Stop your legs sinking in the swim
How to improve your arm recovery in front crawl
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3 swim drills to improve your arm recovery technique

Returning your arms to the front of your swim stroke has a huge effect on your swim efficiency. Robin Brew has the tips and drills to revitalise your arm recovery in front crawl

Head-up stroke

Keeping your head up positively limits body rotation, while increasing feel at the front of the stroke… 

 This is a simple and effective drill to ensure that your arm recovery isn’t too high due to excessive body rotation. It also ensures that the pressure you apply in the catch position of the leading arm is maintained. It’s also good for gaining a feel for the water at the front of the stroke, and also transferring momentum from the back to the front of the stroke via your arms. It helps greatly if you allow your hands to catch up slightly at the front of the stroke because there’s a tendency to sink  if your leading hand moves away too fast.

1. You can see how you need to roll your body into the extension of the stroke, and also how the downward pressure of your hand provides enough lift to keep your chin out of the water. Notice also the hand beginning its recovery movement from the back to the front of the stroke around the side of your body.

2. This shows the body starting to transfer the rotation to the opposite side. Your arm and body work together to bring maximum momentum forward to the front of the stroke.

3. Your hand isn’t able to enter the water in a normal streamlined position because your head is so high. Also, because you head-up has sent your legs lower, when your hand reaches the front of the stroke it has to overemphasise the press into the catch position in order to maintain stability.

Finger trail

It’s amazing how a gentle trailing of the fingertips can refine your arm recovery as well as increase stroke length

The beauty of this drill is its simplicity, combined with the way it improves your arm recovery. It works by conditioning your stroke length and recovery action, as well as putting your body in a near perfect swimming position. The recovery action during this drill is almost the same as in the normal stroke, the only difference being you trail your fingertips along the surface of the water. It would be worth using fins for this drill because the added momentum from your legs will help control the movements which must be performed slowly.

1. Trail the fingertips of your recovering hand in the water around the side of your body. It’s important not to bring your hand too close to your head as you could over rotate, placing your shoulder in an awkward position and inhibit the recovery action. This shows the drill performed with the opposite arm. Your head is low during this drill, but using fins to aid your kick and the positioning of your leading arm will help you maintain a level body position. From here, you can simply rotate to gain a breath as normal.

2. Keep your body positioned horizontally – using fins and a steady, consistent leg action will help. Look directly down at the bottom of the pool. Slightly exaggerate your stroke length but roll your body as normal.

3. Keep your fingertips in contact with the water all the way to the front of the stroke. Using a catch-up stroke (your recovering hand almost catches up with your extended hand before the next stroke begins) will help maintain balance.

Trail drill progressions

Once you’ve perfected finger-trailing, it’s time to move on to the hands and forearms…

These drill progressions should be performed over short distances (25-50m for beginners) and be followed, like all drills, by an easy, full-stroke swim practising best technique. The number of reps you perform depends on your ability. If you’re just starting out then practise each drill 2-3 times. If you’re a more experienced athlete, then try 3-4 reps over slightly longer distances. Remember: what you concentrate on with one arm, you have to match with the other and always practise the correct full stroke before moving on or you’ll finish your session feeling slightly unbalanced.

Hand trail drill

This drill is effectively the same as the fingertip drill but places more resistance onto the recovering arm. The extra resistance created by trailing your hand makes you concentrate fully on the correct action through the whole stroke because you aren’t able to rush through it.

Forearm trail drill

This drill really loads your recovering arm with resistance and you should take care not to force the recovery. The emphasis is the same as the finger and hand trail drills but the resistance your forearm creates is much stronger, making you work harder on recruiting the correct muscles to perform the movement.

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