Part I: High Elbow Freestyle Recovery…Why?

In the stroke technique world, there is a lot of emphasis on a high elbow pull—but not necessarily, a high elbow recovery. Every fan, swimmer, swammer, or coach has taken a moment to be in awe of the effortlessness of Michael Phelps Freestyle–it’s so graceful.

What most people don’t understand is how Michael swims Freestyle is actually teachable. You just need to take the time and energy to learn it!

Let’s take a look at Michael’s Freestyle:

As you can see from the video that Michael can keep his Freestyle looking “effortless” while sprinting. The way Michael does this is through having a high elbow recovery. In order to obtain a high elbow recovery, a swimmer must do 3 technical point really well. Let’s dive into each of them:

1.) Rotate!

For a swimmer to get into position where the elbow CAN be the highest point during the recovery, a swimmer must be on their side. And by side, I mean no more than 40-degrees from the water’s surface.

By rotating to the side, it allows the swimmer’s shoulder to be more in a positive angle and gives the shoulder joint space to point the elbow directly towards the sky.

If a swimmer tries to do a high elbow recovery without proper rotation, they will be pointing their elbow towards the sides of the pool and cause excess strain on the shoulder, which isn’t necessary!

To improve your rotation, [CLICK HERE]!

2.) Have a GREAT Kick!

As you saw from the video, Michael has an awesome kick. Even when Michael slows down to a different speed, his kick is still very apparent.

Having a great kick is important for a high elbow recovery because a swimmer will spend more time out front with their upper arm extended—prior to the catch.

This is due to the fact that a high elbow recovery requires more rotation, which a swimmer must kick through in order to keep them moving forward.

If a swimmer decides to kick less than required for a high elbow recovery, their legs will eventually slow down and/or stop, which will cause their lower body to start sinking–affecting their overall body alignment!

To learn how you can improve your Freestyle Kick, [CLICK HERE]

3.) Keep the Elbow as the HIGHEST Point During the Recovery!

So combining a great kick and rotation, a swimmer will now be able to keep the elbow as the highest point during the recovery. With this though, a swimmer must actively CHOOSE to bend at the elbow and lower the forearm, palm, and wrist towards the water’s surface. It is possible for a swimmer to keep the lower arm up HIGHER than it needs to be while recovering—if they don’t bend their elbow enough!


This point is the MOST important aspect of a high elbow recovery, because we are looking at how much work is being done. When a swimmer doesn’t bend their elbow enough to bring the lower arm down to the water’s surface, a swimmer is still actively engaging their pecs and bicep muscles to keep the lower arm higher– requiring more work. Going back into the “effortlessness” of Michael’s Freestyle, this is HOW he does that!

When a swimmer is recovering in Freestyle, the “recovery” is NOT an effortless position to be in– there is still work required. What we want to do during the recovery is to MINIMIZE how much work is being done. If a swimmer lifts the lower arm up higher than it needs to be, they are performing MORE work than is necessary, and are waisting energy during the recovery! All this wasted energy does NOT help a swimmer go faster!

By lower the hand closer to the water’s surface, a swimmer shuts off activating their pec and biceps on their recovering arm—lowering their work output and conserving energy!

This is how you swim EXACTLY how you swim a effortless Freestyle!

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

[Click Here] to read Part II!

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