Working The Stroke Recovery – Work When No One Is Working

Courtesy of Eney Jones

Everyone works the bottom of their stroke, we reach, then push and propel ourselves forward. But we are dealing with two different elements while swimming, water and air. It is easy to be more deliberate underwater in a denser material, but rarely do swimmers work the “recovery” part of their stroke. They even hear the word recovery and they slow down and relax, and place their catch. Instead we need to speed up our airspeed as I call Split Tempo.

Having more speed and alacrity in the air will create a more deliberate forceful catch. Speed creates power. I have always found this helpful in Open Water but last week end watched it in Caeleb Dressel’s 40:40 100 relay split. In sprinting you want more length in the front of your stroke. The higher you can be in the water the easier it is to push yourself forward.

When you tell swimmers to speed up their tempo often they shorten their stroke. Working on Split Tempo will allow the stroke to be longer under water and faster through the air. In Caelebs’ 100 free split in the relay each arm underwater was .33 seconds. His left arm straighter and faster thru the air was .21 seconds and his right more arced arm thru the air was .23 seconds for a 1.1 second rotation of both arms. This is quite amazing because his is 6’3” inches tall. On a Finis Tempo trainer setting #1 set at 1:1 the beep is when his left arm hits.

See Video Caeleb Dressel 400 Medley Relay A-Final.

Katie Ledecky’s overall Tempo in the mile is 1:37 ( she is 6 feet tall) but once again she is faster thru the air than the water. Usually the difference is not as pronounced as Dressels’, but that is why most people are looking at his feet or just feeling a wave go by.

There are a few ways to work this:

  • On land – Keep you upper thoracic mobile. Everyone uses cables to mimic swimming, but have the cables behind you and punch forward and down. Before a race rather than swing your arms around bend over and cross front and back ( think Phelps) .
  • In the water – Use shells, biscuit sand dollars, whiffle balls or tennis balls with holes: something that will fill up underneath and drain thru the air.
  • Drill – Grab paddles over the front end, slice thru the air, punch the catch.

Be deliberate and be fast thru the air and you will find your times dropping from easily from there.

Eney Jones has achieved remarkably diverse success as a leading pool, open water and Ironman triathlon swimmer, and is also a yoga instructor.

  • Masters National Champion 100-200-400-500-1500-1650 5k freestyle 2009
  • Open Water 5k Champion Perth Australia, May 2008.
  • National Masters Champion 200-400-1500 freestyle Champion, Portland Oregon, August, 2008.
  • Overall Champion Aumakua 2.4k Maui Hawaii, September 2008
  • Waikiki Rough Water Swim 3rd place 2006, second place Overall 2009, 3rd place 2012
  • European Record Holder and Masters Swimming Champion, 2005. Records included 200, 400, 800, 1500 m freestyle
  • Over twenty time finalist in U.S. Swimming Nationals, including Olympic Trials 1980
  • Gold medal NCAA 800 yd freestyle relay 1979, silver Medalist 200 yd freestyle 1979. United States National Team 1979-1980.
  • Professional Triathlete 1983-1991. First woman out of the water in every Hawaiian Ironman participated (6).


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6 years ago

What is the thesis of this argument/article? Is it suggesting that taking less time to recover the arm will reduce the overall time of a full rotation of both arms, implying that the majority of swimmers’ tempo is too low? Is it saying that a greater portion of the time of each 2-stroke cycle should be spent underwater as per coach broseph’s interpretation? That the swimmers needs to have a slower catch to be more effective. Is the author arguing that galloping (having one arm recover faster than the other) leads to faster swimming? That the gallop leads to a longer stroke? That swimmers currently pull water at a slower than optimal speed?

6 years ago

This seems like the same discussion sprinting (athletics/running) went through a while back about tempo + stride length = speed. It ultimately proved fairly useless towards developing speed.

Like… yea… that’s the equation, but that’s not useful from a training perspective. You can swing your arm through the air as fast as you want, but what generates your forward momentum is the pull in the water.

Ground reaction force is king in sprinting, more force and shorter contact times = faster running. Increased stride length and quicker tempo’s just flow from that as a result of the increased speed.

It’s the same with swimming. You have to put more force through the water. Using your recovery arm as… Read more »

Sir Swimsalot
6 years ago

Nathan Adrian also has a veeeery quick recovery.

Coach Broseph
6 years ago

This needs much more attention. I have not been big on commenting toward biomechanics/technique/physiology with SwimScienceBlog doing such a great job… but the recovery is easily the biggest under-looked component aside from the evolution of kicking in free/back/fly for body position rather than speed.

The simplest way that I have found to teach the concept is with closed fist drills. In fact there is nothing better that I have found to date aside from very light handweights to further hone in on this aspect of the stroke.

Backing up a step, the concept begins with thinking of cycle time. The general sprinting cycle time of most swimmers is about 1 sec per full stroke cycle in free/fly/back to keep things… Read more »

6 years ago

I totally agree that it’s important to have the arm go through the air quickly, but I think there’s an important distinction that needs to be made: the shoulder and body rotation need to drive the arm through the air quickly, but the arm itself should be as relaxed as possible without just flopping around. If you tell a swimmer just to work the recovery, he or she might, in the process, hold too much tension in the arms throughout the recovery and fatigue sooner. With a brief moment of relaxation each cycle, the arms will be able to last a bit longer before they turn to lead at the end of a 200 free.