What? Swim with your fists instead of open hands? Maybe you think I’ve spent too long with my head in the water. But it does help to develop more efficient strokes.

Fist swimming is ideal for use early in a swim session because not only does it help swimmers to “feel” the water, it also reduces stress on the shoulders. Some swimmers even use fist swimming for more than half their session. In fact, there is even a product – Fistgloves – designed specifically for this drill.

A swimmer needs traction and pressure against the water to gain leverage for a propelling force. The longer the lever (hand, wrist, and the insides of the upper and lower arm, especially the latter), the more surface area working against the water, and the greater will be the propulsive force.

One way to develop this lever is by swimming with fists instead of an open hand. By doing so, swimmers are forced to keep their elbows high in order to use their lower arms. Increased kinesthetic awareness in these “underused” parts of the stroking lever can help the swimmer to “grip” the water rather than “slip” through it. Power actually comes as much or more from the wrist and forearm as it does from the hand and shoulder.

The fist drill helps to develop the longest lever that pushes back (drag force) or lifts a swimmer ahead. Swimming with a high elbow, as if over a barrel, uses the maximum surface area. Doing so through the full range of motion enables the swimmer to achieve the greatest distance per stroke.

Crawl stroke (“freestyle”) is the best stroke to use initially with fists, but fists are equally helpful for all strokes. I like to loosen up with an individual medley of fist strokes.

Swimming with fists takes only a few more strokes per pool length. But it is just amazing how much better a stroke feels when you open your hands after swimming with fists.

Next time you go to the pool or the lake, try swimming with your fists. It will feel awkward at first, but it doesn’t take long for your brain to adjust. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much this drill can help you develop more efficient and effective stroking.

Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor, coach and author of “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors,” directed primarily to non-competitors. bobcolyer@yahoo.com