This front crawl article explains why overreaching with the arm above water during the recovery can lead to both decreased performance and shoulder problems.
This article is part of a series that describes common swimming mistakes and how to correct them.
Arm Recovery – Technique
When recovering the arm in the front crawl 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 postponing 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:
1) 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.
2) Letting your extended arm drop flat into the water creates turbulence, again creating drag.
3) 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.
The biggest problem with overreaching during the recovery, however, is that it puts the arm and the shoulder in an awkward position.
This can lead to shoulder impingement and, given enough time, to swimmer’s shoulder.
Correcting Your Swimming Technique
While being aware of the problem with overreaching is good, 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 series of drills to learn the front crawl 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 with practice, this will become a habit.
So give this swimming drill a try and see if your swimming technique improves. Have fun!
You may also be interested in the following articles that cover the front crawl’s swimming technique:
Tuesday 5th of November 2019
Can you help with a crawl arm problem?
I was told that I should have my arms enter the water at 10 to 2 angles. I do this but I think my left arm is not coming in as I pull (in an hour glass way). Perhaps staying out wide, I now have constant shoulder and neck ache on the left side.
I only breath in the right so I am sure I am a little unbalanced anyway.
Wednesday 6th of November 2019
It is difficult to say what is going on without seeing your stroke. If you get shoulder and neck aches, it sure is the sign that there is something in your swimming technique that isn't optimal.
Some points to keep in mind with your front crawl stroke to prevent strain on your shoulder joints:
- Use a flat hand entry
- Do not overreach
- Hand entry at shoulder width (your 2 or 10 o'clock position)
- Do not pull across the middle of your body during the underwater pull.
- Bilateral breathing certainly is a plus.
- Only start to pull after the "catch", do not pull downwards and backwards as soon as your hand has entered the water (the shoulder is unstable in an overhead position and using force in that position can lead to shoulder impingement).
- While breathing on the right side, it is possible that you are craning your neck and pushing down with your left arm if you lack balance. In that case, please complete the set of swimming drills we provide on this website. This should improve your stability and as a consequence decrease the strain on your neck and left shoulder while breathing.
I think you should try to have a friend film your stroke. It should be easy to do this above water with a smartphone. If you know somebody who has a waterproof camera/smartphone, being able to capture the underwater portion of your stroke is also interesting.
Once you see yourself, the mistakes you make should be obvious. If not, a friend with swimming experience (or even the lifeguard) should be able to point them out to you.
Finally, strengthening exercises for the shoulder's rotator cuff muscles and shoulder blade can also help prevent swimming injuries. You can find a few of these exercises on this website by using the search function.