The Stroke Series Part One: The Reach

Use the off-season to improve your freestyle stroke with this three-part series from swimming all-star Sara McLarty.

Use the off-season to improve your freestyle stroke with this three-part series from swimming all-star Sara McLarty. First up, the reach.

The reach is a tiny part of freestyle that occurs after the arm drops into the water and before the start of the stroke. It occurs in a fraction of a second but can make minutes of difference in your overall swim time. Adding a few inches of forward reach to each stroke will create a more streamlined effect, better body position for a strong catch and pull, further distance per stroke and reduce stroke count. Most importantly, by extending the lead arm forward for a moment longer, the opposite arm is able to finish a strong pull and exit the water at the thigh.

•  Relax your shoulders next to your chin
•  Point fingertips toward the other side of the pool
•  Keep arm/elbow/hand/fingers 4–6 inches under the surface
•  Extend your arm straight from the shoulder

•  Let your elbow drop below your hand
•  Slide your hand along the surface of the water
•  Reach your hand across your centerline before starting a stroke



Streamline off the wall. Keep your left arm extended while taking complete strokes with your right arm. Reach your right hand past your left before the catch. Focus on good rotation during each stroke. Swim a 25 with the right arm and then switch for the next 25. Repeat for 4×50.

Stick Drill

Use a 12-inch piece of PVC pipe, a half-inch in diameter. Hold the stick with both hands and push off the wall. Release your right hand, take a complete stroke, grasp the stick and repeat with the left. Keep hands near the edges to prevent crossing the centerline. Focus on reaching the stick toward the other side of the pool. Alternate stick drill with regular swimming for 8×50.

Swim Golf

This fun set will improve reach and efficiency in the water. A swim-golf score is the sum of total number of strokes and seconds you use to complete a 50. During a set of 6×50, descend stroke count and/or increase speed to produce the lowest possible score.

Tip: Try not to use underwater kicking to improve your score. The focus is on developing an efficient arm stroke.

Check back on Monday for part two of “The Stroke Series,” featuring the pull and finish.

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