The Stroke Series Part Three: Recovery & Entry

  • By Sara McLarty
  • Published Jan 8, 2013
  • Updated Dec 4, 2014 at 5:45 PM UTC
Illustration by Oliver Baker.

Use the off-season to improve your freestyle stroke with this three-part series from swimming all-star Sara McLarty. Read part one about the reach portion of the stroke here, part two about the pull and finish here and then check out part three featuring the recovery and entry below.

The recovery phase of the freestyle stroke is aptly named because it is an effortless and relaxed movement. The priority of the recovery is to quickly and efficiently return the arm to a streamlined position in front of the body after exiting the water. After the underwater finish, lift the elbow and swing it forward. Relax most of your forearm until it is almost completely straight in front of the shoulder. Without pausing or slowing down, let everything drop into the water with fingertips pointing forward.


• Have a high-elbow recovery with fingertips near the surface of the water.

• Make this a quick and almost thoughtless motion for greatest efficiency.

• Listen for a “plop” when your hand and arm drop into the water.


• Try to lead with your hand. Instead, drive your elbow forward to start the movement to avoid shoulder pain.

• Keep your hand near your body during recovery. Let it swing wide.

•  Gently set your hand in the water. Let your entire arm splash as it enters.

Fingertip Drag Drill:

During the recovery portion of the stroke, keep your fingertips in the water. As you move your arm forward, drag your fingertips through the water. This will reinforce a high elbow and low fingertip recovery. The difference between this drill and actual swimming is 2 inches. During the drill, your fingertips are 1 inch below the surface. During regular swimming, your fingertips should be about 1 inch above the water.

– The Stroke Series Part One: The Reach
– The Stroke Series Part Two: Pull & Finish

FILED UNDER: Swim / Training TAGS:

Sign up for our free e-newsletter, SBR Report!

Subscribe to the FREE Triathlete newsletter