It might be the first stroke you learn as a child, but the crawl is complicated. While mastering freestyle might take hours upon hours in the pool, playing around with simple swimming drills, rather than aimlessly swimming lap after lap, can help you improve your stroke. Ross Haverlah, the swim coach at Equinox in San Francisco, suggests adding the closed-fist exercise to your warmup. "Without your hands pulling through the water, you become aware of how much your forearm participates in the pull of your stroke." Swimming with a fist might feel difficult at first, but the challenge will pay off in the long run.
After warming up with 100 yards of swimming at an easy pace, swim the length of the pool with your hands in tight fists; it will feel utterly graceless and a bit like you're punching the water. Make sure to keep your hand in a closed fist to truly reduce the effectiveness of the hand sculling the water; focus on the power of the forearm pulling through the water. Return to swimming with an open hand for one length of the pool. Repeat this sequence three more times.
Incorporating more of your arm as you catch the water adds power to your stroke and helps you swim more efficiently. This means you can cover a larger distance in less time, a win-win.
Incorporate this drill into your next pool workout and see if helps you feel the water more.