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by Scott Bay

October 15, 2021

Try these simple drills to avoid injury, inefficiency, and the dreaded wiggle-butt

In a proper freestyle and backstroke, your hands enter directly in line with your shoulders. Entering inside your shoulders, either in front of your head or even past the midpoint, is known as crossover. You could’ve been taught to swim this way or maybe you’ve developed the habit over time.

Crossover causes several issues with your catch and can lead to shoulder problems. It can also cause wiggle-butt, a serpentine style of snaking down the lane. None of this is efficient. Here are a few drills for fixing crossover.


If you were taught the thumb-first entry in freestyle as a kid, that by itself isn’t terrible. The problem is that entering thumb-first can cause you to swim flatter, which in turn can make the momentum of your recovery cause your hand to slide in front of your head or even all the way across the centerline of your body. This means the next movement of your hand is outward, and your hand will slide around inefficiently when it should be getting a good catch and holding onto the water. It also means you’ll be snaking down the lane in a serpentine pattern—using energy to move laterally instead of forward.

Try these drills to fix crossover issues in freestyle.

Kickboard drill

Float face-down in the water with your hands at the bottom corners of a kickboard extended in front of you and alternate pulls.

  • The good: This forces you to have a wider entry.
  • The bad: You tend to be really flat (not rotating side to side) when performing this drill, so when you start swimming again, what you worked on might not take.

Thumbs-only catch-up

This is a great drill to help with your awareness of where your hands are for the catch. Coaches have avoided this drill because doing it the traditional way can cause crossover. But an updated version of the drill is to make your index finger and thumb of each hand into a right angle (think of an L with your left hand and a backward L with your right hand), when you touch your thumb tips together in front of your head, that’s right at shoulder-width apart.

  • The good: This drill forces you to think about hand placement and develop a keen awareness of where your thumbs and hands are.
  • The bad: This is super frustrating at first. Once you slow down and develop awareness, it’s a great drill, but it can take a long time to get there.

Knife-hand or pinkie entry

This is an overcorrection for someone who enters thumb-first. The idea is that your entry will land in the middle of thumb entry and pinkie entry. To do it, rotate your hand outward and enter the water pinky-first. It’ll feel strange, but it’s difficult to cross over while doing it. Once your hand enters the water, of course, you’ll want to rotate your hand back to flat to get a good catch.

  • The good: This drill helps you develop a sense of both where your hands are and their pitch.
  • The bad: This is an overcorrection, so it’ll feel weird and will take a while to get the hang of.


If you’re a backstroker with a great deal of flexibility, crossing the centerline of your body before hand-entry might seem like a natural movement. But the problem—just as it is with freestylers who cross over—is that your next move is to the side rather than getting in a catch position. As it does with freestyle, this causes you to wiggle down the lane. This movement also can lead to shoulder issues over the long term.

Here are a few drills to fix backstroke crossover.

Catch-up drill

This drill is great for a lot of things, but one of the things it does is promote a shoulder-width entry. To do it, stop your recovery directly above and in line with your head so that your arms are perpendicular to the water when they catch up with each other.

  • The good: This forces you to catch quick to keep yourself from sinking. You typically will end up with your pinkie entering directly in front of your shoulder.
  • The bad: As you do this drill, you might do more sinking than swimming if you aren’t kicking hard enough to keep yourself afloat.

Double-arm backstroke

In this classic drill, if you keep your arms straight, it’s difficult to cross over. To do it, kick on your back and move both arms at the same time, making sure both hands enter pinkie-first.

  • The good: It’s a little easier than catch-up drill, and you can concentrate on the pitch and entry of your hands.
  • The bad: This drill keeps you flat, which doesn’t help you to develop the rotation necessary for backstroke.

Okee Dokee

This is an overcorrection as well. Make the OK sign with your index finger and thumb and rotate your hand (pinkie away from your body) all the way over so that the circle part of the OK sign, palm down, enters the water first.

  • The good: If you have shoulder blades, it’s darn near impossible to cross over.
  • The bad: This drill is an overcorrection and will feel very weird. You might even feel like you’re reaching overly wide. This isn’t the case, but it also takes a long time to get right if you chronically cross over.

Final Thoughts

You might get frustrated when making changes, especially when you’re learning a new drill. If you’re not doing the same thing you’ve always done, it’ll feel weird. That’s the point. You’re not trying to do the same thing you have been doing, but trying to make some changes to make you a better swimmer.

One way to minimize your frustration is to reduce the number of things to concentrate on. For example, you can use fins while learning a new drill. It helps eliminate the desire to rush or that sinking feeling you might get when you slow down.

Remember to be patient and give new things more than one try, even if the changes are difficult. It just might lead to your best swimming yet.


  • Technique and Training


  • Freestyle
  • Backstroke