In the stroke technique world, there is a lot of emphasis on high elbow catch but not necessarily, a high elbow recovery. Most swimmers believe it is a hard technique to master. I believe with good on deck coaching, and plenty of concentrated practice this skill can become easy, and a great help to your overall freestyle swimming. There are three technical points that the swimmer needs to focus on in order to achieve high elbow freestyle.
The first thing you need to do is get into a position where the elbow is at the highest point during recovery. You must be on your side. No more than 40-degrees from the water’s surface. When you rotate on your side you are allowing your shoulder to be more in a positive angle and you are giving your shoulder joint space, which allows you to point your elbow directly toward the sky. If you are trying to achieve high elbow recovery without rotation, you end up pointing your elbow towards the sides of the pool and you in turn cause excess strain on your shoulder. Ouch!
A GREAT KICK!
Most triathletes I work with tend to believe they do not need to kick. In my opinion this is false. A good kick is important to high elbow recovery because it will allow you to spend more time out front with your upper arm extended before you engage your catch. Because high elbow recovery requires a good rotation, you must kick through your stroke in order to keep moving forward. If you decide to slow your kick down or not kick at all which is required for high elbow recovery, your legs will cause your lower body to start sinking thus eventually affecting your overall body alignment.
KEEP THE ELBOW AS THE HIGHEST POINT DURING RECOVERY:
When you combine a good kick and rotation you should be able to get your elbow to its highest point during recovery. In order to do this, you must CHOOSE to bend at your elbow and lower the forearm, palm, and wrist towards the water’s surface. If you find you cannot bend your elbow, it is most likely because you are keeping your lower arm higher than it needs to be during recovery. This is the most important aspect to high elbow recovery. It is a direct reflection on how much work is being done. If you do not bend your elbow enough to allow the lower arm down to the waters surface, you are still actively using your pecs and bicep muscles to keep your lower arm higher. This requires more work.
When you are recovering in freestyle, the “recovery” is not without effort. There is still work required. What I hope you achieve is to minimize the amount of work you do. Lifting your lower arm higher requires more work, and you waste energy. Wasted energy does not translate into faster swimming. If you lower your hand closer to the surface of the water, you can shut off your pecs and biceps in the recovering arm. This lowers your energy output and translates into conserving energy.
Now you are ready to swim faster with less effort!