Secret Tip: How to Pull in Freestyle

The freestyle underwater pull is a compromise between power and drag. In this Secret Tip, we find out why it is more important to reduce drag than it is to increase power during the underwater pull in Freestyle. We show you with underwater and above water footage, how to achieve a most efficient and therefore, fast swimming stroke. As one of our most popular videos, we provide a lot of information in this How to Pull in Freestyle video to help you swim faster.

Watch our Video Series starting with Freestyle Underwater Pull Series: Introduction

24 Responses to Secret Tip: How to Pull in Freestyle

  1. Hstewart

    Gary this is very powerful information. Thanks so much for sharing this wealth of knowledge with the general public.
    As a masters swimmer I could use all the efficiency I can get. As a sprinter I’ve been swimming with a straight arm instead of the high elbow. Time to start working on my stroke. Perhaps I will be able to swim an all out 200 free now!!

  2. Chris Burke


    Thanks so much for sharing. I am pretty good about swimming with a high elbow, but I think my arm is too wide when I am pulling. The reason I say that is because when I pull closer to my midline it feels easier than when I am wide with my pull. Is the easier sensation I experience the difference in the drag? Does this make sense? As you probably sense, I’m finding it difficult to articulate.

    Thanks, Chris

    • Garyhallsr

      It is normal to feel stronger and therefore, better, in the deep elbow/arm position. What you are not feeling are the drag forces going along with it. The EVF position requires getting into shoulder extension (negative angle) at the beginning of the pull and internally rotating the shoulder, neither of which are particularly strong or comfortable.
      It is possible to go too wide and too shallow with the hand in the high elbow position. I have seen some swimmers sweep their hand outside of the elbow position, whereby they begin to use the arm more like a an oar. This is not an effective way of pulling with a high elbow.

      Gary Sr.

  3. Ed

    Gary, your video articles are fantastic! Thank you very much for sharing your deep and insightful expertise. One question: how do you reconcile the EVF with the late catch (front quadrant) that we distance swimmers have been taught for years? I cannot seem to execute the EVF without putting myself in a poor streamline position.

    • Garyhallsr

      The EVF can and should be used with either shoulder-driven or hip-driven freestyle (or body-driven). Arguably the best EVF was used by Australian 1500 world record holder, Grant Hacket, using a hip-driven technique. Using hip-driven freestyle (as you describe) has the advantage of a bigger hip turn generating more power and dps….just not as many pull strokes as shoulder driven.

      Gary Sr.

  4. James Stuart

    The video look good indeed but pity I am deaf so don’t know what you saying but I know about EVF (high elbow) drill and skill etc its very effective indeed

  5. Bbbbhcta

    Gary you guys were always my hero’s growing up along with Bottoms, Kinsella, and many other world class guys. I met John Kinsella at Florida Nationals (Masters) and was impressed. I milked his mind about swimming and hope to add to my expertise as a coach by seeing videos like this one. I agree completely with your high elbow less drag concept. Another reason that the bent high underwater elbow is more efficient is from the anatomical point of view that is that because of muscle insertions your arm can apply more efficient force while bent. If you increase the resistance arm from shoulder to tip of fingers you weaken your underwater force. Straight Deep arm will also tear up shoulders if you are still doing the high yardage format. My mentor was a guy from Springfield College Charles E Silvia who shared worldly ideas with Doc Counsilman back in those days. Silvia is in Hall of Fame also :)

  6. Flutterkix

    Thank you so much! These videos are invaluable! Keep them coming!

  7. Plavyn

    The visual of Nathan Adrian(?) is worth 1,000 words…

  8. Brian

    Gary, Great Video!
    I knew high elbow was “the rule” but in your video you describe why and I never really got it before now. I always sort of just tried to swim with bent arms.
    I swam modifying my technique with the high elbow and was able to swim about 4 seconds faster per lap (50 yards), and it was clear I could not pull as hard and generate as much force. But it was also clear, when the guy that swims at the same time as me and is usually a bit faster but could not keep up, that it is better.
    I do have a question if you could help. In the video with Nathan swimming, the pull on the non-breathing stroke seemed to have much more of a bent elbow that went underneath his body (as though one was on the edge of the pool and pulling themself out of the water to get out). While the breathing stroke seemed to be more of a vertical forearm. Now I don’t have a video of myself but I felt like I was trying to keep both arms vertical. Is that the goal or should the non-breathing strokes be a bit more vertical than the other?

    Thanks, Brian

  9. Dan


    This site is just an amazing resource thank you.

    I wonder if you might touch on something I don’t hear much of anything about. I watch this gal at practice occasionally and she has amazing flexibility, but of course any movement has an upper and lower limit of what is healthy. She gets to her EVF position and begins to propel herself and her hand actually passes beneath her elbow at or even before they reach her collar bone….it’s internal rotation nightmare material when I look at it.

    Is there a range one should look for in how much EVF is adequate? I have no delusions that my flexibility will allow me to get a position like Grant or the like, but I’m always afraid to try ‘more’ even though I can simply b/c I fear injury already having dealt with impingement issues 20 years ago. Once I can see my palm is that adequate to say ‘ok we have enough leverage’ even though I could do more? Quite simply I’m too much of a chicken to experiment on the law of diminishing returns given past injuries.

    Sorry if that was written clear as mud. Just don’t hear much talk about ‘how much is enough’ or ‘avoid going past here’ in the EVF talks. Thank you!

  10. Stan Douglas

    Great explanation of EVF. My current coach has modified my hand entry from about 4″ to 8″ under water before I begin my stroke. I think this must be forcing me into a more pronounced EVF as it has sped me up a couple seconds per 50M. I’ll continue to focus on it. I had a lasik procedure done by you at your clinic and still have excellent vision. Great to be able to swim without corrective lenses or contacts.

  11. Frustratedsw


    Tremendous video. I’ve spent most of the last year imprinting EVF into my stroke but I’ve had tremendous inconsistency in speed/effort. I tend to pull deep and across my body because it feels more powerful. The resistance trumps power explanation was perfect..Thank you Again.

  12. Andrew Kudwitt


    Great video.  I have a couple of questions.  During the catch phrase of the freestyle when the forearm and hand are swinging downwards in a pivoting sort of motion should the hand and forearm be positioned straight downwards or should they be slightly bent inwards?   In the video it seems that in the catch phrase of the stroke the swimmer has a high elbow but the forearm and hand is still pointing inwards.  I have seen some videos when the hand in pointing downwards when the forearm is pointing inwards and when the hand and forearm are pointing both inwards during the catch.  Also, during the entire duration of my freestyle pull I keep my fingertips pointing downwards while my forearm is pointing inwards.  Should my hand and forearm always be pointing in the same direction?

  13. Cindylu3

    Oct. 1st I am swimming my first 5k at Siesta Key Beach in Sarrasota.  Do you have any tips for me?   I did ok in Clearwater last year, one mile – 32:45.  I live in Citrus County and keep asking if you could visit our swim group at Whispering Pines Park.  I am a member of Florida Mavericks, but swim with the AAA group. (Amitures and Athletes) We are only swimming through October.
    Thank you for your time,
    Cindy Januszewski

    • Nico Messer

      Dear Cindy,

      the Race Club has a couple of videos where Open Water is discussed. You can find all of them in the Open Water Swimming topics section at

      But in general, improving your technique will help you in the Open Water as well. I suggest you browse through some of the older videos if you haven’t been a follower since the start.

  14. Ben.

    Hello Mr.
    Hall Sr,


    More than
    10 years of swimming with an incorrect catch, I decided 11 months ago to swim
    like Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe.


    I started
    by changing my catch and learn the EVF. It wasn’t pretty but after weeks of
    daily practice in the pool I got it right on a daily basis in about 6 months
    and now my elbow flirts with the surface of the water during my pull.

    the advice of your good friend Mike Bottom on the 3 types of freestyle, I was
    able to link my catch to my core and the rotational power of my hips by timing
    my lower leg kick with the beginning of my EVF catch. And with your personal
    advice I can now swim on a regular base the hip driven stroke with a 2 or 6
    beat (or average 4 by altering 2 and 6 by arm cycle).


    Being the
    consume learner and freak of physical activity that I am, I can get sometime
    bored of repeating something that I have figured out. So I decided to learn the
    “Galop” Stroke. And my question on the pull is the following: When I
    jumped in the pool to practiced the “galop” two days ago, I realized
    that I was linking my catch to my core, the same way I do with the hip driven
    style on the 2 different side of my pull, even with the different arm recovery
    that produce this 1-2 timing in the stroke.

    My pull
    felt good, I felt fast, I felt my kinetic chain was holding up and I was wondering, from your point of view if I am on
    the right path?



  15. harroop

    it was very useful info

  16. joe

    nice dude

  17. joe

    awesome stuff man

  18. Pingback: Myth #5. The reason we pull freestyle underwater with a high elbow is to increase the surface area of our arm. - The Race Club | The Race Club

  19. Pingback: Drag Trumps Power » Swymnut Masters

  20. Graham

    What happens when you have inflexibility issues to get into the EVF position?

    • garyhallsr

      Great question. It does take good shoulder and scapula flexibility in order to keep the EVF position AND recover with good body rotation.
      Keep working on your shoulder flexibility and try to get out of your comfort zone by keeping the elbow pointing forward during the pulling motion.


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