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How to strengthen your wrists to improve your swim pull

How to strengthen your wrists to improve your swim pull

It's time to pinch a pair of paddles! Why? Because, says swim coach Andrew Sheaff, it'll help build a stronger and more controlled wrist for a more efficient pull stroke…

If you’ve been involved in triathlon for some time, and you’ve sought to improve your swimming, you’ve likely heard about swimming with a ‘dropped elbow’. 

To get as strong a pull as possible, you want to use your hand and your forearm to move water backwards. That means you have a bigger surface area and a bigger paddle to pull with. 

When the elbow gets dropped, the forearm is moving through the water horizontally instead of vertically, and that results in a lot less surface area which results in a weaker pull. 

Wall Pull and Upside Down Paddles exercises

In the past, I’ve discussed how using exercises like Wall Pull and Upside Down Paddles can help with this skill, see below:

While that skill is critical, it’s not the only one that’s important for a strong pull. You can also drop the wrist when pulling. 

Instead of having the palm face backward while you pull, the palm faces down, which means you’re not using it to move water backward. 

And if you’re not using the palm to move water backward, you’re in trouble! This is often the result of a lack of skill in controlling the wrist, as well as a lack of wrist strength.

Pinch Paddles exercise

My favourite way to help swimmers improve their wrist strength and wrist skills is using an exercise I call ‘Pinch Paddles’. All you do is take your paddles, turn them sideways, and hold on to them by pinching them. 

It doesn’t matter which type of paddles you use, and it doesn’t really matter exactly how you pinch the paddles. Just grab onto the sides and start swimming. 

You can use pinch paddles while performing drills, you can use pinch paddles while swimming, you can use pinch paddles while swimming slow, and you can use pinch paddles while swimming fast.

How and why does Pinch Paddles work?

To move the paddle through the water, you have to stabilise it. Otherwise, it’s going to move all over the place. 

The only way to stabilise the paddle it to make sure the wrist stays stiff, without bending backward. In other words, you can’t drop the wrist. 

If you do, you’ll be able to feel the paddle moving all over the place, and you’ll be able to feel how it’s not being used to create propulsion. 

Pinching the paddles provides crystal clear feedback about how well you’re pulling through the water.
It’s not just a skill development tool. As you’ll see, pinching your paddles takes work. You have to squeeze the paddles and you have to stabilise the paddles while you move your arms through the water. 

That is definitely going to put some stress on your forearm muscles, especially if you use pinch paddles for any extended period of time. 

Not only are you improving your ability to control your wrist, you’re strengthening the required muscles as well!

Top image credit: Remy Whiting

Profile image of Andrew Sheaff Andrew Sheaff Swim coach


Andrew Sheaff has been helping people improve their swimming for over 20 years. He’s worked with everyone from children learning to swim to Olympic medalists to masters triathletes and swimmers. He specialises in helping triathletes improve their swimming skills through online coaching. He is also the author of 'A Constraints-Led Approach to Swim Coaching'. For more information about improving your swimming and to work with Andrew, please visit www.masteringflow.info or www.youtube.com/@masteringflow.