Focus on Fitness: Feel for the water

Sam Huff/For the Steamboat Today

Feel for the water is the third pillar of swimming, and it is the most elusive and difficult to grasp. When mastered, it allows you to transfer the power generated from your major muscle groups to the water with your palms, forearm and feet.

With proper breathing and balance, feel will efficiently propel you through the water. Like learning to play an instrument or ride on the edges of skis, you can develop this skill through practice and repetition. The following drills are an excellent way to concentrate on connecting with the water:

• Sculling is the best way to train your palms and forearms to feel the water. Move your hands and forearms continuously in small figure eights with your shoulders, elbows and hands completely underwater. Power this motion with your shoulders and upper back while keeping your elbows loose. The goal is to feel strong resistance against your palms and forearms 100 percent of the time. This exercise can be done in many body positions to add variety to the workout.

• Paddles held in place by a single band around your middle finger (no wrist strap) or Finis Agility paddles help you learn to correctly place and move your hands while lap swimming. Incorrect hand placement and movement makes keeping these paddles in place difficult.

• Swimming with closed fists allows you to focus on the role your forearms play in propelling your strokes.

• Your feet need to act like flippers in order to transfer the power generated by your upper legs to the water. Kicking with long and short fins will help you feel the water on the tops and bottoms of your feet and develop ankle flexibility.

• Flexing your feet in both directions on land also helps with flexibility. Point your toes into “ballerina feet” and then pull your toes as high as possible toward your knees. Overcoming stiff ankles takes a lot of work, but the payoff in the water is huge.

Aquatic exercise in all its forms can be healing, meditative and exhilarating. Concentrating on the three pillars of breathing, balance and feel will lead to a more rewarding experience in the water.

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