What Are the Four Different Sculling Techniques?

Sculling helps keep you afloat.
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If you can remember back to when you first learned to swim, chances are you were taught to scull, a safety skill that keeps you from sinking. But sculling is not just for beginners. Swimmers perform sculling drills to improve their strokes, while synchronized swimmers scull to maneuver in the water during performances. Sculling isn’t hard to do; you simply make your hands cut through the water to create lift. Four basic sculling techniques are practiced -- vertical, horizontal, head first and feet first.

Hand Movement

    Sculling involves a back-and-forth sweeping movement of your hands. The path your hands take is similar to a figure eight. To practice this, slip into chest-high water, bend your elbows 90 degrees and hold your hands in front of you with your palms facing down. While keeping your upper arms still, tilt your hands outward 45 degrees and sweep your hands toward each other about 10 inches. Then, tilt your hands inward 45 degrees and sweep them out about 10 inches and repeat. Just remember -- thumbs up and pinkies down when your hands move in, and thumbs down and pinkies up as you move them out.


    Jump into the deep end of a pool to practice sculling in a vertical position. Extend your arms out to your sides and bend your elbows 90 degrees. Hold your arms so your elbows are slightly lower than the level of your shoulders. Turn your hands so your palms are facing down. Without moving your upper arms, begin the sculling motion with your hands -- thumbs up as you move your hands in and thumbs down as you move them out. Apply a slight downward pressure against the water with your palms to create lift. Kick your legs as little as possible and focus on rhythmic and even sweeps.


    Stationary, horizontal sculling can be done face up or face down. To scull face up, simply float on your back with your arms straight by your sides. Begin the in and out sweeping motion with your hands. At the end of each sweep turn your palms down and then do another sweep. Unlike the vertical technique, the sculling motion starts from your shoulders, passes through your forearms and then to your hands. Keep your arms close to your body and apply some downward pressure with your palms. To scull face down, take a deep breath and lie horizontally, face down in the water. Hold your arms the same way you did with the vertical technique and sweep your hands in a similar way. A pull buoy between your legs and a snorkel makes this a lot easier.

Head First

    Sculling and moving head first through the water is another technique that starts with you floating horizontally face up in the water. Hold your arms straight and close to your sides. Unlike with stationary sculling, bend your wrists backward so your fingertips are pointing up and your palms are facing your feet. Start the back and forth sweeping motion with your hands to propel your body backward. Your hand movements are almost like you're waving to your feet.

Feet First

    With a slight change in technique, you can also move forward, feet first. Float horizontally on your back. Hold your arms straight and close to your sides. Bend your wrist down so your fingertips are pointing toward the bottom of the pool. Instead of a figure eight sweep, it's more circular, more like a breaststroke pull. As usual, your thumbs are down on the outward sweep. At the end of the outward sweep turn your hands so your thumbs are up and your palms face in. Finish the inward sweep close to your hips and repeat to propel your body forward.

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