Arm Recovery and its effect on body position

by Andrew Mackay

The arm recovery technique you use can significantly influence the body position in the water. Having coached a large number of adults most struggle to clearly identify what they are doing during the arm recovery as their perception of the arm movement is often quite different than the reality.

If you are DIY in regards to evolving your technique then you might need to call on a friend to video you while swimming to see exactly what you do.


Swimmers with over rotation

The swimmer that over rotates continues to accelerate the arm through the push phase (at the back of the stroke) and continues to direct their arm over their back behind them. As the arm continues to accelerate over their back it pulls their shoulder back and this in turn then drops their lead arm shoulder down.
Flow on effect
1. With the lead arm and shoulder down at the front of the stroke the swimmer generally pushes down on the water to try and maintain the body position. Obviously pushing down, isn’t helping the swimmer move forward, which is the purpose of a strong entry and catch phase.

2. The arm that is moving through the recovery can’t continue to rotate in this way back to the front of the stroke as the shoulder gets caught behind the head – so at that point the shoulder drops around the head and usually drops the arm across the centre line and into the water – again this places the swimmer in a weak position to implement the catch.

3. Due to the position of the entry the arm tends to push down and to the side in order to get to a position where the swimmer can effectively catch the water to leverage themselves forward – this happens much later than it should compared to a balanced stroke.
Step 1. In my opinion it’s important for swimmers to differentiate the finishing of the stroke with the start of the arm recovery so that the two aren’t completely combined – practice finishing your stroke at the front of your thigh, pause for a moment then initiate the recovery.

Step 2. Make the arm recovery movement much wider (feel like you are aiming for 10+2 with your entry position).

Step 3. Make sure your shoulders feel like they are staying relatively flat – they will be moving but it won’t be as much as what you were doing, as due to previously over rotation the movement feels very little.


Flat style swimmers

This swimmer has relatively no body rotation and their arm recovery technique tends to throw the arms quite low across the water without much control and also very wide of the body.

With these points above these swimmers create large amounts of drag both in relation to their shoulders and arm movements. When these swimmers breathe there is almost a panic to get to the arm through the recovery to achieve a breath.
Flow on effect
Entry Position – With this technique its very much hit ‘n’ miss with regards to controlling the entry position.

Body Position -These swimmers tend to require quite a fast arm turnover, as without it they’d tend to find themselves sinking more (especially in the pool non-wetsuit).

Kick Technique – As the upper body is quite flat, then the kick is generally quite low, and often these swimmers tend to kick from the knee and use a hammer type kick to heave the arm back over to the front.

Drag – With both a flat body position, and lower legs generally deep behind them, these swimmers are creating a huge amount of drag, making swimming quite hard work with very little distance per stroke.

Breathing is more difficult for these swimmers as they get a tiny opportunity to breathe and with little to no body rotation it’s very hard. In choppy conditions these swimmers really struggle! Often these swimmers tend to lift their chest up and look forward, and slightly to the side to breathe – this again creates drag and poor body position with the legs sinking as the chest lifts up.
Step 1. Develop a level of body rotation driven from the hips and use it to create an improved arm recovery movement – this will help to clear the shoulder up and out of the water during the recovery phase.

The other benefits of this are:
• This will create a longer stroke – more forward movement each stroke
• Improve body position (sit higher in the water)
• Often helps to develop an improved kick technique
• Will definitely help with breathing as it’s easier to roll to breathe

Step 2. Often directing these types of swimmers to really open up to get a much bigger arch in their arm recovery (like bowling a cricket ball) will naturally help them with body rotation.

Balanced Stroke

Whether you use a straight arm recovery or a high elbow recovery or even a combination of both it doesn’t really matter but remember your arm recovery is important as it influences your body position and sets you up for a good entry position.

You must hold a strong core posture through the recovery to help achieve an easy rotation with a high shoulder position for it to work well.

You can practice this easily on the dry land just read and watch this video.

There are various drills that I recommend to help with arm recovery technique but this is dependent on the best way to develop your technique within your flexibility and your current movement patterns.

Change doesn’t come easily as an adult trying to develop better technique but utilising a swim coach 1:1 focusing on technique can make a huge difference and short cut the time to make improvements. Find a professional coach close to your location to support your swimming development.


This Swim Tip has been created by the experts at Boast Coaching


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