What you need to know about the recovery phase

Posted Chris Articles, Training

We received a question on our Facebook group the other day asking about what is the best arm position for the recovery phase of your swim stroke. Should you do a straight arm like these 50 m swimmers:


Or a bent arm high elbow recovery like this:


As seen in these videos, both types of recovery can lead to incredibly fast times and effective swim form. So the answer is…..


Let me justify myself.

The ideal recovery phase of a swim stroke does the following:

  • Allows you to recover–it’s called the recovery phase after all.
  • Quickly gets you to the catch phase of your stroke.
  • Puts your hand in the proper position to start your catch.
  • Does not strain your shoulders.
  • Does not upset your balance in the water.

So as long as you are checking all of those boxes, it does not matter how you go through your recovery phase.

With that said though, a high elbow recovery seems to work better for most endurance swimmers and triathletes especially beginners. I know several athletes who still do straight arm recovery very well. For beginner swimmers however, it is easier to relax your arm and place your hand in the correct position for the catch (so not too wide and certainly not too narrow). Many swimmers who do a straight-arm recovery, swing their arms too far and cross over their center axis when beginning their catch. This strains the shoulders.

An easy drill to develop the recovery phase is the finger-tip drag. In this drill, you drag your fingertips along your body as you recover. This slows down your stroke, forces you to take it easy, and allows you to focus on ending in the correct catch position while not upsetting your balance in the water.

Note though that the recovery phase of your swim stroke does not have to be text book perfect. If your elbow is slightly lower or your hand glides over the water a bit wider, but you are still checking all the above boxes, it does not matter which type you use. Your stroke is still effective.

Coach Chris Hague