A simple explanation for the ‘recovery’ is the act of bringing the arm from its rearward extension, after the process of propelling the body through the water with the ‘pull’, back to start the propulsive action again. But it is much more than this. While the recovery doesn’t move you forward itself, it balances and aligns the body and puts the arm in the best position to achieve a good catch and to channel energy into the propulsive aspects of the stroke. In the recovery, because the arms move through the air, they weigh many times what they do in the water and even small movement errors can disrupt all other aspects of the stroke.
So how can we achieve the best recovery stroke?
- Each arm’s recovery action should be a mirror image of the other’s. If one arm swings wider or higher than the other, uneven ballistic forces can cause your legs to bend excessively or splay apart. An uneven recovery action will also cause body alignment problems resulting in veering off course which might be painful in the pool (crashing into other swimmers or lane ropes) but, in the open water, it will either result in you swimming much further than you need to or in having to sight more often than necessary and to make many small corrections to your course taking away from a smooth and efficient action. The best way to achieve symmetry is to breathe bilaterally (every three or five strokes) and to focus your mind on good symmetrical recovery action.
- Keep your arm and hand in line with the body during the recovery phase. Body parts above the water should channel energy in the direction that you are swimming. A high arm recovery wastes energy and a wide arm action diverts energy sideways. A good visualisation technique to achieve good body alignment is to imagine your hand as a paint brush and your fingers as the bristles. With the hand and fingers pointed downwards, paint an imaginary line in the water during the recovery; it is this line that you then bring your arm and hand along under the water in the pull/push phase.
Maintain a high elbow. Keep your elbows high in the recovery - and your fingers pointed downwards - to maintain body alignment and to balance the body during its rotation. Here are three techniques to achieve a high elbow recovery:
- Visualise a piece of string attached to your elbow and imagine someone pulling it up high with every recovery action
- A drill favoured by just about all coaches is the finger-nail drag (FND). If you physically drag your fingernails through the water in the recovery, you have to have your elbow high. Even in normal swimming, only bring your fingernails slightly above the water surface (in the open water, how much above the surface will depend on how rough the water is; of course, you will need to clear the water with every recovery)
- Maintain this high elbow action by rolling the high elbow forward. This also puts the arm in the best position to achieve a good entry, extension and catch.
Relax your arm in the recovery. You need muscular tension in your arm and hand muscles for the pull and push so you need to relax them in the recovery. Remember that, in a long swim, you will be performing thousands of arm actions – if you keep muscle tension in your arms and hands during the recovery, you will tire easily. Also, in the open water, a wave or another swimmer may knock your arm – if your muscles are relaxed, they will absorb the force and not disrupt your smooth stroke.
Next issue: the Entry and Extension – and, after that, the all-important Catch.