This freestyle stroke article is part of a series that describes common swimming mistakes and how to correct them. This article specifically explains why overreaching above water at the end of the arm recovery can be counterproductive for your swimming technique and even bad for your shoulders.
Arm Recovery Technique
When recovering the arm in the freestyle stroke, your hand should enter the water midway between the position of your head and the position of your hand when the arm is completely extended.
However, there are swimmers that delay the hand entry too much or even wait until the arm is completely extended above water before letting it drop it into the water. Their argument for delaying the hand entry into the water is that the arm creates less resistance when moving through the air than when moving through the water.
I don't agree with this argument however for the following reasons:
- If you enter your arm early in the water, it will push water molecules out of the way for the rest of your body and as a consequence create less total drag. In fact your body has a more arrow-like shape with an early hand entry than when overreaching above water.
- Letting your extended arm drop flat into the water creates turbulence, again creating drag.
- When your arm is in the water its buoyancy will help you float. When overreaching however its weight will push you down in the water.
Yet the biggest problem with overreaching during the recovery is that it puts the arm and the shoulder in an awkward position that can lead to shoulder impingement and over time to swimmer's shoulder.
Fixing Your Swimming Technique
While being aware of the problem with overreaching is nice, being able to fix your swimming technique is better. To do so, the best solution is to use a swimming drill that teaches you an early hand entry during the recovery. That's what the Over Switch swimming drill from our sequence of drills to learn how to swim the freestyle stroke does.
The drill lets you swipe across the side of your head with the thumb or the inner side of your palm, right before the hand entry. As a consequence you get into the habit of entering the hand early into the water during the recovery and will later on do it automatically.
So give this swimming drill a try and see if your swimming technique improves. Have fun!