Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (7)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #7: In order to reduce the air bubbles behind your hand underwater, you must enter the hand delicately.

Many beginner swimmers are taught to enter the hand just in front of their head and slide it underwater as the elbow extends. Others are also told to slow the hand down before it enters the water to reduce the amount of bubbles you carry into the catch. These are a few common myths that warrant another look.

Having a lot of air bubbles behind the hand reduces the amount of propulsive drag one can generate during the pull. In fact, most great swimmers have little or no air during their catch while many not-so-great swimmers often have lots of air. Why?

It doesn’t have to do with laying the hand in the water slowly, nor does it come from sliding the hand forward underwater. The reality is quite the opposite: great swimmers move their hands and arms aggressively forward through the recovery, hurrying to get them back into the water again.

So how do they manage to get rid of the air? Good question. My old coach, Doc Counsilman at Indiana University used to evaluate swimming talent by how much air he saw on the hand underwater. He thought made the difference between great swimmers and mediocre ones. Great swimmers could sense where to find and hold water, which would ultimately include getting rid of the air. Former Cal. Berkeley coach, Nort Thornton recently told me that he believes the sensation in the little and ring finger (Ulnar nerve) is most responsible for a swimmer’s ability to feel the water. He may well be right. At The Race Club, I have noticed that by bending my small and ring fingers slightly during the lift phase of the pull, like pushing them into a stick of butter, my sensation and feel for the water improves.

Many swimmers enter with the thumb down and roll the hand and shoulder to accomplish this. Others spread or move the fingers slightly leading into their catch. This small movement as the hand goes through the underwater cycle may also help.

As much as I hate to say it, many people are born with the ability to avoid air bubbles. Just don’t try to get rid of air by being delicate with your hand or slowing your stroke cycle, because that creates more problems than it helps.

Even great swimmers have some air bubbles. There are no swimming drills or techniques I am aware of, other than those I mentioned, that can help you avoid air bubbles. Just accept what you have and move on to the things you can control.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

Director of The Race Club