At a recent swim clinic, I found myself spending a lot of time working on hand recovery. Coincidentally, there has been some good discussion recently on our Discussion Board about hand recovery. It seems to me that people can get a little too caught up in what is — or isn’t — the proper way to recover the hand. And this goes for EVERY stroke, not just freestyle. In all the debate, there’s an extremely important aspect of the recovery that sometimes gets overlooked.
First, let me state that I know what I’m about to say affects many different aspects of your stroke: quicker rotation, creating momentum, creating resistance, and much more. However, I’m going to break this down to its simplest form, and start from there.
What is the ultimate purpose of the recovery? To get the hand to the point in which it will start to pull again. That’s about it. In freestyle, you’ve got all kinds of recovery styles, ranging from high elbow, to straight arm, to hands sweeping out, to hands close to the head, hands piercing the water next to the ear, hands reaching over the surface and entering the water way in front of the swimmer. Which is correct? If you feel you know the answer to that one, you’re wrong. There is no answer that’s correct for every swimmer — or even for the same swimmer in every type of race. Anyone who tells you there is…well…don’t buy a bridge from them.
Everyone will have a slightly different recovery, based on physiology, age, gender, strength, fitness level, flexibility, goal of swim, etc. (you can see there are a lot of variables). Yet with all the variations and suggestions about the proper recovery, everyone is pretty much agreed that the GOAL is to get the hand to the point at which it’s going to begin the next stroke. Generally, you want to achieve full extension out front, enough rotation to hook your body into the stroke, and (hopefully) not too many air bubbles UNDER the hand (even that’s open to debate).
Here’s the simple point. If you know the spot that your hand will begin its pull for the next stroke, your goal should be to get your hand there as quickly as possible. That’s it.
To many, that’s oversimplified, but in working with kids, you can get blue in the face going through a lot of detailed explanation. All that THOUGHT can get in the way of just breaking through the water, and getting your hand back out front.
Think of it this way: There’s a bit of advice that you hear regarding the recovery in breaststroke — that you should shoot your hands forward as if you were breaking through a board that positioned just before the point of full extension. You have to THROW your hands out there, and get VIOLENT with the recovery to get to that point. If the recovery is too slow or too soft, your hands will never get through that board, and you’ll be hesitating, or soft, and not as effective.
In freestyle, there’s a lot of ink given to the idea that you should pierce the water with your hand — that you should plunge your hand through the water. Man…who’s got time for all of that? GET YOUR HAND IN THE WATER!!! If you SLAM your arm in the water, and complete your rotation to the point where the next stroke begins, your momentum will clear the bubbles off your hand, and you’ll have a clean catch.
If you want to swim fast, your goal is to take as many strokes as possible. How’s that for a radical concept? (And if someone copies that out and quotes me, make sure you include this entire paragraph.) Your goal is to get the maximum stroke length possible out of each stroke, and then, take as many of those strokes as possible, as quickly as possible. Sure, that requires getting stronger, or in better shape, or doing it more times to get it right. If you’re past the need for that, congrats, but we work with kids and adults who desire to get faster in swimming, and fitness certainly comes into play.
Some people will take certain words that I’ve written here, and misunderstand. "SLAM" is more of a feeling than an action. We don’t want you to injury yourself attacking the water, but at the same time, I’m seeing so many people who have gone overboard on the whole "working with the water" thing that they’ve lost the great feeling of aggression that comes with fast swimming.
Find your target, or point in which your hand starts its pull, and bookmark it in your mind. Don’t let anything stand in your way of getting your hand back to that point. Not the fear of splashing, or of looking ugly. Remember, it’s nice to look nice, but if you’re a competitive swimmer, your goal is to go faster and (forgive me for admitting this as a goal) to WIN!
Try to focus not just on recovering arms, but on recovery them BACK to the point of pulling again. Make that your goal for a while, and see what happens to your stroke. Could be good, could be bad, but for goodness sake, at least give it a shot.
There…I got that off my chest. Now I’m going to go chop some wood. Hmmmm…I wonder if I should worry about my recovery…or on hitting the target?