Swimming is all about efficiency…and you could be leaving precious speed on the table if your hands don’t enter the water just right!

Let’s take a look at what good freestyle hand entry looks like, plus two drills you can use to perfect your technique and swim faster.

Breaking Down Proper Freestyle Hand Entry

In a perfect world, every swimmer would keep their arms from crossing over their midline when they start each stroke. Each hand should enter the water in line with the shoulder. Think 11 and 1 on a clock! 

The hand should enter the water with the middle finger first, about 18 inches (or half a meter) in front of the shoulder. 

Related: Fix These 5 Mistakes to Swim Faster Freestyle

But that’s all easier said than done! So many swimmers “cross over” when their hands enter the water, meaning that each hand reaches way over their imaginary midline. This is less efficient and forces the swimmer to spend time bringing their hand into better alignment before they can start their pull.

Another common mistake we see is a short hand entry. Instead of entering the water with the hands 18 inches in front of the shoulder, some swimmers keep their stroke pretty short, driving their hands into the water long before they should. This slows them down, because they aren’t taking advantage of the full extension of each arm. 

When you enter the water too early, you have to push against the water to get your arm out to full extension, instead of reaching your arm out over the water before dunking your fingers under the surface.

2 Drills to Improve Your Freestyle Hand Entry

Incorporate these drills into your workouts to focus on hand entry and setting yourself up for a powerful pull!

Shoulder-Width Catchup Drill

Start kicking with your hands in superman position (arms at 11 and 1!). Take a stroke with the right arm, leaving the left arm extended. When the right arm returns to superman position, the left arm can take a stroke. Repeat for a 25 or 50, focusing on maintaining shoulder-width alignment.

If you have a short PVC pipe or stick, try using it for this drill!

Related: How to Swim Freestyle Without Getting Out of Breath

Fingertip Drag Drill

Fingertip Drag is a great way to fix a short hand entry and practice high elbow recovery. Swim freestyle as normal, but drag the fingertips along the surface of the water during the recovery phase of the stroke. Drag your fingers until your arm is almost fully extended before starting your pull.

Freestyle Drill Set

Try this drill set to practice your hand entry before or after your main set.

4×50 Drill @ 1:00

  • Odds Shoulder-Width Catchup
  • Evens Fingertip Drag

If you liked these drills and want more technique tips, plus custom workouts and Training Plans, download the MySwimPro app! Start a free trial to unlock personalized swim training that will help you swim faster, get stronger and feel your best.


1 Comment

  1. These are excellent drills and can correct some stroke issues. My humble suggestion is if high elbow recovery is important (I think it is), the the catch up should also use a high elbow recovery. as I tell my swimmers, “Because your doing one thing, it doesn’t mean you forget everything else which is important.

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