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What Is Sculling Swimming? (And How To Do It?)

Sculling is a technique to help swimmers improve form and build strength.

Using this technique, swimmers can feel the water and focus on the pitch of their hands in the water.

Sculling is similar to rowing.

In rowing, the paddle is in the water and it turns, stops, and drives the boat. In swimming, the pitch determines how fast and where you go.

The hand acts like the paddle and sculling focuses on the pitch of the paddle.

The pitch can give swimmers a sense of the water pressure.

Swimmers and coaches use sculling drills in order to train the body and the hands to recognize the pressure and evaluate changes that are necessary to be able to prevent poor stroke mechanics, tension, and fatigue. 

Why You Should Scull

Using sculling, swimmers are able to maintain ideal arm and hand position when moving through the water since they can better feel the water.

It also allows the swimmer to maximize the surface area in order to have effective lift and propulsion.

In order to have this, the hand’s surface needs to differ from the surface area of the water.

Adequate speed of surface area and adequate surface area are the two main factors that need to work together to produce the lift and speed needed for a successful swim.

Sculling helps maximize the surface area in the water. 

Sculling is an important part of treading water to make you more efficient when it comes to saving energy and staying afloat.

This can mean it’s important for survival.

Going through the motions of sculling can help you learn about which part of the stroke is the strongest and which is the weakest.

This helps you correct parts and improve the weaker ones so you are able to learn how to properly move your hands during swimming. 

Sculling helps improve your catch.

When sculling then your palms are in front of you and the hands are horizontal.

This means the hands are performing a catch when they are moving forward.

The fact that your hands don’t exit the water when you move against the palms makes it hard since when you do most strokes, the arm is recovering out of the water and doesn’t have the resistance.

You then start to become better at creating force with the inside of the palm and reduce resistance from the outside. 

Sculling is a great way to prevent shoulder injuries since it’s basically working your shoulders.

Sculling helps you develop your shoulders so that you are able to have better control of your arms.

Sculling can also help you know how far your arms can move.

This will allow you to learn how much you can stretch your shoulders during your normal stroke.

Sculling can be helpful regardless of whether or not you swim competitively or just for fun.

swimmer training

Different Sculling Positions

Sculling can look a little different depending on the desired outcome and training.

There are different positions, but sculling consists of any hand motion in the water.

Sculling is dependent on the position of your palms.

It can include figure eight motions or making an “S“ motion with the hands in the water.

It can be up and down or it can also be side to side.

There are sculling assisted devices you can use in order to make sculling more effective.

Paddles can also be used to teach appropriate palm and thumb position during drills.

Paddles can be used for any of the four competitive swim strokes.

There are also a few different variations of sculling.

The most important benefit of sculling is to allow a swimmer to feel, as well as maintain, the pressure of the water.

Awareness of pressure and the relation to the swimmer’s forearm and palm helps improve the stroke. 

Catch Scull

Using the catch scull is ideal for swimmers that want to work on the catch of the front in the freestyle stroke.

With the catch scull, you use your hands and forearm to produce forward propulsion.

In order to do this, keep your arms out in front and bend the elbows.

Use a buoy between your legs and lie face down in the water.

You may use a small kick to help prevent sinking, but keep in mind that you want to focus on arm strength and not rely on leg strength.

The elbows should be above your hand and the fingertips should be tilting toward the bottom of the pool.

You don’t want to put too much stress on the shoulders and you should remember that the movement should come from the hands and forearms.

This should be a relaxed position and you should use your hips to do the position.

Hip rotation helps you bring the elbows up.

This keeps pressure off your shoulders in order to prevent improper form and injury. 

Feet First Scull

Using feet first scull helps improve your forearm performance.

Whether you prefer to swim backstroke, butterfly, freestyle, or breaststroke, the feet first scull helps the various stages of your stroke.

You are able to do this drill on either your stomach or your back.

If you are doing it on your stomach, you should have a snorkel.

Your feet are going to lead, just as the name suggests.

Relax the body so that your knees are bent and your neck is relaxed.

Put the arms straight at the hips and use the wrist.

You only want to use your wrists and have most of your movement coming from your forearms.

Your hands should scull in circular motions and not be more than 10 inches from the hips. 

Hip Scull

Butterfly and backstroke swimmers use different variations of this scull.

In order to do the hip scull, you will need to be face down in the water with your arms straight.

Elbows are locked and hands should be at the thighs.

When you changeover into this scull, your wrists and forearms should act as one unit.

Sweep the water back and out and don’t extend beyond 12 inches.

Flip the palm to the sky when you are sweeping out and then face the hands in and point the thumbs down to the pool when you sweep back toward the body. 

Superman Scull

To complete this sculling technique, put the arms out in front of you and have your face in the water.

The hands and wrists will do the sculling.

Start forward propulsion by moving the hands and wrists in a side-to-side motion in order to propel the body through the water.

From this scull, you are also able to transition to the Wide-Y scull.

You are also able to transition to the windshield wiper scull and use your forearms as windshield wipers.

Point the fingers down and stabilize the elbows to use this position to get your body forward. 

Tips for Efficient Sculling 

In order to scull effectively, it helps to bring the right tools to the water.

A snorkel is a helpful tool to have to help you keep your body in the right position and keep your head in the water.

If you tend to sink in water then it also helps to have a pull buoy.

Some coaches will prefer to not have you kick when sculling so the movement can be kept in the forearms and hands.

If you are going to use your legs, make sure you are able to move your legs without messing up your hand rhythm.

Since most water treading techniques have different motions for the hands and legs it can be hard to do this, but it’s necessary to keep focus on the hands and forearms in order to make the most out of the exercise. 

Keep elbow movement to a minimum and keep the shoulders relaxed.

The faster you are able to do the moments with your wrists and hands, the faster you are going to get to the end of the pool.

If you are bouncing then you should pay attention to your palms and slow down.

If you are bouncing a lot then this means your palms are spending more energy toward the bottom of the pool.

Switching up your orientation will fix this problem.

If you think you are moving too slowly then you might only be putting pressure on your palms on the out-sweep instead of the in-sweep.

Both are needed to propel you forward.

Keep in mind when you start adding sculling to your workout that you are going to be using muscles you haven’t trained much.

Start slow and then rest so you can focus on the proper technique.

Sculling can be used as recovery, a part of a warm up to get a feel for the water, or a cool down to rest your strokes.

If you are having trouble with the techniques, you can also learn them out of the water.

Once you have a better understanding, get back in the water to master them better.