When it comes to freestyle drills, there are fewer simpler and more effective than closed fist freestyle.
The drill itself doesn’t look all that complicated. You literally ball up your fists, and swim across the pool without the benefit of having the added surface area of your fingers to help you get there.
But make no mistake, this drill can be pretty friggin’ awesome when performed with intent.
If it’s efficiency, speed, and better technique you want, closed fist freestyle can deliver in spades.
Here is why you should choose this drill the next time coach pulls up a “choice drill” set on the board.
The Benefits of Closed Fist Freestyle Drill
Our swim practices are long, and at times, boring. I get this.
Being completely focused for a two hour, 7,000m workout is a lot to ask. And so it can be tempting to swim through drill work, or use it as a chance to swim easy and without focus between main sets.
But when you do drill work with focus and intent, some pretty neat-o stuff can happen.
Here are just some of the reasons you should not only do more closed fist freestyle, but do so with purpose and with improvement in mind:
You’ll fire up your stroke rate. With a smaller hand paddle to pull you across the pool your arm will slice through the water, giving your stroke tempo a jump. For swimmers who have a long, loping stroke and need to shorten things this up this drill can help teach you how to swim with a faster stroke rate. Sprinters will get a lot of use from being able to swim freestyle at a higher stroke rate. In essence, closed fist freestyle can be used as a variation of “spin” drill.
You will learn to be more efficient in the water. Swimmers should constantly be on the lookout to being more efficient in the pool. Being able to go quicker and further with less effort is the foundation of fast swimming. Closed fist swimming can help you with this by shaking you up from your usual swimming patterns and habits, forcing you to focus on being more efficient with what you have.
It’ll teach you to use your forearm more effectively. A lot of attention is paid to our hands during the pulling motion—and rightfully so. When we think about increasing our feel for the water we instantly wiggle our fingers around, trying to grab more of that chlorinated water. When you ball up your fists, however, you will notice that the forearm does provide a sizable amount of surface area to pull with. On an unrelated side note, I would imagine that Popeye and his forearms would be insanely effective at this drill.
It encourages a higher elbow catch. A fast, efficient freestyle starts with a high elbow catch. A saggy elbow at the beginning of the catch leaves a lot of power and speed on the table, and is also one of the most common technique errors freestylers make. Closed fist freestyle–when done properly, obviously—helps you achieve that high elbow. This goes back to leaning on your forearm to pull forwards—closed fist freestyle teaches you to get that forearm vertical quickly so that you can start pulling with it ASAP.
How to Do Closed Fist Drill Like a Boss
Okie dokie, so now that I have sold you on the benefits of swimming while punching the water, here are some tips for making the most of it:
1. Don’t cheat.
The temptation will be strong to only half-ball your fist, or using some sort of Kung Fu grip instead of forming a tight fist. Ball up your hands nice and tight.
2. Mix it up with your regular swimming.
Drills are designed to better our swimming. Period. If you are doing drill work and not applying it to your full stroke then you are wasting your time.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate this drill (and most drills, for that matter), is to perform a set of 50’s long course, the first 25 with closed fists, the second 25 swim.
Doing this in a long course pool allows you to almost instantly connect the things you are working on when doing the drill to your swim stroke. (Stuck in short course? Do 12.5 drill/12.5 swim.)
3. Perform closed fist freestyle at different speeds.
Typically, when we think of doing drill work in the pool it’s slow, meandering, and at least partially awkward.
Screw that noise. Let’s inject some horsepower and high end speed into this particular drill.
I love doing sprint 25’s of closed fist freestyle. Not only does it thoroughly terrify and bewilder the local head-up breaststrokers, but it teaches you to be efficient when swimming at a high speed.
Learning efficiency at low speeds is great at the beginning, but at some point you need to learn how to move through the water best when at a near-sprint.
Closed fist freestyle sprinting brings with it another awesome little caveat—because you aren’t putting as much strain on your shoulders you can actually do it for longer compared to sprint swimming.
Here is a high quality set that I tried out recently that incorporates closed fist freestyle, and builds on what I discussed earlier about using your drill work to strengthen and feed into your regular free swimming.
8 x 50 @1:10 (Long course)
- First 25: closed fist freestyle at 85% effort
- Second 25: swim build to a race finish
The drill work we do in the pool is done with one purpose in mind: to make us a better swimmer.
There are undoubtedly things you want to improve with your freestyle, whether it is being more efficient, or conditioning yourself to be able to turn your arms over at a higher tempo. Whatever the case, closed fist freestyle can be used in service of these goals.
- 9 Drills for a Faster Freestyle. Some of the top swim coaches on the planet stop by with their favorite drills (and video) to help you become a better freestyler.
- 3 Drills for a Faster Freestyle Kick. Did you know that there are drills you can do to not only help your swimming, but also your freestyle kick? True story! Here are three of ’em.