The fourth phase of a swim stroke is recovery. It starts when the arm exits the water and ends when the arm drops back into the water. The key to good recovery technique is to do as the name implies—recover.
When a recovering arm is completely out of the water, it is not moving the swimmer forward in the water. Swimmers should use as little energy as possible during the recovery. Try to relax all unnecessary shoulder, arm and hand muscles. Let the arm lift out of the water as if the elbow was attached to a puppet string. Relax the shoulder and arm as the hand swings forward in an arc.
Novice swimmers can suffer from sore shoulders and fatigued muscles from keeping their hand close to their body during recovery. This is an example of unnecessarily expended energy that does not help with forward propulsion. Each athlete will have a natural recovery path based on personal flexibility.
When the arm is almost fully straight in front of the head, let it drop into the water with a splash and a plunk. Once the arm is submerged, the strong catch phase begins and the relaxed recovery is over.