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Faster Freestyle Swimming Clinic: Part 3. Wrist Awareness and the Power of the Y

Faster Freestyle Swimming Technique Video Series (part 3 of 5)

Learn how to improve your freestyle swimming technique, efficiency, power and endurance from Karlyn Pipes, swim technique expert coach and Masters Swimming multiple World Record holder. In this no-nonsense swim clinic, Coach Karlyn demonstrates five focus points essential for improving freestyle swimming.  You’ll learn how to do each technique point from the high-quality underwater video and instruction on land with a Vasa SwimErg.

Karlyn’s winning ways will help you develop an efficient freestyle swimming stroke with increased power.  Follow her lead and you’ll soon be swimming stronger, better, faster!

This clinic is presented in 5 blog posts, each with one of Karlyn’s five essential technique focus points:

Part 1. Hand Placement: How to properly set up the stroke

Part 2. Fingertip Orientation: High Elbow Catch

Part 3. Wrist Awareness and The Power of the Y

Part 4. Umph at the Front: Where to apply the power

Part 5. Exiting the Stroke efficiently to reduce drag


Faster Freestyle Swimming: Part 3 — Wrist Awareness and The Power of the Y

“The third focus point is based upon a discovery I made some years ago. I live in Kona, Hawaii and one day, Natalie Coughlin, an Olympic gold medalist, was swimming in my pool.

Karlyn teaches high elbow catch poolside for faster freestyle swimming
Karlyn teaching in Kona, HI

I noticed something very interesting about her stroke — she was swimming with an open hand. So I began experimenting with the open hand technique in my own swimming and I found that when I opened the hand and kept it relaxed, it allowed me to focus on my lower palm and wrist (a “Y” shape) to gain more pulling power.   This technique engaged the large muscle groups of my back.  I’ve labeled this “The Power of the Y.”  (Figure 1)

Karlyn Pipes shows lower palm and wrist
(Figure 1)

Most people have been taught to apply power with a hard hand.  To demonstrate this, start out with a partner whose palm is out flat. Start out by pressing high in your partner’s palm with a high elbow stroke position. When you do this, you will notice tension in your shoulder and forearm. (Figure 2)

(Figure 2) Excessive stress on shoulder & biceps tendon

Then, shift the power to right underneath your wrist and let your hand go limp. When you do so, your lats will fire. Your large muscle groups, including your lats, down the side of your body, will assist in engaging power. (Figure 3)

(Figure 3) Shift the power to the lats & back muscles

When your hand is slightly open and relaxed, you create less tension. By creating less tension, you will save energy that can be used for power.

The Power Paddles on the Vasa SwimErg add increased awareness to the wrist portion of the stroke.  When you begin swimming, keep a high elbow, and focus the power of the pull from the lower palm and the wrist — The Power of the Y.  This provides optimum power in each pull by connecting with your wrist.   (Figure 4)

(Figure 4) Power paddles help keep focus on Power of the Y

It’s not ideal to let the wrist “break,” or bend slightly.  As you can imagine, doing that in the water will cause your hands to “slip” and you will lose a significant amount of power. You can test this on the SwimErg – if you bend your wrist, power “watts” will decrease.   However, when you maintain a firm wrist and a relaxed hand,  you’ll be able to generate more power.

One of the most critical components to an effective pull is being aware of the wrist area, specifically the fulcrum. Using a firm wrist with a relaxed hand will help to engage your lats, thereby optimizing power throughout each stroke.  If you shift forward to a hard hand, you will be using your forearm and shoulder muscles, as opposed to your larger, more powerful muscles in the back.  (Figure 5)

(Figure 5)

Continue on to PART 4. Umph at the Front: Where to apply the power in your stroke

Bio:  Coach Karlyn Pipes is an excellent and very popular swim technique coach.  She practices what she coaches as an accomplished Masters Swimming World Record Holder. She has an appetite for success and it shows. Voted one of the top ten masters swimmers of all-time, she holds over 200+ FINA Masters World records, of which 47 are still current. In early 2017, she broke six more FINA Masters World Records while competing in Europe.  

Karlyn travels the world teaching swimmers and triathletes of every age and ability “how to swim faster with less effort”. She runs swim technique clinics and camps through her business Aquatic Edge, located in beautiful Kona, Hawaii. Recently, Karlyn was inducted into the International Swimming Hall Of Fame in 2015 and has released her new book, The Do-Over. We are proud to be associated with Karlyn and we commend her on all that she has accomplished throughout her swimming & coaching career.