Great tips for your swimming stroke.

 There are very few contentious issues in swimming and most of them can be solved by scientifically looking at the evidence. One of the minor issues in swimming is whether to swim with closed fingers or hand-image-4open fingers. Since humans do not have gills or fins, it is important that we learn how to best use our bodies to get the most out of our strokes. The question about what to do with our fingers and hands makes for an interesting debate and for interesting results. What is the best way to hold the hands?

Paddles or Not?

Your hands are very important in the pool. The difference between open and closed fingers may not seem like that big of a deal, but when races come down to split second finishes, any little advantage can make a big difference. When the fingers are closed, the hand acts like a kayak paddle and when the fingers are open, water can move between the fingers. So, what is the most beneficial position?

Resistance is Key

hand-image-2If you prefer to swim with your fingers closed, you are actually moving against the water. Your hands are a form of resistance and the drag includes all of your arm, from the shoulder to the fingers. When you think about physics, resistance slows objects down. So closing your fingers and using your hand like a kayak paddle does not increase speed. It might seem you would swim faster because a closed hand should be able to move more water, but you have to work harder to go faster with closed fingers. When you want to move water, you need surface area. With closed fingers, the surface area of the hand extends the length and width of the hand.

Build Surface Area

When you swim with your fingers open, you actually get more surface area. With the fingers open, the surface area actually includes the space between the fingers. So your surface area is wider, but not taller. When it comes to smart swimming, the most powerful hands are not muscularly engaged and purposefully spread. They are relaxed and open naturally. When you swim this way, see if you can notice the water moving between your fingers. You probably cannot and that is just fine. The larger surface area can move more water, but it does it with less resistance.

Stay Balanced

Another benefit to swimming with relaxed hands and open fingers is better balance. We may not think of balance in a swimming pool, but with good balance, your body will move more smoothly through the water. Balance helps with all aspects of swimming, from the stroke to the breath. The more balanced the body is, the better it moves and theless friction and resistance it creates.

Research Proves the Case

When researchers looked the debate and the actually hand-imagebiology of hand positioning in swimming, they realized that when the fingers were open to a natural level, the fingers acted like webbed hands and added more than 50% force to their strokes. With open fingers, swimmers were able to stay horizontal and actually get higher in the water with more of the body out of the water – thus reducing drag and resistance. When swimmers are higher in the water, they do not have to work as hard to swim fast. It is also better for people to swim with their toes spread slightly, too. If you think of the size of swim fins, it makes sense that a “wider” foot will move the body more efficiently.

Test It Out Yourself

So, the best way to swim is with the fingers naturally open. If you want to see proof, watch footage of Michael Phelps in the water. His hands are open and relaxed. His fingers are spread. If you need to see if it really does work, test yourself. Time yourself with your hands in both positions and see what lets you swim the fastest.

USA Swimmer to Know: Leah Smith

Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky quickly became a household name after her speedy races in the Summer Games. While it is easy to share the accomplishments of the swimmers who finish first in their races, all too often the swimmers who finish in second place are ignored. Finishing second to Ledecky is nothing to be ashamed of, which is why it is a good time to take a look at Leah Smith.

Leah Smith is best known for being an leah-smith-4Olympic swimmer who won a medal in the 800 freestyle relay along with Ledecky, Miya DiRado, and Allison Schmitt. She raced in two other events: the 800 free and the 400 free. She finished in 6th in the 800 free and in 3rd in the 400 free, earning a bronze medal.

But for Smith, the most exciting moment in her racing career was during the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska where she finished second to Ledecky in the 400 free. Ledecky always dominated the races, finished many body lengths ahead of Smith. But, in the Olympic Trials race, Smith finished in a close second place. And, she realized the power in that finish.

Smith is currently a senior at the University of Virginia. As a Cavalier, she is the defending champion in the NCAA 500 and 1650 freestyle races. In fact, she has won those races for two seasons in a row. She is working on her media studies major. In her final year of college, she hopes to lead her team to the top of the NCAA swimming ranks. Her goal is for the team to finish in the top four and she personally wants to break the speedy time of 4:30 in her championship 500 race. As an Olympic and collegiate swimmer, she hopes to become a professional as soon as she receives her degree from the prestigious university created by Thomas Jefferson.

leah-smith-2Smith is already planning on racing in the Short Course Worlds in December and the World Championships in Hungary that will take place in the summer. Her eventual goal is to swim again in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. After seeing Michael Phelps swim in his fifth Olympic games, it is easy for swimmers to recognize that they have the same potential. Smith wants to continue swimming for as long as she can, making it to the 2020 Olympics without any doubts.

The advice that Smith believes made a big difference in her ability to finish successfully in the 2016 Olympic Trials and the Games themselves was to swim her race. Instead of focusing on the races that the other swimmers were swimming, she just needed to focus on her lane and her ability. This advice is definitely worth sharing – because, in reality, swimmers are always swimming against themselves as well as the clock.

Through her swimming history, she has made many good friends, some were swimming in their final Olympic races and others were just getting started, like Smith. She also was able to make her family proud, as she comes from a family loaded with athletic talent. Smith’s father was a pole vaulter on the track team at the University of Virginia. She also has a great uncle who was a World Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion. It was in 2013 with Smith made her own legacy when she was added to the U.S. National Team.

Smith won her first National Championship medals in 2014 when she swam in the 200 and 400 freestyle races in the Phillips 66 USA events. Her bronze finishes gave her the opportunity to swim in the Pan Pacific Championships in 2014 and in two more events in 2015, the World University Games and the FINA World Championship races.

leah-smith-3Her best finishes were at the , where she won two gold medals in the 400 and in the 800 freestyle relay races. That same summer, she swam in Russia on a relay and also won a gold medal with her peers. All of her racing in the previous years paid off when she swam in the Olympic Trials against Katie Ledecky when she earned a spot on the Olympics team and was invited to the big show in Rio.

Swim Smart not hard – be a lazy swimmer

Yes, this headline is a big misleading. No swimmer is lazy, otherwise they wouldn’t be swimmers. But, many swimmers work extremely hard and that excessively hard work does not payoff in expected gains. Instead of working harder to small gains, why not think about working smarter. With a smart swimming program, your should be able to see more improvements. Many times, young and old swimmers get burned out with excessive training sessions. With smarter swimming sessions, you will be more likely to enjoy your training and get more out of it.

Adjust Your Pool Time

The first thing to do is consider how much time clockyou need to spend at the pool. For most swimmers, working out everyday is the best option. Instead of spending several hours just a few times each week, it is smarter to spend a shorter amount of time in the pool, but to visit the pool more often. These shorter workouts are more beneficial for swimmers because they do not have as many days off in between. Muscles do not need to recover from swimming like they do from weightlifting, so it is perfectly ok to swim every day. Swimming for shorter sessions more frequently will help you see improvements in your body and your strokes. It is one sure way to work smarter.

Swim with Mindfulness

Another smart way to swim better is to swim mindfully. Too many people will swim fast, but not pay attention to the quality of their strokes. If you are swimming for exercise, it is a good idea to pay attention to every stroke, so your body can get the fullest benefits. If you are not using your body the right way, you will not better your strokes, your strength, and your flexibility. You might get a good cardio workout, but you don’t get the other benefits. It is better (read that as smarter) to swim slower while paying close attention to the technique of your strokes. Are you pulling the water with power? Are you kicking with more than just your calf muscles? Are you breathing on both sides? Make smart adjustments to get the most out of your swimming.

Drill During Your Workouts

No matter how often you swim and no matter how long you swim, it is a good idea to add some swimming drills. These can be sets of laps that should be completed in a certain amount of time, or it can be something as simple as using kickboards or paddles. It is always a good idea to try to do something intentional while you spend time in the pool. Drills can help you focus on strength, speed, stroke, or breathing. Make your workout smarter by actually swimming with a purpose.

Swim with a Purpose

Another helpful way to intelligently build up your swimming sessions is to have an occasional challenge. Runners often do this by training for a race. Swimmers can do the same. This doesn’t mean that you have to race against anyone, but you race against yourself. Every so often (once per week, twice per month, whatever works for you), you should challenge yourself in the pool. This could be timing yourself going all-out and keeping track of your speed. It could be pushing yourself to breathe on the other side. It could even be swimming a little longer than usual on occasion. Whatever you do to challenge yourself, be sure that you push as hard as you can so you can really see what you are capable of doing.

Occasionally, Take it Easy

relaxFinally, give yourself some time to recover. Even though swimming is an exercise that can be done every day, there will be times when you should give yourself some easy workouts or even a day off here and there. It is always helpful to give yourself a short cool down at the end of each swimming session. You should also know that you do not have to push yourself to the edge in every single workout. There might be a workout where you just feel like kicking – so do it.