Friday, May 01, 2015

Is Fingertrail Drill Doing You More Harm Than Good?

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Fingertrail or Thumb-Drag drill is an exercise where you deliberately swim dragging the fingertips across the surface of the water close to the body:

You've probably tried it yourself (or even done it to death). It's an extremely widespread drill that is used to encourage you to use a high-elbow arm recovery over the surface of the water.

Despite finger-trail being one of the most common drills in the world, at Swim Smooth we very rarely ask a swimmer to perform it as in most cases we observe its impact on them to be negative rather than positive.

As we discussed in this blog post on arm recovery, a tight high-elbow recovery is a bad idea if you don't have great upper body flexibility. It places stress on the shoulder and can easily cause you to snake your body as you work against your flexibility to get into the position.

Trying to recover the hand very close to the body makes for an awkward arm recovery.

A slightly more open arm recovery (with the hand recovering higher over the surface of the water) is much better suited to most adults and helps them swim with better stroke rhythm (which can only be a good thing):

To do this just open up the angle at the elbow slightly, you're not looking to go to the opposite extreme and take the arm completely straight, just open the arm out a little. It might feel strange at first but you will immediately feel much more relaxed through the shoulders. Think about coming easily up and over the water in a natural relaxed fashion.

If you're an open water swimmer or triathlete then a classical high elbow with the hand low to the water is never a good idea as you will catch your hand on disturbed water or the wake from other swimmers. Plus when swimming in a wetsuit you will find a more open recovery reduces fatigue in the shoulders:

What To Do Instead

A good alternative to Fingertrail is our Broken Arrow drill as it helps loosen off stiff shoulders and develop a good upper body posture for swimming:

To perform Broken Arrow drill use a pair of fins. Slowly lift the hand to a vertical position and hold it there for a second, before bending at the elbow (breaking the arrow) and spearing forwards into the water and onto the other side. See our full Broken Arrow instruction in the Swim Smooth Coaching System here:

If you are using finger-trail to promote a nice clean hand entry into the water then we suggest you use our Shoulder-Tap drill instead. This is another nice drill to loosen off your shoulders:

Swim Smooth!

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