Freestyle Underwater Pull Series: Phase I

In the freestyle underwater pull, as the hand enters the water, fast swimmers create lift in the first phase of the pull. There are two reasons why the hand/arm create lift in the first phase of the underwater pull. Discover why lift is important and how long we typically spend in the “lift phase” for both hip and shoulder driven freestyle in this Analysis of the Freestyle Underwater Pull by Gary Hall Sr.

17 Responses to Freestyle Underwater Pull Series: Phase I

  1. Robbarrett964

    Excellent description and illustrative video. As always, top notch!

  2. Nico Messer

    Something you did not specifically mention is that the shorter the distance, the higher the stroke rate should be in order to spend as much time in a power position.

    Also for everyone wondering how to find out if your kick is strong enough to benefit from a hip driven stroke, you should time yourself over a 50m, 200m and 400m. Look how those times compare and if you’re able to sustain the tempo with your kick. Looking for a specific set that will improve your kick? Try 20×100 on 2 minute interval every other week. The 1st time just try to actually make the set. The 2nd time make every other FAST before you go for 20 all out on the last time. Then after this 6 weeks check back with your 50m, 200m and 400m and check if and how you improved.

    • Philly

      What do you guys think about hip driven freestyle for distance swimmers? Watching Sun Yang he swims hip driven at around 60spm and is holding 59 sec/100m with a two beat kick to drive his rotation (very little propulsion). I know he is 6’8″ but he is about 20strokes per minute shy of most distance guys. His hip driven free appears to be powered by a super torquey pull rather than his kick. Any thoughts?

      • Nico Messer

        Philly, I don’t think Sun Yan is using a “traditional” two beat kick. Obviously, he’s not really using his kick until about the last 60m to 40m of the race but I would say he’s still getting a fair amount of propulsion from his legs. If you look at images from underwater it looks as if he’s using ” a double” two beat kick…one stronger big kick for propulsion to support his stroke and one small kick for balance while skating on the glide. HD freestyle is more suitable for distance events but as usual it all depends on the athlete.

        I think an interesting point, that Gary pointed out, is that Sun Yang breathes in and out (twice – to both sides) of every turn!

      • Garyhallsr

        Sun actually uses a six beat kick throughout the 1500, but most of the kicks are very soft, with two hard kicks per cycle. He only puts the full six beat to work in the final 100 meters. His stroke rate stays around 60/min until the final 100 when he increases it to around 90 (especially on the final lap). Grant Hackett had a very similar stroke rate and technique. Both have incredibly strong legs. Sun has done something different than all others (Kieren Perkins did some of this, also) by breathing three times into and three, sometimes four times consecutively out of each turn. That extra oxygen really helps him finish strong. The US coaches thought this was a weakness…but I think it is a plus for him.

        Gary Sr.

        • Philly

          Yeah even with those extra breaths he still breathed less than most of the other guys in that final. Pal Joensen, Ryan Cochrane, Gergo Kis I think all swam the majority of the race at around 80-85spm which gets them about 40 breaths a minute (excluding turns). Sun is only getting around 30 breaths so probably needs the extra couple of breaths at each turn to sustain his race pace. I heard Van den Hoogenband say it was a mistake he needed to correct for London 2012 but I think you are right in that he needs the extra oxygen he gets from doing it for his sprint finish. I watched the race again and took a look at his kick and he seems to use a six beat, a four beat (with the six pattern with two kicks dropped on the breathing side) and a two beat  at different stages of the race! Cant wait to see his 1500m free in London. Great site by the way and Happy New Year to you all.



    • Garyhallsr

      thank you!!

  4. Matthew Balderston

    Wow, Gary great video!  Been a while since I’ve been on the site, this is just top notch.  Doing some triathlons these days, I’ll be passing these videos around to my friends.

    Going to watch through the rest of the videos now!

    • Garyhallsr

      Glad you enjoyed it! We love working with triathletes so come down and visit us at a camp or private lessons.

      Gary Sr.

  5. Swimtolive

    I understand shoulder driven, but do you have any secret to keeping a strong hipdriven stroke. I started using shoulder driven, but am losing my hip driven stroke. How can I keep both stroke sperate?

    • Gary Hall Sr

      The secret to hip driven technique is having a strong kick, getting the head under water on the hand entry and using a big hip turn to generate more power. If you don’t have a strong kick, this an efficient, but not necessarily fast stroke.

  6. Roger Guevremont

    Physics should be consulted prior to these discussions. Otherwise errors can result. Example Bernoulli’s principle. Lift can only exist when you have an airfoil shape (like a airplane wing cross section). An arm is quite cylindrical, especially if you want streamlining. A cylindrical shape gives no Bernoulli related lift under any circumstances! ONE more detail: an airfoil shape results in considerable resistance as it is forced through a liquid. This resistance is what gives rise to the lift. You cannot get anything for free: it all needs energy!!

    • gary hall sr

      Even with airplane wings, the role of the Bernoulli effect vs Newtonian lift is controversial. The outstretched arm in front and the long human body are not really a cylindrical shape. Boats rely on Bernoulli effect to lift them out of the water. The Bernoulli effect on a swimmer at the lower speed is likely very small.

      • Roger Guevremont

        BOTH the Bernoulli effect and the Newtonian lift ideas are correct! See:

        However both ideas agree that the forward motion that causes lift requires energy. In more detail: a speed of forward motion in any fluid requires an amount of energy/time (power). If you want lift in addition (at the same speed), you need more energy added to the first. For a swimmer this means simply that if he wants lift to move up at the surface, it means that he will automatically be slowed down. The swimmer is already delivering 100% of the energy (power) he has. Do not divert part of that energy to produce lift.

  7. Lewis McCorvey

    Hi Gary Lew again here in Clermont Fl , had my session with coach Sara today, now I am frustrated, legs are down, head up, gitch in my right arm entry ,left arm pull was short . How do i improve in swimming if all I do is drills ? I am a 60 yr triathlete with Ironman race in Nov. And how much time should I apply to drills dismay main question .

  8. Lewis McCorvey

    Hi again Gary, had a good swim today, did something I have not done in many years I breathed to my right. My mom was a lefty, so everything I have every done except write is lefty , and of course breathing on my left.

    Well tonight everything came together after I did 100 bilateral , then 100 breathing to my left, then I did 100 to my right , then another 500 to my right , I felt natural and smooth, not fighting the water. And my times were much lower when I was breathing to my right .


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