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When Does a Swimmer Catch Water, and When Does a Swimmer Release the Water?

Swimming Recovery Technique - The Early Freestyle Release


An early swimming catch helps swimmers to maximize the amount of force they can apply to that water while swimming. Swimmers should grab or catch the water as far out in front of them as their body allows. I define the catch as the point in the stroke when swimmers apply pressure to the water that helps the swimmers move forward. Pushing down on the water is not really catching, even though it is pressing on the water. The catch happens when the swimmers action is helping them move towards the finish. The place that a swimmer is able to start the catch is limited by that swimmer's range of motion. But where or when should a swimmer let go of the water - when does a swimmer release that pressure - where does the swimming stroke recovery start?

There is a lot of variation from swimmer to swimmer, but there is a general starting point that swimmers can aim for. As they develop, they might move the swimming catch release point based on what works best for their specific anatomy and personal areas of strength or weakness. The basics of where to release the swimming catch are:

  • Breaststroke Swimming
    The release point for the initial catch is the widest part of the outsweep. The hands then transition to an insweep, altering the direction of the catch. The water is "held" until the just prior to the point of the hands beginning the forward thrust into recovery. The arms recovery parallel to the water's surface, either just below or at the surface.

  • Backstroke Swimming
    The release point is below the waist just prior to the arm reaching a full extension by the side of the body. As the hand gets to the hip , the swimmer finally releases the water with a flick of the wrist back towards the feet and down and under the hips. The arms recover fully extended at 90-degrees to the water's surface.

  • Butterfly Swimming
    The release point is at or below the waist. As the arms near full extension and sweep out and up past the waist, the swimmer release the water as they throw their hands up and out into the recovery. The arms recover in a wide sweeping motion, just above the water's surface.

  • Freestyle Swimming
    The release point is generally similar to butterfly, but the recovery is usually started by lifting the elbow up rather than throwing the hands up and out. As the hand pasts the waist, swimmers release the water by lifting their elbow up, with the hand being dragged out of the water as the elbow gets higher and higher. A lower hand, higher elbow recovery is the norm for freestyle swimming.
Are those the only right ways to swim? No, not at all. There are many, many variations.

One interesting freestyle swimming variation is the early freestyle release. I suggest you experiment with it, it may be something you can use from time to time to vary a swim workout or to pick up tempo during a swimming race. What is it?

The early release is just what it sounds like. Try to let go of the water sooner than you usually would. If you normally keep hand pressure on the water (when the pressure is gone, you have released the water) until your hand reaches your hip, try letting go of the water when your hand reaches your waist, or even prior to that point. Begin lifting your elbow up and out of the water so that you are starting your stroke recovery earlier than usual.

Experiment with the early release while swimming freestyle. You might find it is a good tool to have in your swimming toolbox.

Swim On!

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