What’s the Pinky Finger have to do with the Freestyle Pull?

A lot of times swimmers have issues with their hand entry at the beginning of their Freestyle pull. As coaches, we see may swimmers crossing-over their body, entering with their thumb, slapping the water up top–a complete spectrum of different entry types. All of these entries, besides the ideal one (we will get to that one in a second) affect how much water a swimmer can pull during Freestyle. Why?

Let’s find out!

The best way to enter into the water is with the hand faced, palm down–leading with the middle finger. You want the middle finger to be the first finger to enter into the water. In order to achieve this middle finger entry, the elbow must be higher than the wrist and the wrist higher than the fingers. If either the wrist or elbow is lowering the fingers, the middle finger will not be the first to enter.

When I first started coaching at Athens Bulldogs Swim Club, we had our swimmers do the “Ping Pong Drill”. Basically, they were to swim with their pointer and middle finger bent and touching the tip of their thumb–creating a circular space. The circular space is what gives this drill its’ name because it’s where a ping pong ball could be held (you don’t need a ping pong ball to actually perform this drill though). The reasoning on why this drill works has to do with the fact that some swimmers like to lead their pull with the thumb. Leading the pull with the thumb means your entry looks like a “slicing motion”. This type of entry was taught years ago, but now has been argued that it is less conducive as it puts more strain on the shoulder joint and also prolongs the time it takes a swimmer to get into the high elbow position. So in actuality, the thumb leading entry makes a swimmer’s pull less powerful.

So what does the “Ping Pong Drill” really do? Well, the drill is related to the nerves in the hand/arm. The Ulnar nerve runs from the Brachial Plexus to the ring and pinky fingers. The Median and Radial nerves run from the Brachial Plexus down

and into the other three fingers. During the “Ping Pong Drill” you actively engaged the first three fingers by holding the fingers together and you are forcing the body/brain to learn what it feels like to initiate and pull with the pinky (via the Ulnar nerve) on the outside of the hand.

By initiating the Freestyle pull with engagement from your pinky (via the Ulnar nerve), you are effectively firing all of the muscle groups throughout your arm and hand. With this increased firing, you are able to generate more force and “catch” more water during your Freestyle pull!

So in reality, it does matter which way a swimmer enters into the water during their Freestyle pull. With anything but the ideal entry position, it will take a swimmer longer to engage and get into a “cupped” hand position to ensure they are firing all three peripheral nerve groups and catching more water!

Two Steps to a More Powerful Freestyle Pull:

1.) Set up into the ideal entry position during your Freestyle Pull

2.) Make sure you are engaging all THREE peripheral nerve groups (and all five fingers) by slightly cupping them backwards—leading with their middle finger during their Freestyle Pull.

Coach Abbie Showing Proper Handwidth for the Freestyle Pull

[CLICK HERE] to read Part II of this series!

-Abbie Fish

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