MIT Tri Club Home

AthletesSwimming WorkoutsTrack WorkoutsBreakwater Sports Home

High-Elbow Recovery Focus

Most endurance swimmers favor a high-elbow recovery, which allows them to bring the weight of the recovering hand and forearm directly forward. Alternative recovery styles can be very effective at higher speeds, but are more difficult to master, are less efficient for endurance swimming, and can create problems in open water:

  • With a low-elbow recovery, if the hand catches on a wave before it re-enters the water, not only is its momentum is lost, but the impact jars the swimmer's body off of its aquatic line. With a high-elbow recovery, if the hand hits the water early, the hand and arm are headed more closely in the right direction (straight ahead) and the aquatic line can be much more easily maintained.
  • With a low-elbow recovery, or with a low, straight-arm recovery that keeps the hand closer to the surface, the hand swings in a wide arc and is more likely to make contact with other swimmers, again disrupting momentum, timing and flow.
  • With a straight-arm recovery, the swimmer applies more energy via the smaller muscles of the shoulder, lifting the hand higher in the air, and energy is lost when the arm splashes into the water as its weight is directed more downward than forward on entry.

Technique Focus Points

  • Lead with the elbow. On the recovery phase of the stroke, focus on the elbow rather than the hand.
  • Relax the forearm and hand. Tension in the forearm and hand during during this phase robs energy.
  • Bring it forward. Put the momentum of your recovering arm to work for you by directing it forward (rather than in a large arc).
  • Enter wide. Enter your hands at 10 and 2 o'clock, and drive them directly forward. If you enter your hands too close your centerline, you will have to scull out to the side to get your catch, wasting time and energy.

What to Watch For

  • Keep your elbow in front of your chest. Keep your elbow in front of your body plane (not over your side or behind your back). That way, your upper arm rotates nicely in the shoulder socket. When your elbow is on your side or behind your back, your upper arm is being levered out of your shoulder socket.
  • Don't cross the centerline. Have somebody watch you swim head-on from the pool deck. After entry, if your hands are crossing in front of your centerline, it is a good bet that you are swinging your arm in too much of an arc (rather than dropping it forward) during the recovery, or that you are entering your hand too close to your head.

Recovery Focus Workouts

More Information

  • Video Clips - Arms: Look at the recovery motion illustrated in the Fingertip Drag Drill, and also notice how Michael Phelps uses a high-elbow recovery and drops his hands forward while performing the Catch-Up Drill.
  • Video Clips - All Around Good Swimming: Watch the Fran Crippen trailer and notice what his arms look like out of the water.
  • Also watch Mr Smooth.

Return to Workout Directory.

Copyright © 2011 Breakwater Sports