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What is Sculling in Swimming? How to do it + Drills & Benefits

In swimming, sculling is a hand skill that lets swimmers to “feel the water” and keep the ideal hand and arm position to move through the water. The aim of this technique is to allow the swimmer to maximize surface area for effective propulsion and lift. 

Beyond helping you remain afloat; sculling is vital in improving your swimming technique as its fundamentals are at the core of most swimming strokes.

Learning to do it properly thus has many benefits including helping you lose weight when used with water treading.

Following are the benefits, how to do properly plus drills and tips to improve.

The Importance of Sculling

Among the reasons you need to know how to properly scull water include the following:

1.      For Survival

Sculling is an important part of water treading as it’s the most efficient when it comes to staying afloat and saving on energy. As part of the treading water technique, it helps you keep your head above the water for a long time as you’ll be using little energy to stay afloat.

The alternatives to water sculling include moving your hands up and down or moving them in small circles backwards. These techniques, while they’ll also keep you afloat, require a lot of energy and you’ll soon tire out and sink. They’re also prone to injuring the shoulders and you’re better off staying away from them.

2.      Corrects Your Technique

When you take time to go through all the motions of sculling, you’ll find out which part of your stroke is the weakest and which one is the strongest. This helps you correct the poor parts while improving on the weaker ones. Better yet, you’ll learn how to correctly move your hands during the strokes of your favorite swimming style.

You do that by sculling while focused on how the water feels against your hand. With time, you’ll find out what part of the scull is your best.

3.      Makes Your Catch Better

When sculling, your hands are horizontal and your palms face in front of you. In this way, your hands will be performing a catch as they move forwards. It’s a great opportunity to learn how to have a better catch in this position given that there’s little resistance.

The fact that the hands don’t come out of the water when moving against the palms makes it tough since for most strokes the arm recovers out of the water and without the resistance of water. You thus become better at generating force with the inside of your palm and reducing resistance with the outside of the same hand.

4.      Improves Your Feel for the Water

Swimmers understand the need to feel the water since that’s when you’re most in control. Feeling the water is important as it helps you avoid unnecessary drag and instead focus on gaining speed and being better at your stroke.

Developing a feel for the water takes time and one way to learn that is through the slow techniques such as sculling and treading water. This way, you’ll feel how water acts when you’re moving. You can thus accurately move around the water in terms of the force you apply and the speed you gain.

5.      Helps Reset Your Stroke

When you’re swimming and you realize your stroke isn’t at its best, the solution isn’t continuing with it but resetting and starting afresh. Rather than stopping and getting out of the water, you simply stop the stroke, scull for a while then start the right way.

This is used even during coaching lessons where you’re told on how to correct your form without the need to get out of the water. Essentially, it’s a form of break that still keeps you in line with your swim.

6.      Prevents Shoulder Injuries

When sculling, you’re basically working the shoulders as your hands will be on a horizontal level. The motion of the rest of the hand depends on the strength of the shoulders. Sculling helps you develop stronger shoulders as you have better control of the arms.

Besides that, sculling helps you determine how far back your arms can move. Slowly, your mind gets to learn how far you can stretch the shoulders during a normal swimming stroke.

These aspects are vital whether you’re swimming for fun or competitively.

How to Scull

Proper sculling is dependent on the orientation of the palms. When the palm is directly facing forwards, it’ll generate a lot of catch power. When you face it slightly downwards, it’ll have less force and can thus be moved backwards for recovery.

The sculling steps are as follows:

  1. Get into the water and start a foot kick that keeps you afloat. These include the modified breaststroke eggbeater kick or flutter kicks. They keep you from sinking.
  2. With your head and part of the neck just above the water, extend out your arms to the side to a horizontal plane.
  3. Move your hands forwards with the forearms moving a further 45° forward without touching. Keep the horizontal plane at all times. The palms should be facing forward as you do so.
  4. Move the arms backwards as much as you’re comfortable doing so then repeat the forwards motion again. As you move the hands backwards, tilt the palms such that they face slightly downwards.
  5. When you reach the extreme of your shoulders backwards, start the forward motions.
arm and palm movement direction sculling swimming
Arm Movements

These repeated motions will give you a lift upwards to stay afloat. Combined with the movement of the legs, it creates a great water treading routine.

Sculling Tips & Drills

For a proper sculling form, you should consider the following aspects:

  • Avoiding pulling on the water. Instead, naturally move the arms in the water.
  • Ensure you’re able to move the legs without messing up the rhythm of the hands. Given that most water treading techniques have different motions for the legs and the hands, it’s difficult doing so.
  • You can learn the sculling techniques out of the water or when you’re submerged to master them better.
  • Avoid touching the hands in front of you when the arms pull together.
  • Keep the focus on your hands and palms to make the most of it.
  • Try to keep an upright position as much as possible.
  • Breath naturally to dissipate any tension and stiffness that may mess up your technique.
  • Keep the strokes slow and natural and avoid speed.

These tips will help you be better at your selling techniques.

Further Reading

Following is a list of articles with more swimming information and other water sports

Swimming Strokes/Styles

Swimming FAQs & Ideas

Swimming Accessories

Pool Exercises

Other Water Sports