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How to Swim Bent-arm Freestyle

Freestyle is often one of the first strokes new swimmers learn, and most coaches initially focus on the straight-arm technique since it’s easier to pick up. But you shouldn’t necessarily swim straight-arm freestyle forever! It’s good to add other techniques to your repertoire if you want to train for long hours and progress as a swimmer. This guide teaches you how to swim bent-arm freestyle, focusing on the recovery aspect of the stroke.

Straight-arm Versus Bent-arm

Sure, straight-arm freestyle is relatively easy to learn and simple to use; you can pull a lot of water with each stroke which makes it ideal for sprints or short-distance swimming. Once you move onto long-distance events or more strenuous training, though, you’ll need to learn bent-arm freestyle.

Straight-arm recovery makes it difficult to rotate your body, which limits the efficiency of each stroke. These long strokes can eventually tire you out and, in turn, slow down your arms. Plus, pulling a lot of water in the straight-arm motion can be incredibly strenuous on your shoulders, possibly leading to tendonitis, rotator cuff injuries, and/or shoulder impingements.

The bent-arm recovery is an easy way to avoid these limitations and possible injury risks. It allows for easier rotation, a smoother stroke, and sets you up for a strong, efficient pull.

Learning the Bent-arm Recovery

Swimming freestyle with a bent-arm recovery will both help to prevent arm and shoulder injuries, and ensure a proper rotation through your stroke. Follow the instructions below to learn how to swim with a bent-arm recovery:

  1. Start at the wall.
  2. Push off the wall and begin side-kicking: Extend one arm out in front of you and leave your other arm at your side. Roll to your side so the arm that is at your side is out of the water and your extended arm’s armpit is submerged and facing the bottom of the pool.
  3. Begin your recovery with the arm that’s at your side. As you lift your arm, point your elbow to the sky and your fingertips down toward the bottom of the pool. Lead with the back of your hand. Keeping your arm close to your body, your hand should move in a straight line.
  4. After your recovery, place that hand back into the water and extend it out in front of you.
  5. Now pull with your other arm and rotate to your other side. As you pull, imagine there’s a barrel in the water floating underneath you. Wrap your arm around the “barrel” and push it behind you. This arm positioning is called “hugging the barrel.” It will help you bend your elbow on your pull and grip the water with your forearm. After pushing the water past your hip, you should have finished rotating to your other side.[breakoutbox][breakoutboxcontent]

    This short video will help you visualize how to rotate your body as you wrap your arm around "the barrel."

  6. Continue doing this drill until you’re comfortable using a bent-arm recovery.

Other Helpful Drills

If you’re having difficulty performing this skill or maintaining a bent-arm recovery, there are other drills you can incorporate into your workout that focus on the pull and recovery:

All of the aforementioned drills focus on your arm positioning during your recovery. You can also use paddles to get an even stronger feel for the correct pull and recovery. Wearing paddles increases the surface area of your hands; if you make a mistake on your pull or recovery, you’ll feel it immediately and can focus on fixing it.

The Pay Off

You might feel somewhat overwhelmed when first learning how to perform the bent-arm recovery, but all that hard work is worth the time and effort. Not only will you have a stronger pull, but you’ll also avoid unnecessary shoulder injuries. The technique might take weeks to master, but you’ll reap the benefits in the long run.

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shirley stellhornand
3 years ago.
HELLO - I am a former physical education teacher and was taught to use the bent arm method of stroking for the American Crawl. We were told to to focus on lifting your elbow and reaching forward with your hand. I always swim this way - find it to be efficient and effective. Am a senior now - do have asthma so find myself using the breast stroke and or the back stroke. Am looking forward to my new swimming caps making swimming easier. Was glad to find you on my computer. THANKS
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