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Freestyle - Broken Wrist

Posted by Glenn Mills on Sep 16, 2005 09:28AM

In teaching freestyle, especially the 'high elbow' part of the pull, we sometimes tell swimmers to lead with their fingers pointed down. This is to encourage the hand to drop below the elbow, and to help the swimmer create a pulling surface or "ledge" with the hand.

There's a danger, however, in asking for the fingers to point down. Younger and more inexperienced swimmers will sometimes take this advice too literally. They will sometimes point the fingers SO sharply that they create a 90-degree angle between forearm and hand. This "broken wrist" actually causes you to lose connection with the water.

Creating a proper line with the arm from fingertips to elbow gives the swimmer the most leverage to create a powerful pull.
Why Do It:
By creating a large surface area with the hand, wrist, and forearm, you'll develop a more powerful pull. This should make your swimming easier...or faster.

How To Do It:

1. As you extend your arm forward in freestyle, feel the connection along your hand, wrist, and forearm. If you focus on reaching far forward on the extension, you'll realize that this puts everything -- hand, wrist, and forearm -- in a very nice line.

2. When you initiate the pull, angle the front of the arm down, but don't allow the wrist to
pivot, or angle away from the forearm (this is the broken wrist).

3. Within reason (which means do your best), keep the line between your fingers and elbows as straight as possible during the pull.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
This past week at the ASCA convention, we met many people. One in particular showed such a passion for this sport that he has begun inventing tools to help swimmers. The final quick clip of video shows the paddle that Brian Bolster has invented for this particular aspect of freestyle. This paddle locks the hand and wrist into a straight line, and shows the proper line in which to pull. In other words, it FORCES the hand, wrist, and forearm to work as a single unit. For those swimmers who really like to use their wrists, the discomfort felt when using a tool like this shows the tendency of leading too much with the fingers. I'm going to continue playing with this paddle for a few weeks before I write a full review, but for this particular aspect of freestyle, I like it.

For those of you not lucky enough to pick up a pair of those paddles last week, sculling is a wonderful way to begin learning how to turn your entire forearm, from fingers to elbows into a single unit, and develop a strong, powerful pull. Of course, always while swimming freestyle, make sure that when it's time to initiate the pull, you don't feel your fingers piercing downward in the water. This would be a sure sign that you're breaking your wrist just a bit too much.

Archived Comments

Responded Sep 16, 2005 01:33PM

I find that those swimmers who don't bend their wrists *tend* to start pulling immediately. I see loads of (admitedly not very good swimmers) in our public sessions and almost all of them start applying "propulsive" pressure immediately so in effect place significant amounts of straing on their shoulders and end up with very little *real* propulsive force.

Responded Sep 16, 2005 03:14PM

I agree with Bill! Too many swim are not patient enought to wait for their hands/forearms to be in the right place before the apply the power of hip rotation.

Responded Sep 16, 2005 04:21PM

It's all about balance. Just as when we talk about beginner breaststroke, the head should be very still. However, as the swimmer begins to advance, some head movement is introduced to progress the building of the stroke.

To teach kids how to pull, how to get the elbows high in the pull, and how to "get over the barrel", a good way is to lead with the fingers.

You're going to teach different things to differnt kids at different levels. Take each of these drills as only a segment of that equation, not the ultimate answer for all. Thanks for the smart posts though, it's good stuff!

Responded Sep 19, 2005 07:45AM

There's another way of reducing the "broken wrist" effect. Probably not as effective as the inhibiting paddle Glenn's been trying (because that at least gives you immediate feedback if you try and flex your wrist (too much). And that's with fist gloves (or clenched fist swimming - though I prefer gloves because they do *so* much more).

How do they achieve this? Through tendon power (I'm guessing here - I am not a physio). By way of an example try the following: stretch your arm out in front of you with your fingers extended and palms facing downwards (simulating your normal swim arm extension) now flex your wrist - note how easy it is to get close to 90-degrees flexation, that's a really "broken" wrist. Now repeat the above but this time lightly clench your fist (simulating the use of fist gloves), now flex your wrist again. How far does it bend? In my case less than 45-degrees naturally, though with effort I can get it further but no where near the angle of an open hand.

Responded Oct 01, 2005 07:07AM

One pointer to this fault (certainly in older swimmers) is pain and swelling on the inside of the elbow - golfers elbow. This is caused by the rubbing of the tendon controlling the bending of the wrist over the elbow joint. It is a very difficult injury to get rid of (the stretch is to bend the fingers back), which is a good reason to improve your technique!!

Responded Nov 03, 2007 06:30PM


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