This blog post is sponsored by Aqua Knuckles. Get 15% off with code MYSWIMPRO >

Swimming is all about efficiency. From head position to hand entry, the smallest factors can impact how fast you move through the water — and how far you can swim during your practice time.

One place we see many swimmers struggle is the freestyle pull and catch. The pull lacks power or creates extra resistance that keeps them from swimming faster.

Think this might be you? You’re in the right place. Keep reading for tips to streamline the 5 phases of your catch and a bonus swim workout to put our advice into action! 

Proper Freestyle Pull Technique

Back in the day, swimmers were taught to pull with an “S” pattern during freestyle. The best swimmers and coaches in the world preached that this curved pull was the best way to swim faster. 

After years of refining stroke technique and mechanics, coaches have found that the most efficient and powerful pull is simply a straight line. However, it’s important to note that the arm is not straight — it’s the pull that is straight. More on that in a bit.

Five Phases of the Freestyle Stroke

1. Hand Entry

Your hand should enter the water at a 45-degree angle, middle finger first, about 18 inches in front of the shoulder. 

Once the fingertips enter the water, slide them forward and fully extend your arm.

2. Catch

After your arm fully extends, start to angle your fingertips down toward the bottom of the pool, keeping your elbow high to engage Early Vertical Forearm. EVF allows you to pull more water, engaging your arm like a big paddle.

Freestyle swim

Related: What is Early Vertical Forearm?

It’s important to find EVF as early as possible in your stroke — it can make a huge difference in your overall speed.

3. Pull Phase

Freestyle swimming

Once you have initiated EVF, you’ll move into the pull. Keeping your elbow high, pull straight back, keeping your hand in line with your shoulder. Eventually, your arm will straighten out and your body will rotate independent of your pull, leading you to the exit phase.

4. Exit

It’s really common for swimmers to cut their pull short and not push through to the exit. Focus on pushing your hand back to your hip before lifting your arm out for the recovery phase.

5. Recovery

Once the hand exits the water near your hips, it’s time to recover and do it all over again! Lift your arm out of the water and bend your elbow, keeping your elbow above your hand at all times. Reach forward and place your hand back in the water about 18 inches in front of your shoulder.

Drills & Equipment 

So, now that you know everything there is to know about the perfect freestyle catch, how do you improve your own?

Start with the Fist Drill. You’ll swim freestyle with your hands in fists, which encourages proper EVF. With your hands taken out of the equation, you’ll be able to get a better feel for your forearm positioning throughout your catch and pull.

We have also been loving Aqua Knuckles, which help encourage proper hand positioning while you swim. If you watch the best swimmers in the world, you’ll notice that they swim with a little bit of separation between their fingers. Aqua Knuckles help train your body and mind to swim with open fingers instead of tightly cupped hands.

Related: How to Improve Your Catch with Open Finger Swim Training

It may seem like a minor adjustment, but swimming with open fingers makes a huge difference. Studies have found that a small space between your fingers actually increases the surface area of your hand in the water, which in turn increases your pull force by up to 10% and helps you swim up to 2.5% faster! Aqua Knuckles slide onto your middle and ring finger, creating a 5-10mm gap between your fingers and boosting the power of your pull.

Get 15% off Aqua Knuckles with code MYSWIMPRO!

Related: The Science of Swimming with Open Fingers

You can experiment with this out of the water, too. Try placing your hand on a table and pressing down with your fingers clamped together and see how that feels. Then open your fingers a little bit and press on the table again. You’ll feel a lot more control, stability and power with open fingers! 

Try This Swim Workout

Give this workout a try to improve your catch! 

Distance: 2,500 yards/meters

Duration: Approx. 60 minutes

Warm Up

  • 1 x 400 Freestyle 
  • 8 x 50 Kick

Main Set (2x)

  • 4 x 50 Fist Drill
  • 4 x 50 with Aqua Knuckles (optional)
  • 4 x 50 with Paddles
  • 1 x 200 Perfect Freestyle with Fins

Cool Down

1 x 100 Freestyle Silent Swimming 

For more workouts like this, download the MySwimPro app! Try our ELITE COACH subscription free for 30 days. To get 15% off Aqua Knuckles, use code MYSWIMPRO at checkout >

4 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Freestyle Pull & Catch

  1. Great lesson. I also notice among good swimmers including myself a tendency to cross over especially toward the breathing side, ie. The right arm crossing over when I breathe to the left. I have to consciously feel as if the right arm is going to be a little to the outside of 1 o’clock in order for it to be in the same line as my left.

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