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by Scott Bay

March 5, 2018

Slipping can be a major problem in your technique

In a previous article, we discussed when your hand waffles through the water when you overpower your stroke. Slipping is another important technique problem to watch for.

Slipping is when your strength matches your stroke, but you just can’t seem to “hold” the water after the catch. This is often due to overpowering your stroke, but it can also be from a lack of feel.

Going too fast? Your brain will pay attention to pulse and breathing. Working too hard? Your brain will pay attention to how your muscles feel. So how can you tell if you’re slipping? Slow down and pay attention.

Developing Your Feel for the Water

If you’ve ever been mystified how an elite swimmer takes just seven strokes in a 25, the answer is: feel for the water. This is tough for most swimmers to do and most coaches to teach because it’s a tactile thing. It’s not just how much pressure you place on the water, but how well you go through the water at your best speed.

Coaches can explain movements and swimmers can follow these instructions and try to mimic the movements of faster or more efficient swimmers, but what it feels like is specific to each person. You’ve got to determine what’s best for you.

Here are some tips for how to develop feel in the water.

  • Sculling drills—These help develop hand strength but also make you aware of what it feels like when the water slips off your hands and other surfaces.
  • Build sets—This is when you increase or try to increase the speed of your swim by putting more pressure on the water. As you add strength to the movement, be careful to pay attention to what the water feels like on your hands.
  • Distance-per-stroke sets—DPS sets are the best bet to find your connection to holding the water and keeping it throughout the stroke cycle. Do this with a pull buoy to make sure you don’t cheat by doing too much kicking.

Get Creative

Now that you’re paying attention to where the water is slipping and you’re developing a feel for the water, what’s next? Simple: Turn on your creative side and start experimenting with the pitch of your hands, your body position, where your elbows are, your kicking efficiency, and your general rhythm for swimming. Drop out of the workout from time to time and just concentrate on your feel for the water.

Here are some things to do on your own:

  • If you have a snorkel, use it. If you take the immediacy of needing to breathe away, it is easier to pay attention to the smaller things like when and where the water is slipping.
  • Fingertip paddles are your friends. Unlike traditional paddles, these little beauties don’t take the feeling away from your hands but still increase the surface area you can use to hold the water. A bonus is that they work for every stroke.
  • Ignore the clock. This is so difficult for most of us. We like immediate results and feedback, but remember that if you’re programming a new pattern of movement in your brain, the muscles in your body need time to develop the strength to support that new movement. Your times on sets may be slower at first, but in the long run, as the movement strength develops, the short-term setback will be well worth it.

Good Struggle

There is no progress without struggle, but I, for one, am not a fan of unproductive struggle. It’s best for you to pick a time in your year when you have some time to work on things without the pressure of an upcoming championship or overwhelming demands from the world outside the pool.

It’s OK to have trouble with feeling the water. For many people, that awareness comes and goes at first. But with some conscious effort and attention to where the water slips, it’s a skill that you’ll eventually develop.


  • Technique and Training


  • Stroke Technique
  • Drills