I swim with my fingers together, thumb at the side and a slightly cupped hand.

I have seen some people in my pool swimming with small gaps between their fingers, which I found interesting (I have always been taught the way I currently swim as above).

As the hands make up a fairly substantial amount of propulsion, I was wondering if it is worth changing my form. My question is principally, is it faster to swim with slightly spaced fingers, but I would also be interested in if anyone has attempted to quantify the difference in hand/finger/thumb position.

Thank you in advance for any help you can give.


2 Answers 2


You were likely taught to cup you hand in some beginner class. That's not so much "wrong," just ineffective & unnatural. It also doesn't add to your propulsive power as you may think.

The cup has proven to not add any difference in propulsive power through enough studies. It also forces you to focus on a minor matter that actually adds unnecessary muscle tension where you do not need it.

Here's a Summary Article on "Fingers Open Vs. Closed for Swimming"

The slightly open fingers actually add to propulsive power, and if you watch the video by Gary Hall below, you'll see why. The slightly open hand increases its functional dynamic surface in relation to propulsion.

View an excellent explanation for the slightly open hands by Gary Hall Sr

Many world class swimmers swim with a slightly (not widely) open fingers.

Here's a video of Michael Phelps hands (watch the first 16 seconds)

Nathan Adrian via Speedo

Ian Thorpe's Hands

If you notice children who swim more naturally, they all tend to swim with just the right finger opening similar to the world champs.

Hope this helps and enjoy!


Back in the 1970's, the theory was to hold your fingers together. Then people started applying engineering and science to sports. One of the early investigations was of Dara Torres, involving the hand shape that she used. She had ignored the prevailing theory, and swam with a 'relaxed' hand shape, with the fingers apart. And she was good (spectacularly so).

Now, if you watch video of top current freestyle swimmers, you will see that their fingers are not closed up tight. One coach I've talked with suggests starting with a hand shape similar to how your hand naturally shapes itself while you stand and let your arm and hand dangle lazily - your fingers are not tight.

As a reference, this video on YouTube of Adrian Nathan makes it easy to see that his hand is not tightly held together.

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