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Every aspect of Roland’s stroke is designed to send him forward in a direct line. His arm recovery is no exception.
Roland uses a high-elbow recovery that keeps his hands and arms close to the body as they move forward. The hand is relaxed and low, and travels directly forward rather than swinging out and around, or up and over.
As we slow things down for a closer look, notice that the first thing out of the water is the elbow. Roland lifts with the elbow and keeps the elbow higher than the hand, all the way through the recovery.
Here’s another angle where you can see that Roland finishes his pull here – with his hands extended front to back. But then in the next frame it’s the elbow that lifts first, and not the hand. The pulling hand finishes in full extension, but then relaxes as the elbow takes over.
In this clip, notice that when Roland lifts with the elbow, he also lifts and throws with the shoulder.
If we slow that down, you can see that the shoulder is almost entirely clear of the water.
From under water, you can see that when one shoulder lifts and clears the water, it enhances the overall rotation of the torso and hips. Notice that the top shoulder has disappeared and that the bottom hip is angled down.
As Roland swims directly toward the camera, notice how small a surface area he presents to the water. By lifting with the shoulder, he presents only one shoulder and his head to the water. This reduces his frontal resistance and makes him more needle-like -- or rocket-like -- in the water.
In these next clips, focus on Roland’s arms and shoulders. Look for the elbow to lead the recovery, and notice how much of the shoulder clears the water on each stroke.
It’s almost as if Roland throws each shoulder forward, engaging the large muscles in his back to power the stroke.
This kind of shoulder throw is hard to maintain for more than a sprint, but it is one of the hallmarks of Roland’s stroke and one of the keys to his success.
If you add this to your stroke, do it gradually to prevent shoulder injury. It’s best to focus first on lifting the elbow to initiate the recovery. This will give you a clean line, a relaxed recovery, and natural rotation.