Article image

by Matt Donovan

January 6, 2021

Proper freestyle recovery can help you avoid injuries and swim faster

Lots of swimmers focus on the stroke portion of freestyle—and rightly so. This is the phase of freestyle that provides the always-needed propulsion.

Your freestyle recovery, the portion of your stroke that doesn’t move you forward in the water, is also important. Here’s how you can help protect your shoulders and improve your speed with a good freestyle recovery.

Three Great Drills for Freestyle Recovery

Flare Drill. One of the most common and effective freestyle drills is flare drill. As your arm exits the water, make an extra effort to flick the water as high as you can in the air. Be certain that you’re sending the water up to the sky, not across your backside.

Shark Fin or Keyhole. This drill has several names. The objective is to hold your body position as you rotate to the side for a five-second count (the lead hand should be doing a small front scull). Frame the side of your head near your ear with your trailing arm. Your wrist, elbow, and shoulder should make a perfect triangle (the water being the base). As you turn to breathe, your face should be framed perfectly by that triangle. This drill will help you protect your shoulder as a bent-elbow recovery takes a great deal of pressure off your shoulder in the short and long term.

OK Entry. Immediately before your hand enters the water, make an OK symbol with your pointer finger and thumb. The circle of the OK should land flat to the surface of the water, palms down. Next, rotate to extend your hand forward and engage your stroke with your middle and index fingers, thus starting the catch phase and officially ending the recovery portion of your stroke.

Fix Your Hips

Low hips in the water have a negative impact on your freestyle recovery. You want a high hip on top of the water in conjunction with great body roll. All of your power in any sport (think about a hitter in baseball swinging for the fences) comes from your hips. When you lead with your hips, everything else follows with ease.

A simple way to test if you have a strong body roll or if your hips are too low in the water is to find a pull buoy that’s a few sizes too big for you. Swim some 50s with the buoy and try to overexaggerate your body roll. If you really have to fight the buoy or if you feel an unusual pressure on your lower back, this means that when you normally swim, your hips are likely in the wrong position or are not effectively connected with your stroke. Have a friend film you to get a better visual of what you are or aren’t doing in the pool.

Final Thoughts

There’s never a bad time to work on your favorite drills, but if you feel stale in the water, it might be time to work on them in a different format. If you mostly work on drills in the early portion of your practices, try some drilling toward the middle or end of your training session. Technique is important in a race when you start to fatigue. Working on drills when you’re tired will help you best understand what your body is doing late in a race. Also, try working on your drills at race speed (fins will help). You want to prepare your body to perform proper technique in a race setting. Doing drills during slow 25s with lots of rest doesn’t prepare you for what you’re doing during a race.


  • Technique and Training


  • Freestyle