How to Master the Freestyle Stroke Technique 

November 20, 2020

The freestyle, also known as the front crawl, is the most popular stroke in the world. And what’s not to love? 

It’s the fastest and most efficient stroke, which means it can take you farther than other strokes with less effort. The front crawl also provides a great workout for the entire body and is thought to have the greatest impact on toning the back muscles. Plus, it’s just plain fun to feel the rush of mastering this stroke and moving with greater ease and speed in the water.

Let’s dive right in and break down the essentials.


Proper Body Position Is Everything 

First things first: For all strokes, it’s important to establish proper body position. Doing so will help you be more efficient, and efficiency is key to being able to swim for longer distances. 

For the freestyle, your body position should be horizontal, with your face parallel to the bottom of the pool. Make sure your hairline is aligned with the water’s surface. Keeping your body flat and level will help you move faster through the water. According to CA swim instructor Carl Barr, it’s also essential to keep your head in line with your body, so that your hips stay high.

Don’t Forget To Breathe

For beginners, this face-down aspect can be intimidating. That’s where ‘bilateral breathing’ comes in. CA Columbia Clippers coach Kelsey Lord explained that bilateral breathing just means breathing to both sides to create smooth, even strokes and keep your body balanced.

In freestyle, we breathe by turning our head to the side in which the arm has pulled down,” said Lord. “For example, if your right arm has pulled down to your right side, then you’ll turn your head to the right side to breathe.” 

You’ll want to inhale when you turn your head to the side, and exhale as your face and arm enter back into the water. When turning your head to the side, one eye should be above the water and one eye submerged. It’s important to turn to the side 90 degrees anything more requires more effort, which will throw off your balance and efficiency. 

“Becoming a bilateral breather takes time, but will only strengthen your freestyle,” said Lord. “Start by breathing to your dominant side, and as you become more comfortable, you can practice breathing to a pattern such as every three or every five strokes.”

Beyond breathing purposes, it’s also important to let your head rotate with your body and face for proper body positioning. “If your head is up, something must be down, and it will likely be our legs and hips,” said Barr. “To practice keeping your head low, try to keep one of your goggles below the surface while getting a breath.”


Arms & Hands

In the freestyle, your arms move in an alternate fashion to propel your body forward. There’s two main parts here: the pull/catch and recovery.

 The catch is the initial phase in which the hand enters the water, and the pull is the action of moving the arm through the water. When you pull, your palms should face down and pull in line with your body with a slightly bent elbow to maximize the catch of water. 

The recovery is the arm in the air as it’s coming back to the front of the body to restart the stroke cycle. Once you’ve pulled and pushed all the way down to your side, your arm should move from your upper thigh up out of the water with a bent elbow. Reach forward over the water with a bent elbow so your hand enters the water with your fingertips first. Both arms should alternate and be moving simultaneously.

Legs & Feet 

While your arms pull you forward during this stroke, your kick is like the engine to the car. It needs to be strong and consistent during the entire pull, catch and recovery. 

You’ll want to keep your feet and ankles relaxed, with your toes pointed. Kick up and down in a continuous alternating motion starting from your thighs. You can think of this movement as a tight, scissor-like movement beneath the water.

“Kicks that are too wide will not keep a long body line, which is helpful for floating. Smaller and faster kicks will make it much easier to keep your body in line with the surface of the water,” said Lord.


Want Expert Help Mastering The Freestyle?

CA offers one-on-one swim lessons for all ages and skill levels. Our coaches and swim lesson instructors are passionate about helping you work on your technique and become a stronger, more confident swimmer. Learn more here.

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