The Principles of Freestyle Swimming Technique

Four: The Upsweep/Outsweep

This final sweep produces maximum propulsion as the hand now presses from the midline upward, outward, and backward. The fingertips are kept pointing downward with the palm of the hand and forearm on the same plane.

This is where the greatest power is generated, which is then translated to propelling efficiency for the swimmer. The efficient swimmer will engage the water with more effective hand positioning (angles of attack). During the upsweep, the hand rotates outward, upward, and backward toward the hip (fingertips down); that is, the sweeping motion is backward and away from the midline of the body. Remember that each of these sweeps is in effect a diagonal side-ways sculling motion, not straight backward. Incidentally, when taking a longer stroke, it should be thought of as a motion that enhances this length by sculling in a sweeping curvilinear manner.

More: The High Elbow Catch

Five: The Release

This occurs as the hand reaches the hip and the little finger follows the elbow out of the water (the opposite arm is now beginning the downsweep).

The release, the last phase of the underwater hand and arm sweeping movements, is a phase of the freestyle stroke that many swimmers do incorrectly. The correct movement is for the little finger to exit the water first (following the tip of the elbow). In the most efficient technique, once the hand reaches the thigh (during the upsweep); the release begins as the palm rotates toward the side of the thigh. This puts the little finger closest to the surface, and after the elbow, this finger is next to exit the water.

Many swimmers make the mistake of not rotating the palm toward the thigh. In fact, the palm presses up toward the water's surface (pushing upward against the water). The result is an opposite reaction of the hips that forces the hips and legs deeper into the water. Remember, the more water above the body, the greater the amount of drag.

Six: The Recovery

The elbow leads and is higher than the hand. The palm of the hand somewhat faces the body during the first two-thirds of the recovery. The recovery is exactly that, a time for the arm and shoulder muscles to relax. The elbow is high, working in coordination with the natural body roll.

The recovery phase starts when the elbow exits the water on completion of the upsweep and release. As stated above, the elbow is the first body part to exit the water—not the hand or little finger, which exit (palm facing the body) after the elbow. The arm is brought forward by flexing at the elbow (elbow high and leading the hand). It helps to begin this movement by lifting the elbow out of the water with the aid of the shoulder. When the elbow is in line with the shoulder, the palm turns away from the body (the thumb is pointing down, palm out), ready to make its entry. To reduce excessive lateral body movement, hold your elbow above and in front of your hand during the first two-thirds of the recovery phase.

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