Your pull plays a massive role in your swimming speed and efficiency. If you’re struggling to catch water and feel strength with each stroke, it might be time to work on your pull technique!

Keep reading for our top tips to enhance your pull, plus one of our favorite pull swim sets!

While most of the tips below focus on freestyle, you can apply this information to the other 3 competitive strokes to see improvements!

What is the Pull?

When you pull, most of your propulsion comes from your arms, but there’s a little more to it. 

Your pull isn’t just moving through the water with straight arms. It’s important to initiate a “catch” using the Early Vertical Forearm technique.

As your fingertips slide into the water, bend at the elbow and pull the water straight back, keeping your elbow above your hand. Doing this helps you pull more water, turning your forearm and hand into one giant paddle. 

Related: What is Early Vertical Forearm?

There’s also an aspect of rotation in your pull in freestyle and backstroke. When your hand enters the water and reaches forward, your body will rotate slightly toward that extended arm. This rotational momentum helps drive the power in your stroke! 

Early Vertical Forearm and rotational momentum are the foundations to fast swimming, so make sure you understand them, practice them and burn them into your brain!

3 Ways to Improve Your Pull

1. Focus on Technique

To work on your pull, isolate your arms and incorporate pull-specific training sets! Building pull strength isn’t just about swimming endless pull sets, though.

Pull sets can be long or short depending on your goal. Shorter sets might help you focus on smaller aspects of your technique, while longer sets will help build endurance.

Incorporate equipment to add resistance or remove various factors to focus on your pull even more:

  • Snorkel: Isolate your head so you don’t have to turn your head to breathe. More time to work on your catch, pull, and rotation!
  • Pull Buoy: Helps keep your hips afloat during pull sets.
  • Paddles: Add resistance to your hands during pull sets.
  • Parachute or Power Tower: Adds resistance behind you to help build strength and power. You’re pulling something along as you swim!
  • Aqua Knuckles: Focus on open finger swimming. Use code MYSWIMPRO for 15% off!

Related: How to Swim Freestyle with Perfect Technique

2. Focus on Increasing Distance Per Stroke

If you’re working on your pull, we can assume you’re also interested in improving your swimming efficiency. And that’s exactly what your distance per stroke is: reducing the total number of strokes you take per length of the pool. The fewer strokes you take, the more efficient you are! 

Now, take this with a grain of salt…of course it’s not efficient to push off the wall, take 3 long, gliding strokes and call it a day. It’s up to you to find the balance between stroke efficiency and speed!

When you have a strong pull, you create more power per stroke, which propels you across the pool faster.

3. Build Strength & Power

When you apply correct technique to your stroke, you’ll find that the water provides a ton of resistance, which will strengthen the muscles in your arms and shoulders. Over time you’ll build more strength and power, and your pull will improve. 

It all comes down to the swimming equation:

Swimming Time = Stroke Rate x Cycle Count

If you want to go faster (eg. a slower Swimming Time), you need to reduce either your Stroke Rate or your Cycle Count, and keep the other variable constant. 

When you increase your distance per stroke, you’ll take fewer, more powerful strokes per lap, and swim faster.

When to Do Pull Sets 

To keep your shoulders safe, it’s best to do pull sets after your warm up to ensure your muscles are ready to go. If you’re extra focused on building up your pull, incorporate dedicated pull sets 3+ times per week for best results! 

Related: More Ways to Improve Your Freestyle Pull & Catch

If you’re eager to add equipment, wait until after warm up. Equipment can be extremely valuable, but don’t get too attached! Try to keep sets using equipment to 50% or less of your total training volume.

Try This Pull Swim Set

Give this workout a try to build strength and power in your pull! To reduce the distance of this workout, complete only 1 round of the Pre-Set and Main Set. To increase the length of this workout, add a few more rounds of the Pre-Set or Main Set (or both!).

Distance: 2,500 yards/meters

Duration: 60 minutes

Warm Up:

  • 1 x 300 Freestyle Easy
  • 4 x 50 Kick in Streamline
  • 4 x 50 IM Order or Free

Pre-Set (2x)

  • 4 x 25 Fist Drill
  • 4 x 50 with Aqua Knuckles
  • 1 x 100 Freestyle, focus on hand position + EVF

Main Set (2x)

  • 4 x 50 Free Negative Split Stroke Count (fewer strokes on 2nd lap compared to 1st lap)
  • 1 x 200 Pull with Paddles

Cool Down

4 x 50 Freestyle Ascend

Share your favorite pull set in the comments! For more Workouts and training tips, download the MySwimPro app. Try our ELITE membership free for 30 days to unlock all personalized Training Plans and coaching resources.