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Developing "Feel" For The Water

Written By: Doug Miller

The biggest challenge for the adult swimmers we see in our program is developing "feel" for the water.

That's so important, of course, in all facets of swimming. But where it becomes an issue in freestyle is when athletes are unable to develop an effective catch and a solid grip on the water.

I use what I call a Hinge Drill Progression (click to view demonstration) to help swimmers understand the mechanics of "holding water."

We begin with the "double hinge," simply making the initial high elbow catch. We'll place both palms on the deck while in shallow water. Then the athlete rotates the elbow out and up while keeping the fingertips on the deck.

Then, we'll mimic that shape with head down in the water, while standing.

Snorkel and fins are excellent for the next steps:

Double-arm hinge, slowly moving the arm down and up into and out of the catch shape. You can see Coach Meaghan demonstrating in the video.

Single-arm hinge, slowly moving only one arm into an early vertical forearm catch and then returning to position 11 before repeating with the other arm.

Not shown is another step that often helps. I call this "stop and pull." In the Single-arm Hinge Drill, the swimmer freezes one arm in the catch position for a moment and then continues to complete the underwater pull before returning to position 11. Alternate from one arm to the other.

I believe that both drills and full-stroke swimming with focus points are effective teaching methods. Obviously, the Hinge Drill is in the drill category.

Because I also know that teaching through "perception" or how changes feel to the swimmer is also invaluable, I intersperse sculling with the hinge sequence. That helps the swimmer understand what the desired outcome of a strong catch feels like on their palm and forearms.

Doug is owner of Miller Swimming, a full-service swim company based in Charlotte, N.C. He offers youth and adult coaching services as well as virtual options. He has a proven record of success helping athletes of all ages. A native of Pennsylvania, he competed at the University of Delaware and is an open water marathon swimmer. He can be reached at

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