Freestyle Pulling Motion: Early Hand Release vs Pressing Out the Back


Freestyle Pulling Motion: Early Hand Release vs Pressing Out the Back

When teaching freestyle technique at The Race Club, the question of whether a swimmer should press hard out the back end of the stroke or release the hand earlier is not easy to answer. At least, not without testing.

By extending the wrist and continuing to press backward, a swimmer can increase propulsion and gain distance per stroke (DPS). The down side is that doing so usually causes the stroke rate (SR) to slow. Since a swimmer’s velocity is equal to DPS x SR, both are equal. Which is more important, greater DPS or higher SR? The answer depends on the swimmer, the technique being used, and the event.

In the 50-meter sprint, all elite swimmers today use shoulder-driven freestyle technique with a SR of 115 or higher. In the 1500 men’s event, we see shoulder-driven, hybrid and hip-driven freestyle techniques being used successfully, with SR ranging from 60 (Sun Yang) to 96 (Gregorio Paltrinieri). In the Olympic Games men’s 200-meter freestyle in Athens in 2004, we saw three of the greatest freestylers in history, Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe and Peter Van den Hoogenband, use three different techniques. Thorpe (SR 81) used a hip-driven technique with a fierce kick. Van den Hoogenband used shoulder-driven freestyle (SR 95) and Phelps used his famous hybrid technique (SR 87).

While pressing hard out the back of the stroke is much more important in hip-driven and hybrid freestyle techniques, there is still the question in shoulder-driven freestyle how much emphasis should be placed on the end of the stroke?

With Olympian freestyler, Artyom Machekin, we tested his shoulder-driven sprint technique both ways using Velocity Meter and Smart Paddle technology. First, we tested him with his normal technique, where he presses hard out the back with a SR of 115. Then we tested him again using shoulder-driven freestyle, releasing the hand earlier and increasing his SR to 125. Here is what we found.

Over 10 meters, Artyom averaged 1.956 m/sec using his normal sprint technique pressing out the back. With the early release sprint technique, he averaged 1.892 m/sec over the same 10-meter distance. In a 22 second 50 sprint, that would equate to about 1.15 meters farther behind by releasing the hand earlier, even with a faster SR.

With his normal technique, Artyom extends the wrist back and presses hard with each hand at the end of the pull

Releasing the hands earlier enable Artyom to increase his stroke rate, but he ends up swimming slower

While in Artyom’s case, pressing harder out the back is the right technique, that is not necessarily true for every swimmer. There are many places where the hand can lose its grip on the water and cause the swimmer to slow down. 

The only way to know for sure which technique works best for each swimmer is by testing. The technology is here, so use it.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


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