Swim for Tri: Sculling For Success

  • By Paul Moore
  • Published June 8, 2010

By Dan Bullock from Swim for Tri: A swim concept that will help further develop a great feel for the water is sculling. I like to think that swim drills either restrict bad habits or encourage good habits. Sculling encourages movements of the hand that help improve the feel for the water and the ability to hold onto the water.

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Pathway of the hands
Swim coaches will lecture about how the hand movements under the water are always from slow at the front of the stroke to fast at the back of the stroke. This makes sense to avoid the issue of water slipping around the hand if you pull too hard too soon. Think of a front wheel drive car in poor conditions and how the front wheels slip if too much power is applied. With an improved feel for the water you will develop the ability to apply as much power as your stroke can control and make use of.

The FC pull when done well can involve some fairly intricate hand movements; these are not really something that can be taught. You could never calculate and implement the precise movements in degrees. Sculling will help you work them out for your self and strengthen your hold on the water.

When watching a good swimmers hand movements under the water you will notice the slight changes of direction the hand makes. These pitch changes and subtle changes in direction help avoid the issues of water accelerating quickly with the hand or slipping around the hand. Sculling makes use of the forearm as an extension of the hand to increase the surface area of the usable paddle. The motion comes predominantly from the elbow not the wrist. Movements of the hands should be symmetrical between left and right, keeping constant water pressure around the hands. Don’t cup the hands with fingers clenched tight leaving the paddle smaller then it need be.

Sculling is a motion that originates in the elbow with minimal movement through the wrist and with the hand sweeping in and out. The hands slice back and forth creating lift as the thumb leads slightly upwards when slicing in and then with the little finger leading up as the hands slice out. The pitch of the hand will change as the need to generate more lift dictates. At many swimming clubs when introducing sculling to youngsters, coaches often encourage them to just wave at the bottom of the pool while standing.

Chances are you have used sculling motions on a race start line to help manoeuvre yourself into position either while vertical or horizontal. Subtle changes to the hand positions and you can move forwards, back or sideways. I often think of scull movements as the small thruster jets that help manoeuvre the rocket into position! While balancing on the start line it is those small waves of the hands that keep you still while waiting for the gun.

Sculling can be practiced with the body in many positions – flat on your front or back and either feet or head first. You can also perform sculls as if you were sitting in a chair or upright in a crucifix position. Some more advanced positions involve being vertical and head down (for the synchro swimmers amongst you?!) Some coaches are of the opinion that no kicking should be done in any sculling drill as this gives you the chance to isolate the sculling motion and focus on it 100%. This might be something you need to work towards as your sculling improves, so start out using the legs (when appropriate) and keep in mind they are there for balance rather then propulsion.

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Paul Moore

Paul Moore

Paul Moore is the Online Editor for Triathlete Europe. When not glued to a computer he can be found writing books - most recently Ultra Performance: The Psychology of Endurance Sports and The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges. Both are available on Amazon. Paul has also written Ultimate Triathlon: A complete training guide for long-distance triathletes which is also available on Amazon.