Balanced Front Quadrant Swimming

How do athletes swim balanced in the water?  Some might think that balanced swimming means the right arm enters the water as the left arm exits: but that would be incorrect.  Experienced freestyle swimmers have one arm entering the water as the other arm passes through the mid-phase of the stroke.  As the entering arm extends forward, the pulling arm completes the second half of the pull phase.  Then as the entering arm begins to move backward executing the pull, the other arm exits the water.  A visual example of this can be seen at

 This front quadrant swimming happens because the swimming stroke pull phase (when the hand is in the water) takes longer to execute than the recovery phase (when the hand moves through the air).  Also, the swimmer’s hand moves more slowly through the water for the first half of the pull and more quickly the second half.  This is sometimes referred to as “hand acceleration”.   

Novice swimmers can try different drills to achieve this balance, or “front quadrant swimming”.  “Catch-up stroke” is a drill which can help a swimmer learn to feel this rhythm.  One hand enters the water, extends, and then waits for the other arm to execute the pull.  A good example of this drill can be seen at  The drawback to this drill is that while one hand “waits” for the others, there is no arm motion propelling the swimmer and without a strong kick, the swimmer’s speed will decelerate. 

Wearing paddles can also help athletes improve their front quadrant swimming because the large size of the pulling surface slows a swimmer’s pull through the water, while the recovery speed is unaffected.  Also when most swimmers wear paddles, they naturally extend at the front of the stroke longer before beginning the pull. 

Another way that swimmers can achieve better front quadrant swimming is to concentrate on increasing the speed of their pull as their hand moves through the water.  This can be practiced swimming with one arm at a time for a pool length.  Concentrate on extension of the hand as it enters the water before the pull begins.  Once the arm/hand reaches the midpoint of the stroke, increase its speed as it extends through the finish in the water AND through the recovery phase.

As with any stroke modification, change will feel strange at first and take time to execute comfortably.  You will find that swimming with your hands and arms in the front quadrant is more balanced and faster.