Sculling is a small hand movement that creates turbulence in the water. When you push your hand through water, the water swirls around the sides of your hand to fill in the space left behind. With sculling, you push the water and then turn your hand in the opposite direction and push against the water that is swirling to fill in the gap. The swirling water feels more solid against your hand and pushing against it gives you more power than simply dragging your hand through still water. Incorporating a sculling movement into your swim strokes increases the power and effectiveness of a stroke, which is why sculling is often thought of as the “key to it all”. Sculling is an activity on its own, using small hand movements to travel either head first, feet first, sideways or rotating depending on the angle of your hands. It is also the upper body component of treading water. Sculling is used a lot in artistic swimming (also called synchronised swimming) as well as lifesaving activities. Sculling can help to build wrist and forearm strength for swimming as well as developing a greater feel and understanding of how water moves, giving a swimmer greater control in almost any activity.

Skills that help to improve Sculling:

Development of Sculling from Beginner to Advanced:


The very first step to understanding sculling is to develop a small hand movement. Pushing the water side to side, always with the palm of the hand and feeling how the water starts to feel more solid. This can be done standing in shallow water with the hands just below the surface. When sculling is done well, you can notice whirlpools forming on the water surface, somewhere between the hand and elbow.


Once a swimmer has got the hang of the basic hand movement, they can experiment with moving in different directions. Laying on the back, if a swimmer angles the hand so that the fingertips point upwards, sculling will make them travel head-first across the pool. If the fingertips are angled downwards, the swimmer will travel feet-first across the pool. Swimmers can explore many different movement directions throughout the three dimensions of the pool.


At an advanced level, sculling can be incorporated into the main swim strokes, for example instead of pulling straight down in front crawl, the swimmer can move their hand in an S-shaped pattern through the water, which may give them more speed and power. For those swimmers interested in artistic swimming, a dedicated club will be able to teach more advanced sculling techniques and develop them to be strong and neat, and to incorporate them into a choreographed sequence to music.

Skill-specific Hazards for Sculling:

Besides the general inherent dangers involved with water-based activities, Sculling has its own specific risks:

  • Travelling on the back, head-first can lead to swimmers colliding with other swimmers or the pool wall. Although sculling is a slow activity, care should be taken to be aware of surroundings
  • Excessive practice of sculling can cause wrist strain


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