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The 4 Phases Of The Freestyle Swim Stroke

  • By Julia Polloreno
  • Published Aug 4, 2014
  • Updated Aug 4, 2014 at 2:55 PM UTC
Pro Matty Reed demonstrates the "recovery" phase of the swim stroke. Photo: Nils Nilsen

4. Recovery: The arm in the air, as it is coming back to the front of the body to restart the stroke cycle.

What you’re doing wrong: You should be thinking ‘quick and dirty,’ not slow and soft.

A lot of people are taught to have a high elbow during this phase—to really lift the arm out over the water—but Cleaver insists that all that focus and energy on a methodical recovery arc is simply a waste. “If the arm is just hanging out in the air it’s not a force; it’s not pushing on the water,” she says. “Don’t worry so much about really lifting—it’s a waste of energy. Move like a windmill or pretend you’re a kid swimming for fun in the pool—just throw your arms over.”

Pro counterpart Matty Reed agrees: “As triathletes, we don’t have to have perfect strokes. A lot of swimmers have ‘ugly’ strokes and their arms look terrible above the water but underwater is where they’re most efficient and have a great stroke. You don’t have to have the high elbows on the recovery, but you do have to be comfortable and start thinking about where you’re going to put your hands to start the first part of your stroke.”

The fix: Cleaver will assign a lot of straight-arm drill to promote a fast, efficient arm swing, and encourages her students to simply relax—not overthink—this intuitive part of the stroke.

RELATED: Swim Speed Series

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FILED UNDER: Getting Started / Swim / Training

Julia Polloreno

Julia Polloreno

As Editor-in-Chief of Triathlete magazine, Polloreno oversees the monthly magazine’s content and production. A Stanford University graduate with an award-winning track record in publishing, Polloreno is a two-time Ironman finisher and has been a competitive triathlete for more than a decade.

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