The “Right” Way to Pull in Freestyle:

From USA Swimming to SwimOutlet to FlowSwimming, many masterminds behind stroke technique have delineated the best way to pull in Freestyle. From the S-Pull to a Straight Arm, Hybrid, or High Elbow Catch (EVF)—it seems there is NO universal opinion on which pulling technique is optimal for swimmers.

The purpose of this week’s blog post is to bring you the 10 BEST Stroke Technician’s out there–opinions on the Freestyle pull– to 1 page! From there, let’s have you (the reader) determine—The “Right” Way to Pull in Freestyle!

Let’s get started…

In our video analysis webinar, we hosted last week on the Freestyle Catch. Coach Abbie opened up the webinar saying she believes there is NO right way to pull in Freestyle. With that being said, she was making it clear that just because a pro swimmer is successfully swimming with a hybrid pulling pattern doesn’t mean you will only be successful with a hybrid pattern OR if you do something other than a hybrid—you won’t be as successful.

Abbie’s belief on the Freestyle Pull is simple:

  1. if you have a solid kick, good body rotation, and ample shoulder flexibility—use a EVF
  2. if you have a weaker kick, minimal body rotation, and less shoulder flexibility—use a straight arm pull

The reasoning behind Abbie’s Freestyle pull belief has to do with TWO things:

1.) If you meet the qualifications for Bullet A—you can always switch to a straight arm pull based on your swim distance.

  • Swim Distance—Rule of Thumb:
    • Shorter Races–use a straight arm pull due to the fact that it generates more propulsion than an EVF.
    • Longer Races–use an EVF since it has less drag associated with it than a straight arm pull.

2.) If you don’t meet the qualifications for Bullet A—your next best option is to swim with a straight arm pull.

  • Swimming with a straight arm pull will avoid you pulling back with your elbow first—or as Abbie likes to say, “pulling like your petting a cat”–which generates basically no propulsion whatsoever.
  • Word to the wise: No matter what type of pulling technique you are using–you NEVER lead the pull with your elbow!

How does Abbie’s pulling advice stack up to the other 10 prominent Stroke Technician’s?

Let’s check it out!

1.) USA Swimming (via Russel Mark):

  • EVF Pull–The sharper the elbow bend means the more water you can move back. This pull is more efficient. The EVF takes longer to set-up (generally)–more time out front. It is a wider pull and more distance oriented.
  • Straight Arm Pull—With less elbow bend, you move less water back. It’s faster to get into from entry. There is more power associated with this pull. The pull is more narrow and more sprint-driven.

[CLICK HERE] for link to article!

2.) SwimOutlet:

  • EVF Pull–allows for an easy entry up top before the catch (fingertips slice into the water), while arm extends. Should be used during distance events.
  • Straight Arm Pull–allows for more resistance against your forearm, causing you to pull more water per stroke. Also, allows you to get your arms around faster than an EVF. It is a more strenuous pull on your shoulders than an EVF. Stick to this pulling pattern for sprint events.

[CLICK HERE] for link to article!

3.)  John Hopkins University:

  • S-Pull—less lift forces associated with pull, which means less propulsion generated. It is a less fatiguing pull.
  • Straight Arm Pull—more lift forces associated (more propulsion generated). Must have considerable shoulder strength to perform this pull. A straight arm pull is ideal for any swimming distance.

[CLICK HERE] for link to article!

4.) Swimming Technology Research:

  • EVF Pull—should use an diagonal forearm as opposed to a vertical forearm. You would move your hand in front of the shoulder to a point directly beneath the head. The flexed elbow position allows much more forced to be generated versus a straight arm.
  • Straight Arm Pull—may improve your “push phase”–or the ability to generate more force.[CLICK HERE] for Article #1! AND [CLICK HERE] for Article Number #2!

5.) Washington Post:

  • Hybrid Pull-lots of core strength needed. It is a looping stroke. “We found that it’s a very hip-driven stroke, and I have really good rotation and rhythm with my hip rotation, and I get a lot of power out of my hips,” Ledecky said. “So that stroke kind of maximizes that.”–Katie Ledecky[CLICK HERE] for link to article!

6.) FlowSwimming (via Mark Hill):

  • High Elbow Catch: Use this for a longer Freestyle race. The more parallel the shoulder line is with the bottom of the pool the higher the elbow. In a full catch-up stroke it is easiest to get a really high elbow. Also, be mindful that the shoulder is rotated towards the cheek in this style of pull.
  • Deep Surf-Catch (or Straight Arm): Use this for a sprint race. The opposite hand pushing back as the catch is driving forward and down. I like to think of a deep catch like reaching over a barrel. Rolling the forward over the base and pushing forward from the back of the elbow. The angle of entry is important too. If you’re too close –you will be choppy. If you’re too far–you lose the power from the shoulder rotation. Lastly, It is also important with a deep catch to push back but get shallower as you finish.

7.) YourSwimBook (via Olivier Poirier-Leroy):

  • S-Pull: Use this for a middle and long distance races. The shallow pull creates less frontal drag, plus it’s less stress on your shoulders. Overall, it’s the easiest way to swim if you look at output versus energy expenditure.
  • Deep Surf-Catch (or Straight Arm): Use this for a sprint race. A way more taxing pull, but is more effective than the S-Pull[CLICK HERE] for link to article!

8.) SwimSwam (via The Race Club):

9.) Swim Speed (via Sheila Taormina):

10.) SwimSmooth:

  • EVF: Slightly angle your fingertips down—flex at the wrist. Try to avoid dropping your elbow, and tip your fingers in front “over a barrel” to initiate the catch. Bend the elbow and start pressing backwards against the water with the forearm and wrist.[CLICK HERE] for link to article!

As you can see from the 10 other Stroke Technician’s out there that there is NO universal way to pull. You may chose your pulling technique based on your anatomy, swim distance, belief in lift forces, or kicking capabilities. After all, it does makes sense there’s no one-size fits all model in the pool, since there isn’t a one-size fits all model in life!

BUT, if there is one aspect of the Freestyle Pull that all of us–Stroke Technicians–would agree on (regardless of pulling technique)–it’s that you NEVER lead the pull with your elbow!


I’m pretty confident we all stand behind that! 

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

6 Responses

  1. The solid collections of information, your R & D  & nicely putting into simple words.
    This article should clear all misconceptions and believings about the path of pulling pattern .
    I think uw pulling movements should include powerful push as the hand passes vertical plane of the shoulders.
    The pulling should follow pushing water backwards.
    Please elaborate,
    Kudos to you,
    Dilip Vaidya.
    Alibag Aquatic sports.

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