3/30/05 Freestyle: Straight-Arm Recovery
Text and Photo/Video by Glenn Mills
Demonstrated by Scott Tucker

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I received an email recently from a swimmer who had been reading about the pros and cons of swimming freestyle with a straight-arm recovery. This seems to be a controver-sial topic these days, and I admit that I had some reservations about the effectiveness of straight-arm-recovery free…until I had a chance to film Scott Tucker and then watch his stroke in slow motion from a dozen different angles. Scott, a two-time Olympic medal winner in the 400 free relay and four-time US National Champion in the 100 free, has convinced me that straight-arm-recovery free is worth a try…or at least some seri-ous study.

There are many elements of straight-arm-recovery freestyle that we could talk about, but I’d like to address only the main question raised by the swimmer in the email: “If you swim freestyle with a straight-arm recovery, does your upper body lift out of the wa-ter when you hand enters the water? And would this cause the lower part of your body to sink?”

Let’s take a look Scott’s stroke and see.

The first photo shows that, without a doubt, Scott recovers his arm in a very straight position. His swings his forearm, wrist, hand, and fingers high above his body during the recovery. Scott’s shoulder comes out of the water, but this doesn’t cause the lower half of his body to sink, i.e., he doesn’t lose his balance. You can see this more clearly in the second photo.

Why doesn’t Scott lose his balance when he swims this way? There are several rea-sons.

#1. Scott’s recovery is very fast. The momentum of his arms helps him to rotate his body quickly and cleanly. He turns the momentum of his arms into FORWARD move-ment (rather than up-and-down movement) when he places his hand in the water. No-tice that Scott’s shoulder comes out of the water, but that the rest of his body stays low and horizontal.

#2. Scott’s hand entry is clean and precise. When we think of straight-arm freestyle, we usually think of a swimmer slamming the hand and arm into the water on every stroke. There’s no hesitation when Scott’s hand enters the water, but there’s no thrash-ing, either. As you can see in the third and fourth photos (tucker03 and 04), Soctt di-rects his fingers and wrist down into the water. The hand enters cleanly, fingers first, and is in position to grab water the instant it enters. What Scott has mastered is the ability to swing the arms forcefully through the recovery and yet send the hands into the water with great control. When done correctly, there’s more to this stroke than what most people imagine.

#3. Scott reaches full extension on every stroke. Again, our image of the straight-arm freestyler is of someone windmilling through the water, never reaching full extension on any stroke. The fifth photo (tucker 05) shows that Scott’s body continues to rotate as his arm extends completely to get ready for the next pull.
These images were captured when Scott was swimming smoothly and slowly. When he swims faster, a few things change, but Scott’s hand continues to enter cleanly and ex-tend fully, even if just for a moment, on each stroke. If you’re a premium member, you’ll be able to see Scott hammering some freestyle. It’s only a couple strokes, at the end of the clip, but you’ll notice that Scott continues to extend on each stroke.

One thing you won’t be able to see on the last part of the video clip is that Scott is pull-ing a parachute. You’d think that, under this much resistance, Scott would shorten his stroke and try to grab and pull as quickly as possible. But no. Scott STILL reaches a bit forward. You can tell by the fact that the bubbles drop off his hand as it extends for-ward. Bubbles don’t fall off like that if you pull DOWN as the hand enters.

Straight-arm-recovery freestyle isn’t for everyone, but it IS for some people, and de-serves to be experimented with by swimmers of all levels. When executed properly, it DOESN’T cause the body to go out of balance, it DOESN’T add more stress to the shoulder during the recovery, and it DOESN’T cause the body to pop up during the en-try.

The trick is to do it properly, not like an out-of-control, crazed windmill.