How to Maximize Propulsion with Coupling Motions

While nearly all of the forces that create propulsion come from the hands and feet, there are certain other movements that we can do with our bodies that will increase the amount of propulsion coming from the pull and kick. We call those coupling motions.

I have written extensively in the past about the importance of coupling motions, but for those that missed reading them, let me explain. A coupling motion is a motion of some part of our body that by itself produces no propulsion, yet, when coupled with the propulsive forces, will make them stronger. Since we live in what is called an open system in nature, where the energy from one part of our moving body affects other parts of our body, using coupling motions are a powerful way to swim faster.

The coupling motions of swimming are very important; like putting a fuel additive into your gas tank. Any serious discussion of propulsion in swimming would be remiss without mentioning the coupling motions.

The following are important coupling motions in all four strokes and in the start and the propulsive forces they are coupling with.

  • Freestyle: Rotation of the body (including the head after the breath) and the recovery of the arms (pull and kick)
  • Backstroke: Rotation of the body and recovery of the arms (pull and kick)
  • Breaststroke: Elevation of the upper body (pull) and pressing down of the upper body and head (sometimes the arms, depending on the technique) (kick)
  • Butterfly: Recovery of the arms, snapping down of the head on the front breath (second down kick)
  • Start: Elevation of the head, motion of the arms, elevation of the back leg (feet or feet and arms, depending on the technique)


The keys to making the coupling motions effective are precise timing and more energy. The coupling motion is most effective when the maximum kinetic energy of the motion is timed precisely with the maximum propulsion. For example, if the coupling motion ends before the propulsive force begins, it has no effect at all. A good example is in breaststroke, perhaps the most timing-sensitive stroke of all, where if the body pressing forward reaches the water much before the feet begin to push backward, the benefit of all that work is lost. For that reason, the kicking cycle of breaststroke needs to be lightning fast to work well with the coupling motions of the upper body.

The kinetic energy of coupling motions in swimming can increase in the following ways: rotating faster, lengthening (straightening) the arms, pressing the body forward harder or snapping down the head faster. There is a price to pay, however, and it is called work.

It is much easier to swim without using these high-energy coupling motions. I call that technique survival stroke, which utilizes less energy to get through a workout. If you get accustomed to swimming with survival stroke technique that is the way you will likely swim in the competition. You may invest less energy in the race, but you probably won’t swim as fast and likely won’t win.

At the Race Club we take coupling motions very seriously. Coupling motions are one of the main reasons that swimmers that do not appear to be very strong can swim faster and with more power than bigger, stronger swimmers. We have designed many drills that will help you with the energy and timing of your coupling motions. Come to Islamorada or Coronado and let us show you them!

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


6 Responses to How to Maximize Propulsion with Coupling Motions

  1. Tamara Cole

    As a coach I would love to see the drills that would help in this coupling the movement. How could I get the drills for my swimmers. I know you would give them at your camp, but I would like to learn.

    • garyhallsr

      Hi Tamara,

      One of our favorite ways of drilling the coupling motions for fly and breaststroke, is by using freestyle kick with fins. Really emphasize the coupling motions I mention above with the strong kick.
      For back and free we like to use a series of body rotation drills, snapping the body from one side to the other, and the six kick one stroke drill, emphasizing the aggressive throw down of the recovering arms.

  2. Denis Senkubuge

    Am an elite swimmer in Uganda..i do indepent training since swim clubs are for the rich these ends..i have read your post and its very hard for me to get to your there any other way I can get access to your drills everyday??

    • garyhallsr

      Beginning next year we will be offering a subscription service with a new teaching video and articles every week. The cost will likely be around $10 per month…very affordable with lots of great information.
      We have been helping many swimmers in Nigeria. If we should come there for a camp someday, I hope you will join us.

  3. Jukka Shemeikka

    Good article! It seems that when we at OTC Rovaniemi talk about connection, we talk about the same thing. Lets talk more and share ideas in June at Islamorada camp. See you then.

    • garyhallsr

      Coaches have used the term ‘connection’ for years and it is one that many swimmers relate to. The connection is really occurring because of the coupling motions augmenting the propulsion.


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