The Art of Sculling
“An important drill for me is sculling [a stroke in which you move your arms back and forth in small figure eights]. It really helps me maintain my feel for the water.” - Michael Phelps, Mens Fitness
What is ‘feel for the water’ and why is this drill so important to freestyle? Feel for the water is simply the connection of your hands and forearms with the water in an effort to provide propulsion.
Scull drill focuses on a constant light pressure on the palms and forearms and is the same pressure you want to feel at the beginning of your catch.
When performing the drill many swimmers keep their arms straight out in front of them, close to the surface of the water. Attempting to scull in this position will cause the swimmer to struggle to make forward progress and likely result in a pulling motion resembling breaststroke.
Proper sculling technique has the arm angled toward the bottom of the pool (similar to the freestyle arm entry) with the fingers below wrist and wrist below elbow. The swimmer maintains a constant lightpressure on the hands and forearms with their palms facing back.
Perform this drill often and you will develop greater awareness of the position of your hands and forearms which will enhance your feel for the water. Check out my video below demonstrating a proper scull set-up.