The path your hand and arm takes over the water is one of the most overlooked aspects of freestyle technique. It’s true that this phase of the arm cycle doesn’t add to the forward momentum. However, a sloppy recovery can quickly create deep issues with the rest of the stroke.
The most common issues during the arm recovery phase include swinging the hand too high and too wide.
Lifting an appendage out of the water places a great deal of downward pressure on the submerged part of the body. To illustrate, try backstroke kick, then lift one of your arms out of the water. What happens? Your raised arm creates a downward force, making the rest of your body work harder to stay afloat. That being the case, it makes sense for the arm to recover be as directly and efficient as possible. Taking a high, circuitous recovery takes more time and demands more energy. (See Figure 6.) Additionally, a high recovery is likely to result in the swimmer reaching too far over the water. (I’ll explain why this isn’t good practice in the next section on Hand Entry.)
The path the hand takes during the recover will most likely determine the path it takes once it enters the water. It’s common for beginner swimmers to recover their arms by swinging wide across the water. (See Figure 7.) As a result, the hand continues its path and crosses over the central body line once it enters the water. (Again, more about this in the next section.)
The best way to recover is to maintain a high elbow and let the hand travel underneath your elbow. (See Figure 8.) In other words, the hand recovers through the arch made by a high elbow, not around or over it. Coaches often tell swimmers to think about swimming through a narrow tube. You can’t swing your hand high or wide, because you’ll hit the side of the tube. Rather, keep your elbow high and, with a relaxed arm, recover through.