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Freestyle Swim Lesson #4:
Arm Pull and Recovery

There are two general ways to recover the arms in freestyle. The first way is called a straight-arm recover.

The second way is called a bent-arm or high-elbow recovery. Either type of recovery can be used, depending on which feels more comfortable to the swimmer.

Some swimmers use both styles, using one style when they swim at a slower, more-sustained pace…

…and another style when they swim fast.

When I teach freestyle arm action, I like to start by teaching a straight-arm recovery. I start with the swimmer out of the water. I have her stand up straight in a vertical Position 11, with eyes looking straight ahead. Hands are flat and fingers point straight up.

Then, I have her practice pulling and recovering while in this standing position.

The pull begins with a slight flex of the wrist of the pulling arm. The fingers are still facing slightly forward, but the palm starts to press toward the ground.

Then, while and the forearm and hand press toward the ground… the elbow bends outward but maintains its height.

As the forearm and hand come level with the elbow, the palm continues to press directly toward the ground until it is near the leg. Notice how the elbow remains higher than the hand during this part of the pull.

Then the recovery begins. The arm simply swings around, from the shoulder, in a big straight-arm rainbow arch, with the thumb leading and the palm turned slightly inward, around the side and slightly behind the body and returns to a complete Position 11 before the other arm starts to pull.

Next, the swimmer bends the knees slightly and leans forward, keeping the back as flat as possible. I assist her as she does the same arm pull and recovery, one arm at a time, with the upper body in this horizontal position.

She practices until she gets a good feel for it…and then it’s time to try the arms in the water.

The swimmers starts with Position 11 float and kick. I guide the swimmer through the movement, one arm at a time.

Next, she tries it on her own and the goal is to do 4 complete strokes…each time coming back to a full Position 11… without breathing.

The goal is for the swimmer to enter the arms a natural distance straight in front of the shoulder and to pull in a straight line from that point to the side of the hip.

As the hand pulls back, the elbow pops up and to the side.

At this point, it’s OK if the swimmer does not find the complete Position 11 after each stroke.

The emphasis should be on keeping the head in neutral, and using a pulling motion that moves the swimmer forward, with and a big relaxed recovery.

We want the swimmer to feel the water with her hands and arms.

At this point we introduce 6-Count Switch without Breathing.

We review side-glide kick… leading with both the right arm…

…and with the left arm.

I demonstrate. I tell her to take 6 kicks on one side… and then switch to the other side for 6 kicks.

I emphasize that I want her to start the recovery of the back arm FIRST… before she starts to pull with the leading arm. The back arm should be just in front of the shoulders before she starts to pull with the leading arm.