The pros may make swimming look easy, but it’s actually one of the most technical sports! Freestyle, backstroke and butterfly all incorporate overhead hand entry, which can be a challenge to master for many swimmers. Even the slightest adjustment to where and how your hand enters the water can be the difference between faster swimming and shoulder injury.

Correct these four common hand entry mistakes to swim more efficiently and keep your shoulders healthy!

1. Crossing Over

Crossing over happens when your hand enters the water in front of your head, or even past it. Doing this is a complete waste of time and energy since you will have to push water out and away from your body before you are in a position to push water back behind you. This can cause a wiggle in your stroke and leads to shoulder injury and stress on your shoulders!

Instead, think of your body as a rotisserie chicken. Yes, a chicken on a stick. Imagine a straight line going from your head to your toes – a line of symmetry that you don’t want to break. Enter the water with your hand right in front of your shoulder and pull straight down and back. Remember, the fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line! Crossing over just adds an extra, unnecessary and unhealthy step to your swimming.

To practice this motion, consider trying the shoulder-width catch-up drill. Unlike “old school” catch-up, where you tap your other hand before you take your next stroke, keep your hands outstretched in front of your shoulders before continuing the pull cycle.

2. Entering Too Close to Your Head

This issue occurs when you enter the water with your hand close to your head instead of extending your hand out toward the other side of the pool. When you enter too close to your head instead of stretching out, you have to push against the water’s resistance to extend your arm. This slows you down – remember, water is 800x more dense than air!

Make sure you’re reaching out your hand and arm as far as you can above the water before you begin to pull. This phase of the stroke is called the recovery. Some swimmers have a straight arm when they recover, and some swimmers prefer a high, bent elbow. If you do choose to have a bend in your elbow as your arm returns to the top of the stroke, make sure you’re extending your arm as far as you can to pull more water!

To work on this, try bow and arrow drill!

For more tips on lengthening your stroke and maximizing efficiency, check out our article on distance per stroke here.

3. Entering With Your Thumb

This small change in technique could be a big save for your shoulders! Entering the water with your thumb causes your shoulder to turn in. Once you begin to pull, your shoulder is no longer in a neutral position, causing more stress to the joint. You will also spend more time getting back to that neutral position, where your hand is flat and your fingers point down as you catch.

To fix this issue, practice entering with your pinky instead. This exaggeration of the entry will help you achieve a flat hand entry and grab more water at the top of the stroke. You can work on this motion with a variation of the fist drill. Instead of closing your fist, hold your pointer finger down with your thumb, forming an okay sign.

4. Bending Your Wrist

One last mistake you won’t want to make is bending your wrist as your hand hits the water. When you begin the pull phase of your stroke with a bent wrist, you’re creating a smaller surface area to push water behind you. Once again, swimming is all about lines, and you don’t want to break the line between your elbow and fingertips. Your forearm is essentially your paddle!

Instead, keep your wrist relaxed when you enter the water, and focus on turning your fingertips down to the bottom of the pool as you begin pulling with an early vertical forearm. Learn more about this important concept and the catch phase of the stroke here.

Try this paddle drill to work on wrist positioning:

Try This Swim Workout

Put our advice into practice with this 3,200 yard/meter swim workout! Start off with lots of drills before tackling the main set!


  • 1 x 300 Free @ 5:00 Easy
  • 6 x 50 Kick with fins @ 1:00
  • 1 x 200 IM @ 3:00

Drill Set (4x)

  • 4 x 25 Drill with fins and snorkel* @ :30
  • 1 x 100 Free @ 1:30

*Do a different drill by round. Round 1: Shoulder width catch up drill. Round 2: Bow & arrow. Round 3: Modified fist drill. Round 4: Grab paddle drill.

Main Set (2x)

  • 1×400 Pull @ 7:00
  • 4×50 Free @ 1:00 Best Average Descend

Cool Down

4 x 100 Free @ 1:30 Easy

As you can tell, every little detail counts when it comes to swimming! Download the MySwimPro app for a full library of Technique Videos to sharpen up your stroke and avoid injury. Try our Freestyle Technique Bootcamp, a full Training Plan that includes a slate of Guided Workouts and instructions for nailing down your form.



  1. Manoel Marcelo on

    Olá! Gosto muito do conteúdo. Gostaria de me inscrever, mas não falo o idiomas inglês. É possível treinar sem falar inglês?

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