Coaches often toss around the concept of getting a feel for the water, which, they say, means to learn to hold on to the water. Both of these concepts are interesting, but without further explanation leave a lot to be understood of what they actually mean.
The drill I have been working on to develop the idea of anchoring in the water is what I call fist paddles. The drill is very simple: Swim normally, but keep your hand in a relaxed fist. That’s actually all there is to it.
You should learn a great deal about your feel for the water when doing this drill. If you find yourself feeling like you are completely standing still in the water (or going backwards for that matter) you’ll have discovered that your stroke has serious issues. Swimming the crawl stroke really well is largely about how you position your arms and the fist paddle drill proves this. Your hands act as paddles when you swim and most swimmers rely on this exclusively to propel them through the water. The giveaway is a high stroke rate, lots of motion in the water, and low elbows.
The real trick to improving how you anchor is a combination of arm angle and shoulder movement. Here are some stills that illustrate this well:
Most swimmers I see have never learned how to access the most efficient muscles when swimming. They tend to rely on their triceps and shoulders to move through the water. This is often sufficient if you want to swim only for your fitness, but if you have read this far in the hopes of finding drills to improve your stroke technique then the fist paddle drill can do wonders for you.
As you think about the arm position of the images above and keep your hands relaxed, but in a fist you will start to feel which position moves you through the water the best. Here is a set of Ian Thorpe from the front to give you an idea of how high is elbows actually are.
The danger I personally run into when swimming the fist paddle drill is that of pushing up with my arms instead of back. You can see above with all of the strokes that they have a way to bring the lever of their arms to apply force back. I often find that as start to move my arm into the high elbow position that I am pushing down with my catch, rather than back.
Overall, it is a good drill and should allow you to easily spot issues with your anchors,er, your arms.