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The Elbow Debate: To Bend or Not to Bend?

For most of us swimmers, right from the get-go, we are taught one thing when it comes to the freestyle recovery: the high elbow bend. But has anyone ever stopped and wondered why? Why are we all told to do just that? To bend our elbows up high? To all swim the same way? The same recovery. Why? When all too often we see some of the most talented and decorated athletes doing exactly the opposite: straight armed freestyle or strokes that have a unique and/or lop sided hitch to them during the recovery.

Even I must admit that years ago, I was a huge proponent of the high elbow bend recovery. I thought it was simply sloppy to do it any other way. But that was before I really started observing and analyzing what those at the highest level do. And what do the best do? They swim the way that is most comfortable and efficient for them to get from point A to point B – be it wall to wall or even buoy to buoy. For instance, Katie Ledecky swims with a hitch and a certainly more masculine stroke than a traditional feminine stroke. Caeleb Dressel (currently the fastest swimmer on earth) swims straight arm freestyle. Janet Evans swam both with a hitch and straight arm (and breathed every stroke too). Trust me, the list goes certainly goes on and on…and on.  

In summary, we need to do what is most comfortable and efficient for our body in the water. So next time you are in the water, really relax and take the time to assess your freestyle form, focusing primarily on the recovery. Who knows, you may surprise yourself with what you learn about your stroke!

Corrie Kristick is a Swim Coach & Instructor here at The Houstonian Club. She swam for Rice University where she was an Olympic trials qualifier. In addition to swimming, she is a professional long course triathlete. Please contact Corrie for more information or to schedule a lesson at or call the aquatics department at 713.685.6751.

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