Trenton Julian Q&A On Technique, Racing & Using Aqua Knuckles

Courtesy of Aqua Knuckles, a SwimSwam partner.

Do you think technique or power is more important in racing?

I have never thought of technique or power being more important in racing. It is very important to develop a strong technique at an early age and proceed to develop power as you progress in the sport.

What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about swimming technique?

The most important advice in swimming technique I think about no matter what stroke I am working on is the high elbow catch. Although, the best overall advice I got was to trust the advice your coach gives you.

Before using Aqua Knuckles, did you ever think about your fingers being opened or closed when swimming?

Before Aqua Knuckles, I had slightly thought about my finger spacing, but it is something extremely hard to change. I realized my fingers were completely closed and, because I would tense my arm up so much, my fingers and hand would also start to tense up. The Aqua Knuckles have started to help me feel what finger placement is most comfortable and optimal for racing.

What are some of the changes you’ve noticed in your swimming since you started using Aqua Knuckles?

I have noticed it is easier for me to swim with my fingers slightly spaced than before I started using the Aqua Knuckles. Other than that, they have let me stay more focused on the things I am trying to change in my stroke.

Are Aqua Knuckles easy to use?

Aqua Knuckles are very easy to use. Just having them on and swimming has helped me get a better feeling of the best finger spacing.

Congratulations on making the USA Swimming National Team. When will we see you in a meet for the National Team?

Thank you, I’m excited to be a part of such an amazing group of athletes! I’m not really sure when I will be in a meet for the National Team yet, but I’m excited for the potential opportunities I may have.

Which swimmers inspire you – past and present? If you could race any swimmer(s), past or present, who would you race? What event?

There are a lot of swimmers I respect and who inspire me. To start off, both of my parents are swimmers who have inspired me to get to where I am (U.S. Olympic gold medalist Kristine Quance Julian and former USA Swimming National Team member Jeff Julian). If I could race anyone, I would love to be able to get a 200 butterfly heat with my Dad, my training partners (Tom Shields, Zheng Quah) and Michael Phelps. These are all swimmers I respect and have either never raced or enjoy racing all the time.

Do you think you’re more of a LCM or SCY swimmer?

I have always thought of myself as more of a LCM swimmer, especially since it usually takes me half the pool to get up to full speed. My turns have also generally been the worst part of my racing, although I have put a lot of focus into improving what I was worst at.

What is your “go to” 200 fly SCY set?

I can’t think of a specific 200 fly set, although I do enjoy off distance fly sets, like 75s or 125s, where I am not as focused on the team and can settle into more of a 200 fly pace or feel.

What is your 200 fly SCY and 200 free SCY pace at practice?

My SCY 200 fly pace is typically around 24 low and my SCY 200 free pace is usually around 23 low or 22 high. I have a harder time hitting my goal 200 free pace at practice since I don’t always have the speed to hit those 50 times.

Do you see yourself branching out into additional events, considering how good your 200 IM is?

I have always liked to train other strokes and being able to race them is just as fun. In the near future, I do not think I could see myself focusing on a single event or even a single stroke.

What foods do you like to eat during training? How about before, during and after meets?

I don’t have a specific diet during training or at my meets. I usually eat pretty plain foods, so during training I stick to chicken, rice and some vegetables to hit my food groups. At meets, it usually depends on what food is close to the hotel or pool. I mainly try to just not go into a race hungry or too full.

Aqua Knuckles are designed to open the fingers to help swimmers increase the surface area of the hand. When the fingers are open, it exposes up to 60% more skin to the water on your hands. This also means a large increase of nerves in your hand being exposed to the water. Do you think Aqua Knuckles helps provide a better “feel for the water”?

I definitely get a better “feel for the water” in my hands because of the Aqua Knuckles. I have thought about the “feel” as an extension from my fingertips to elbow, although since using Aqua

Knuckles, I am able to get that feeling even more into my hands and fingers.

Do you ever take time off from swimming?

The time I take off usually depends on what I have next or how I felt about my last competition. There have been times when I only take a day or two out of the pool, but I do take it easy my first few days back. The longest breaks I take are about two weeks. I start to get anxious and want to start working out and getting back at it with my teammates.

Do you think “lifting” is important to get fast?

I think “lifting” is an important way to build power and strength in the pool.

What is the fastest pool in the U.S., in your opinion?

I don’t know what pool I would consider the fastest in the U.S., although if I picked one that I have always enjoyed racing in, it is the pool at the University of Texas.

What is your favorite pool?

I do usually like to race at meets indoors, but train outdoors. After so many years, it is hard for me to pick a pool I like more than the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena, CA.

Are there any pools you want to swim in but haven’t yet?

At the moment, there are no specific pools I would like to swim in.

What are some of the techniques you use to stay calm during big meets?

To stay calm at meets, I try to keep myself busy right up until the race. My warm up and preparation will usually take me right up until about 10 minutes before I race. This keeps me from thinking of the race or getting nervous about the results.

Do you listen to music on race day? If so, what’s on your playlist?

On race day, my music is just a mix of rap and rock music. A few examples are Eminem and Green Day.

Do you have a favorite race memory? Why?

My favorite race memory is from Pac 12s my freshman year, 2018, in the prelims of the 200 IM. I can still remember being in lane 1 and not really expected to do that well and my teammate Andrew Seliskar was in lane 4. Something that meant a lot to me was when I finished the race and noticed I got second behind Andrew, I remember looking at him and he was more excited about the results than I was! It was a moment that I will never forget and had a big impact on me.

What are some activities you like to do outside of the pool?

Outside of the pool, I enjoy playing other sports or being active with friends. There are times when training makes it hard to be active and competitive in other sports. In those cases, I enjoy playing video games or watching netflix with teammates.

If you weren’t a swimmer, what sport would you be doing?

The sport I did for the longest before I decided to solely focus on swimming was soccer. I played for about 6 years and really enjoyed it. I think I would’ve enjoyed being able to pursue something in the sport and seeing how good I could be.

Do you have any advice for age group swimmers coming up in the sport?

My best advice for age group swimmers is to make sure they are enjoying the sport and that it isn’t a chore to come to practice. Also, it is never a bad thing to try other sports when you’re young and just starting swimming. Athleticism is an important part of becoming a good swimmer.

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The science of Open Finger Swimming

When swimmers pull through the water with their fingers slightly opened (about 5-10 mm apart), they push more water. Water does not escape through slightly spread fingers. As the hands enter the water, they form a thin boundary layer. The water closest to the hand sticks to the hand to form this layer. The boundary layer is like a glove on the hand, adding more surface area to your hand. How thick the boundary layer is will depend on the speed of your hand through the water and the shape of your fingers. When you spread your fingers, water gets trapped between the spaces of your fingers because of this boundary layer. This effectively increases the surface area of your hand.

Golf balls have been taking advantage of the boundary layer for years to achieve better distance and control. The dimples on a golf ball create a thinner boundary layer that stays closer to the ball’s surface.  This helps the air flow tighter to the surface of the golf ball creating less of a wake. The dimples on a golf ball reduce the drag by half. In swimming, we are trying to increase the drag from our hands.          

Spreading the fingers gives the hands more surface area. Spreading your fingers is accomplishing the same effect as wearing paddles and is easier on your shoulders than paddles. You can’t wear paddles during a race, but you can spread your fingers during a race for a similar effect. The pull is a very important part of the stroke. The more powerful you can make your pull, the more powerful your stroke is. Wearing Aqua Knuckles offers the swimmer the ability to get very precise with his/her finger placement on one of the most important aspects of the propulsion of the stroke – the hand surface area. Using Aqua Knuckles really helps create a precise finger position which can be hard to accomplish otherwise. There are multiple scientific papers online and now some videos comparing open-finger swimming to closed-finger swimming. The papers all indicate that open-finger swimming is a better method of generating a more powerful pull by increasing your hand-surface area by as much as 10%. On a side note, we’ve also discovered that wearing Aqua Knuckles decreases stroke count.

Open finger swimming also increases the nerves exposed to the water by up to 35%. When you swim with closed fingers, the sides of your fingers are not getting exposed to the water. When a coach talks about “feel for the water”, this is how you can feel more. Having a better feel for the water helps swimmers make those micro adjustments to their pull, helping them swim faster. Some coaches believe the best swimmers’ edge is having a better feel for the water.

What are Aqua Knuckles?

Aqua Knuckles are training aids worn during swim practice for competitive swimmers and anyone who wants to move through the water faster (surfers use them, too). Aqua Knuckles are double silicone bands slipped over the ring and middle fingers of each hand. They are sold in pairs and follow ring finger sizing, though many swimmers prefer a snug fit.

Use Code SWIMSWAM15 to get 15% off your next purchase.


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John O’Grady – Founder, Aqua Knuckles
John has been a competitive swimmer for nearly 40 years and is a real student of the sport. His love of the water has seen him through age-group swimming, high school teams, Divisions I and II college teams and masters swimming. He has competed in open water competitions in the Atlantic Ocean and has practiced in the English Channel. It is hard to find this guy out of the water! Currently raising his large family of competitive swimmers in Southern California, John is an assistant swim coach at a local high school. When he is not in the water or on a pool deck, John runs a boutique media services company focused on creative projects of all kinds for both large and small entities. He enjoys cooking, surfing, travel, photography and spending time with his wife and children.

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