVF. Depending on how much time you have, 2-3 rounds of this set would be useful. I also love combining Shoulder-Cheek Drill with PT Paddles, as they complement each other greatly.
Finally, the PT Paddles are not just freestyle paddles – they will have similar benefits for all four strokes, although you may want to forgo the open turns. Most importantly, experiment with them, find how they best work for you, and have fun!
Marathon Swimmer, www.jenschumacher.org
Sport Psychology Consultant, www.jenschumacher.com