The recovery phase – swim drills for endurance

The recovery is the part of your stroke that starts when your hand exits the water and ends when your hand re-enters the water. During this phase, you should, well. Recover. That said, you should be relaxed from your shoulder all the way down to your fingertips.

The often forgotten part of your stroke

Nothing you do above the surface of the water will propel you forward. And since that’s the case. You want that part of your stroke to be quick and not create excessive drag.

What to think about during the recovery

  1. Elbow leads the way

    The exit of your hand from the pull phase should be lead by your elbow, your hand “tags along”. So your elbow is in front of your hand for as long as possible.

  2. Relax

    Relax your fingers and wrist. Tensing up in the lower part of the extremities will create tension further up.

  3. Accelerate

    Start your exit and recovery slow, and at the last part of the stroke, “throw” your hand forward, accelerating throughout the whole recovery phase.

6 steps to becoming a faster and more efficient swimmer

We have chosen to sort the freestyle stroke into six separate segments. In all featured articles, you will both be able to read about that part of the stroke and watch our videos on different swim drills that will improve your skillset in that area.

  • The Catch – The part of your stroke from when your hand enters the water, up until you are able to start pulling yourself forward.
  • The Pull – This part starts where the catch ends, and continues until the hand exits the water.
  • The Recovery – It is the part of the stroke that occurs above the surface.
  • The Kick – Kicking in swimming is not the biggest power output, but, it is crucial for water position and reducing frontal drag.
  • The Rotation – The way you rock your body from side to side to create your optimal streamlined position and best power output.
  • The Head position – How you hold your head, and where you look will greatly impact your position in the water.

Doing drills from these six areas will improve your swimming.

An easy way to stay relaxed throughout your arm is to think about having a relaxed wrist.

Here are five fantastic drills for creating a great recovery!

Even though these drills look a lot like each other, they differ slightly in their technical difficulties.

Finger drag

How to:
During the recovery of the stroke, drag your fingertips along the surface of the water.
Lead the recovery with your elbow, not your hand.

Focus on:
Feeling that you are dragging your hand on the surface, use your body rotation to get more mobility.

Good for:
A smooth stroke.
Relaxed recovery.
Shoulder mobility.


How to:
Imagine that you have a zipper that runs along your whole side of your body.
Imagine closing that zipper during your recovery.

Focus on:
Keep your core tight, and don’t lose balance. Initiate your rotation at the hip, not the shoulder.

Good for:
Efficient recovery.
Body rotation.

Thumb in armpit

How to:
During your recovery, when your elbow and hand are in line at your armpit. Put your thumb gently into your armpit before continuing forward.

Focus on:
Rotation will make it easier to place your thumb in your armpit. That body rotation is what we are after. Elbow leads the hand.

Good for:
Relaxed recovery.
Shoulder mobility.

Three touch

How to:
During your recovery, take the time to give your bum, shoulder and head a light tap.
Don’t stress it, take your time between every touch.

Focus on:
Being relaxed and don’t tense up during the movement of your arm. That will lead to you losing balance.

Good for:
Getting a relaxed recovery, which gives you smoother and more effortless swimming.

Draw the pig

This is a fun drill that Mikael Rosén taught me at one of his sessions. It is a great drill for working on among other things: balance and mobility.

How to:
During the recovery, stop at the middle and point straight up to the sky or ceiling.
Draw a little pig, and don’t start going forward with your hand before the pig is done.

Focus on:
Think about being tall in the water, and keeping your balance, while you are rotated when drawing the pig.

Good for:
Body balance and streamline.
Mobility in the shoulders.
Relaxing the arms.

The next step in your training

The recovery phase is very important in swimming. Just like in training in general. Recovery is key! When you are training, you break down your muscles, when you rest. You build yourself back up. We started TOT endurance club as a way of keeping fit between races, and to be a hub for all endurance aficionados! In the club, you’ll get:

  • A weekly training program (swim, bike, run, row)
  • Exclusive content via the member group on Facebook
  • A group that trains together, in the comfort of your own homes.
  • 10% Discount on all our training programs.

learn more!


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Kicking in freestyleUsing pull buoy to work on swim technique