The skill that’s missing from most triathletes’ swim pull

You may well have perfect pull positioning and textbook technique, but without this key skill you'll still be missing out on some significant swim speed. Andrew Sheaff explains…

Jack Rex Burnell swimming in the sea in Mallorca, 2019

Many triathletes are missing out on a key aspect of the arm pull. You can achieve perfect positions and have textbook technique yet still struggle. As the saying goes, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

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A pull performed with technical precision is only going to take you so far if you don’t learn to execute that pull in the right way.

So what are many triathletes missing out on? Hand speed! Throughout the pull, there should be a gradual, yet significant increase in hand speed from start to finish.

Now, it’s not quite as simple as just letting it rip. You can’t just pull as hard and as fast as possible from the start. There’s some nuance, but once you figure it out, there’s often a noticeable improvement in speed.

Just focusing on building hand speed next time you’re in the water might be all you need to do to improve. However, that’s likely not going to be the case as it can be a tough skill to figure out.

Instead, you need a couple drills that put you in the right positions, and then a strategy to determine what works.

Wall pull drill

The first step is to learn how to apply pressure in the right position. I love ‘Wall Pull’ for this. You can get into a great pulling set-up, and then practise pulling back.

To pull back with more speed when you swim, you’re going to have to add pressure. You can practise doing this on the wall to get a feel for it. Start slow and then build up the pressure to a maximum.

That might not be how much pressure you need to use when you swim, but it helps you understand what’s possible.

Power pulls drill

Now it’s time to put that pressure to work. Using ‘Power Pulls’, you can practise accelerating the hands and building pressure.

While getting a feeling for what’s happening is important, that’s not enough. You want to know what works.

The best way to do so is to keep track of your stroke counts and times for the drill. If these numbers are improving, you’re doing a better job of accelerating the hands. Pay attention to what works, then repeat it!

How to apply it to your swimming 

As you start to get the hang of how accelerating your hands can improve your speed in the drills, start doing the same while you swim. Use the same skills you’re learning in the drills above and apply it while you swim.

Use the same strategies to help figure out exactly how to do it – count your strokes and keep track of your times. When they numbers improve, keep doing what you’re doing and see if you can consistently get the results you want.

Sooner rather than later, you’ll start to lock in on exactly how much pressure you need to apply and how to build hand speed. Once you do, you’ll have a skill that makes a big difference in terms of how fast you swim.

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Top image credit: Remy Whiting