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Faster Freestyle Lesson #5: How to Reduce Drag When Finishing the Stroke

5 Steps to a Stronger, Better, Faster Freestyle

In Lesson 5 of our Faster Freestyle Swimming video series, coach Pipes explains more about the Finish & Recovery and how to reduce drag. Click on the video below to learn how.

FINISH & RECOVERY – Your Best Exit: How to Reduce Drag When Finishing the Freestyle Stroke

So far in this course, we have focused on setting up your stroke technique for efficiency, streamlining, and when to apply the “Oomph” by pulling with a high elbow catch and accelerating from catch to finish.

Now, let’s review the best way to finish and exit the stroke to minimize drag and recover the arms efficiently for the next stroke.

Drag forces are always at play during each phase of the stroke in swimming – at entry, catch, pull, and exit – so it’s worthwhile to find ways to minimize drag throughout each stroke.

For example, pushing down on the water with too much force at entry will make your upper body go up and your legs sink, thereby creating unwanted drag. At the finish, if your paddle blade pushes up on the water, that will make your body go down and introduce more drag. Those actions will make your body “porpoise” or undulate up and down as you swim, creating much more drag than if your body stays relatively the same level in the water.

Likewise, more drag is created if you don’t maintain a long, taut, streamlined torso and hinge too much at the waist. If you splay your legs, pendulum your feet & legs side to side, or if your legs sink too much, more drag is introduced! Increased drag at any phase means your stroke will be less efficient, contributing to fatigue and less-than-ideal swim time.

That’s why swimmers of every level must learn to reduce drag and be efficient for the entire stroke, from entry to exit.

What Does an Efficient Exit Look Like?

The perfect high elbow catch is about blending the power phase with the recovery phase to maintain an efficient & powerful “stretch, catch and pull” sequence.

The ideal exit sequence is to pull your “paddle blade” straight back, feather the hand out to the side, use a relaxed recovery, and then enter for the next stroke to repeat the “stretch, catch and pull” sequence on the next pull.

how to reduce drag when finishing the swim stroke

Picture your fingertips, hand, wrist, and forearm (the “paddle blade”) at the catch part of the stroke – with the fingertips pointed toward the bottom of the pool. That’s the start of the power phase, and it’s the ideal time for accelerating the pull by engaging the large muscles of the back and connecting with the torso for more propulsion.

Once your armpit closes and you can’t pull your arms back much further, the power phase has ended, and the recovery phase begins. The hand & arm should feather outward and recover forward to the catch position.

As your arm finishes the pull phase and breaks the water’s surface near your hip, let the fingertips softly touch the water’s surface as the arm recovers forward to take the next stroke.

The recovery action, from exit to re-entry, is a “stretch and reach.” Remember, in Freestyle; the body will naturally rotate just enough, so don’t over-rotate.

How to Practice the full “Stretch, Catch, and Pull.”

You can do one-arm drills in the pool or open water to improve this part of your Freestyle.

  • Each pull in the water will mimic the catch phase of your stroke. Keep your pulls short and alternate arms as you swim through the water.
  • Focus on starting the pull from the front of your shoulders (using the techniques discussed in previous lessons).
  • Keep your elbow high and pull straight back, with “the blade” (fingertips to the forearm) pointing at the bottom.
  • As in a full stroke, shift your shoulder at entry and let your body rotate with each pull, keeping your head as still as possible. Using a front snorkel will help to eliminate the variable of side breathing so you can focus on just this drill.
  • Pull straight back to your hips, then feather your arm outward and return it to the catch position.
  • At the finish of the stroke, be sure to relax your wrists at the end of the pull. Then lift your forearm and hand clear of the water in a single movement led from the elbow.

Take your time to practice this sequence. Stay relaxed and focus on hand, wrist, shoulder, and body placement.

If you’re on dry land, a great way to practice this swim-specific sequence is with a Vasa SwimErg, Vasa Trainer, or Vasa Sport Bench with swim cords.

You can take many different approaches during the recovery phase, and the essential aspect is relaxation, particularly of the wrist.

Tips for Performing a Better Exit Stroke and Recovery Phase

As mentioned, an efficient stroke exit will reduce drag at the end of your stroke and set you up for a smooth recovery.

Stay aware and maintain a streamlined body position during the recovery phase of your stroke. Time the recovery with the simultaneous “release” of the opposite pulling arm. Another way to think of this is when one pulling arm finishes & exits the stroke, the other arm begins the high elbow catch and pulls “the blade” to the finish of the stroke.

Keeping a level, balanced body

Always pay attention to lengthening your body from head to toe to maintain a long, taut, streamlined position as you swim. When your body is balanced in the water horizontally and vertically, attaining the high elbow catch is more easily accomplished.

A level or balanced body simplifies positioning and technique rather than increasing the energy you need to move your body through the water because of too much drag.

To use an analogy about how to reduce drag, imagine a canoe sitting in the water. If someone sits in the back, the bow will go up. If that person sits in the bow, the stern will go up. When two people about the same weight get into the canoe, one at the bow and the other in the stern, the boat will be balanced or level in the water. You want your body to have that “bow to stern” balance while swimming.

Remember that a successful swimmer can apply power efficiently in combination with excellent body position and sustain that power output and streamlined body for the duration of the swim session.

A proper stroke exit and recovery will enable you to reduce drag, conserve energy, and speed up your swim.

Practice all five lessons in this course at the pool, in the open water, and while training on land with a Vasa SwimErg or Vasa Trainer. Many coaches and athletes have discovered the value of integrating swim training on land with swimming in the water to develop a stronger, better, faster freestyle.

You have limited pool time. What’s best to do?

“Get a Vasa SwimErg. Period. It will give you the most bang for your buck. If you don’t have a Swim Erg, do drills within swims. I call it a ‘systems check.’ Do a 500 swim, and within each 100, pick a focus point: your first 100, focus on the catch. For the next 100, focus on accelerating your stroke. The next 100, on breathing. The fourth 100, relaxed recovery. Then put it all together in the last 100. When you focus on drills within a continuous swim, you’re solving two problems with one answer (fitness and technique).” – Coach Eric Neilsen

Until next time, happy swim training.

P.S. Get Vasa’s latest “how-to” training and technique information – join 12+ million athletes and coaches using Vasa content to get Stronger, Better, and Faster!