Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: "Feel" for the Water

>> Thursday, April 15, 2021

I came across an interesting article called What Is “Feel for the Water?” It started with "The best swimmers in the world are masters at feeling the water. Feeling or 'holding' the water in order to gain traction and move the body forward is critical to swimming success, yet can be a difficult concept to grasp and apply. Swim Speed Series author Sheila Taormina explains."

She goes on:

Coaches are even divided as to whether or not a feel for the water can be taught. I wholeheartedly believe it can be and know the impact that great photos can have on turning this concept from abstract to understandable. I took care to ensure the swim strokes in this book were photographed from a variety of unique angles to give readers a glimpse into this mysterious world.

Describing feel can get so abstract that coaches are oftentimes heard commenting that the greatest swimmers look as “one with the water.”

What the heck does that mean? How can we learn to do it, too?

The strokes of the best swimmers are fluid and look effortless. They seem to swim using some kind of X factor. The X is not abstract, nor is it a gift handed out by fate. It can be learned. Our study of fluid dynamics and stroke mechanics reveals what swimmers must do to add the X factor in their strokes.

The X Factor In Swimming: A Feel For The Water

That X factor involves what in swimming is called a feel for the water. Feel is also referred to as an athlete’s “hold” on the water—the ability to gain traction on a fluid and translate it into forward movement. We all are subject to lift and drag in the water. How do elite swimmers feel when they interact with these forces? Do they feel them like everyone else, or do they have a different, gifted, sensory function?

Elite swimmers do not feel lift and drag differently. Lift and drag are simply felt as resistance or pressure on the limb. You can press your hand/arm in any direction on the water and feel the resistance. There is no secret to it. However, elite swimmers do have sharpened kinesthetic and proprioceptive abilities, which allow them to feel how the force they exert against the resistance translates to speed in the water, as well as when the resistance can be used to propel themselves forward.

That sounds AMAZING. I wish I could feel my force in the water translating to speed. I just feel wet.

Kinesthesia is the ability to feel movements of the limbs and the body, and proprioception is the ability to sense the position and location of the body and its parts. These two sensory skills account for the fluidity and almost effortless-looking nature of elite swimmers’ strokes. Having kinesthetic and proprioceptive abilities may be a gift that some swimmers naturally have, but these can be developed in any athlete through deliberate practice.

Let’s look at what swimmers must do to develop these heightened abilities, so they can put the X factor in their strokes.

Sheila explains the path to a better feel for the water in her book, but here’s a very short summary that will give you the idea.

Develop swimming kinesthetic ability by:

• Maximizing the surface area of your limbs
• Holding the proper amount of muscle tension in those limbs

It won’t do you much good to develop kinesthetic abilities only to then press on the water in the wrong direction. Your hand/arm must face back on the water throughout the curvilinear path in such a way that the resultant forces of lift and drag propel you forward. Having the proprioceptive ability to recognize when your limb is in the correct position is critical.

Develop swimming proprioceptive ability by:

• Effective drills (Learn drills from the Swim Speed Series drill videos here.)
• Periodically stop swimming midstroke, freeze-frame your hand/arm during the pull, and look back to see if your stroking paddle faces back on the water. If not, adjust and consciously work to memorize what it feels like to do it right.

When it comes to a masterful hold on the water, there is one other stroking feature that elite swimmers share: hand acceleration.

Elite swimmers’ hand speed is slowest during the catch and increases as they progress through the stroke, while less proficient swimmers stroke with constant, unchanging hand velocity. Hand speed is directly related to hand force; faster hand speed translates to increased force. Therefore, elite swimmers’ hand force increases as they progress through the stroke cycle. You can learn this too and drills can help.

That "hand acceleration idea is super interesting, and I'll have to pay attention to mine the next time I'm in the pool. (It's been 13 months now because of COVID, so don't hold your breath.)

Here's a video showing one of the drills, but I'll admit, it's a little unclear. Like, he's making sweet "tornados" in the water, but how exactly?

For more "Thirsty Thursday" posts that highlight workouts, body science, and all kinds of interesting information, CLICK HERE. As always, check back for some "Friday Funnies" tomorrow.


Semi-Wordless Wednesday: Treadmill Sweat

>> Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Eww.... I need to wipe down our treadmill...

This is all me - I can't blame my wife. And this was NOT just after a workout. It caught my eye reflecting light through the basement window while I was doing something else down there. Off to get some bleach solution now...


A Normal Week After a "Weird" One

>> Monday, April 12, 2021

Here's what the last 3 weeks of my training log have looked like:

THE FIRST WEEK was quite normal. Except the boys and I headed up north for their spring break on Sunday, so I did my normal Monday long run on Sunday at the end of that week. So even though the first and second weeks seen above have weekly running mileage of 31.75 miles and 10.9 miles, it's REALLY more like 21.55 miles and 21.1 miles.

THE SECOND WEEK was all kinds of "weird." The first few days were spent up north. Then we started working on building a tree house in the later part of the week. (And I hurt my knee and took it easy for a few days.) Then we visited our parents for the Easter weekend. My strength time was 6.5 hours, which was is one of my smallest weeks in about the past 12 months. Weak week. But necessary all around.

AND THEN THE THIRD WEEK (last week) was very solid. It had a nice long run, some solid strength work (over 9 hours), and even 4 hours of trainer rides! The middle ride had some good effort (9x 90 sec hard, 90 sec easy), and then the weekend ride was totally easy and was going to be shorter, but part way through I realized I could do another 80 min ride to hit 4 hours on the week.

I already got in a great long run this morning, and I'm hoping for another solid "normal" week!


Knee is Better!

>> Saturday, April 10, 2021

As I mentioned a week ago, my knee was hurting after a hammer knocked it while working on the tree house. After a sore trainer ride, a sore run, and a few days of it hurting quite bad while going up and down steps, it was suddenly fine for Monday's long run. And it's been great all week (although I took it a bit easy on Monday and Wednesday while doing some 1-legged sqaut exercises so I didn't hurt it).

On Tuesday, I noticed an actual bruise for the first time:

I posted a week ago that "I think I brusied it somewhere 'inside,'" so I was suprised to see an actual bruise appear on the outside. But none of that matters anymore as it's feeling good! I had some nice effort on the trainer on Thursday, and it felt great - that was sort of the final test in my mind.


Friday Funny 1910: More Fitness Funnies

>> Friday, April 09, 2021

Here are more funny things tagged with "fitness" from

I feel attacked.

Lots more funny things posted all day long on HAPPY WEEKEND!


Friday Funny 1909: Relationship Funnies

Here's a handful of relationship-based funny things from

Lots more funny things posted all day long on


Friday Funny 1908: Special Delivery!!

More funny things post on



Follow steveinaspeedo on Twitter

Facebook Fan Page

All content and original images copyright 2006 - 2021 by Steve Stenzel, AKA "Steve in a Speedo." All Rights Reserved.
Want to use something seen here? Just ask - I don't bite.