What Does “Feel for the Water” Really Mean?


A lot of coaches and swimmers throw around the phrase “feel for the water” without much explanation. Most who use it just assume it refers to a swimmer’s efficiency—how he or she increases and decreases drag and resistance. Really, though, feel is synonymous with hold; it deals with how that swimmer gains traction. It also refers to how aware the swimmer is of the different forces in play affecting his or her propulsion.

Pulling and the Water

Most swimmers feel the water most in their hand and arm movements—the catch and pull. To diversify their senses, they should train different strokes throughout the week to feel the water with different resistances, rotations and speeds. Training multiple strokes forces the body to manipulate the water in new ways, which heightens the overall feel for the water.


Sculling is one of the greatest skills swimmers can refine to increase their feel for the water. The most basic form of sculling follows this pattern:

  • Move the hands with the palms facing downward in a circular motion, just under the surface of the water;
  • Keep the elbows bent slightly to position arms just wider than shoulder-width apart;
  • Tilt the forearms and palms to direct the body forward or backward or stay idle.

There are various sculling drills involving rapid circular motions. For example, leaning back and propelling feet first places greater feel for the water on the forearms. Checkout this article from Livestrong for more drills and sculling tips.