Freestyle swimming technique, understanding the technical concept behind the stroke making you a better and confident swimmer

Freestyle swimming technique

The streamlined power and lack of resistance makes freestyle swimming technique a very fast swimming stroke. It also does not have a specific competitive event it is swum under freestyle and is used up to 1500 meters. Front crawl is use in competitive swimming more than any other stroke.

In front crawl the swimmer is in what is called a prone position which means almost horizontal in the water. This is a streamlined position. The arms and legs are alternating and continuous. The arms will recover over the water and the legs kicking in an almost vertical plane. The body does roll a little on it's longitudinal axis and the head turns to the side to breathe. The hands follow a series of sculling type actions the accelerate in the water as they sweep downwards, inwards and finally upwards in the water.

Freestyle swimming technique/ Legs in more detail.

The leg is extended as well as straight with the foot in a stretched (plantar flexed) position. The power from the leg kick rise comes from the thighs the knee flexes slightly. The foot is then allowed to rise ready for the downbeat. The movement of the legs is in the vertical plane although some lateral kicking might result from rotation of the body in the longitudinal axis. The downbeat is powered from ht hips once the leg has moved about 30cms the foot starts to whip downwards until the leg is fully extended. The foot is in an angled position toes touching.

Freestyle swimming technique/ timing

There are three main types of timing for front crawl. These are 2 beat, 4 beat, and 6 beat leg actions. The two beat patter consists of one kick per arms stroke. The six beat leg action is most common and consists of one downbeat per sweep on each arm stroke thus giving six leg beats to a complete cycle of arms. The four beat kick has two different varieties. The first is a classic six beat pattern being executed by one leg and the other has a two beat timing. The second variation form based upon the six beat pattern with a pause of the legs upon the upsweep of each arm stroke.

The leg action does not contribute to the propulsion no more than 5-10 percent. The legs keep you in a straight line preventing your legs from moving side to side in snake fashion (lateral deviation). But this can also be caused be incorrect arm which will be discussed further on in my page.

Freestyle swimming technique/ arm action (entry)

When the arms enters the water it is slightly flexed at the elbow and the hand slides into the water initially with the thumb and first finger with the palm facing outwards and angled at about 35 degrees. The entry position is in front of the head midway between the shoulder and the head. Once the hand has entered the water the wrist and elbow follow with the elbow remaining

Freestyle swimming technique/ Downsweep

From the entry position the hand then moves forward, still remaining close to the surface of the water. When the the arm is near full extension the hands sculls outwards and catches the water. From this position the hand sweeps downwards with the elbow beginning to flex, thus ensuring that the hand keeps traveling in a downward direction. The elbow is kept high throughout the down sweep as the hand starts to accelerate.

Freestyle swimming technique/ Insweep

As the down sweep nears completion the elbow begins to increase in flexion and the pitch of the hand turns inward. The flexion continues throughout the in sweep until it reaches 90 degrees. The acceleration of the hand continues to increase throughout this phase.

Freestyle swimming technique/ Upsweep

Upsweep The upsweep is the last of the underwater phase of the arm pull. From the in sweep the hand pitch adjusts again to a backward and outward position. The fingers Point to the bottom of the pool till the final stages of the upsweep. When the hand passes the hip the wrist rotates, the palm turns inward and releases the water. This places the little finger close to the surface in preparation for the exit and recovery. The arm at this point is close to full extension.

Freestyle swimming technique/ Recovery

The elbow leads the recovery phase and is followed by the hand leaving the water, the little finger first. The moves forward close to the head in a relaxed position. The elbow remains flexed and higher than the hand throughout the recovery. The arm starts to extend forwards slightly in preparation for entry.

Freestyle swimming technique/ breathing

A breath may be taken any side of the body but it should not disturb the rhythm of your stroke. The head should turn in synchronization with the natural body roll of the stroke. You should not be tempted to lift your head to breathe out of the water. For the timing of the breath, the head rotates to breathe to the opposite of the arm that is entering the water. Once the breath has been taken it is turned back into a central position facing down and slightly forward. Then the swimmer should then be blowing out (trickle) breathing. The pattern of breaths to arm stroke varies depending on breaths per stroke you are swimming. This can be from 1 breath to 2, 4, or 6 strokes (conventional unilateral breathing pattern) or bilateral pattern of one breath to 3, 5, 7, etc. It depends on what breathing pattern you are swimming to how hard you breathe out i.e if you are swimming a sprint and breathing out and in vigorous (explosive breathing).

Learning the front crawl can be quite difficult when it comes to the breathing. It is a good idea to start swimming the full stroke with the head down looking at the floor blowing out until the arms have been mastered without the interference of the breathing. This then can be introduced over short distances until it becomes easier and correctly. Then try over longer distances.

Freestyle swimming technique/ Learning freestyle

This can be done from the beginning by dividing it into three stages which is really a progression leading to the desired result.

Begin with a simple doggie paddle stroke stretching and pulling one arm after another, reaching as far as you can then pull the water behind you. Remembering to kick the legs up and down trying not to bend the knees kicking from the hips. At this stage you would not introduce breathing it would complicate matters because the swimmer would have to have their face submerged in the water which need confidence in their stroke. Once the swimmer has learned the freestyle swimming technique then you can introduce the breathing.

The second phase to learning the freestyle swimming technique is to try to get the arms out of the water when swimming just in front of your face. Get the arms out of the water at the end of the propulsion phase then reaching forward to enter the water then extend the arms just under the surface.

Once this freestyle swimming technique has been achieved the next phase is to try swimming with the head in the water. This makes it easier to get the arms out of the water when the body is flat on the water and is more streamlined. Make sure that the head is in line with the body. Head looking forward and down. Keeping the shoulders at the surface and roll with the stroke as well as the hips. Make sure that the hips stay in line with the body. By keeping the arm entry between the head and shoulder you are keeping the legs straight. If the arm entry is too wide you will pull your body from side to side (lateral deviation). Also remember that the arms are the main propulsion for this stroke and the legs keep you streamlined and straight.

Freestyle swimming technique/ faults and solutions


Freestyle swimming technique/ click here to look at my page about swimming equipment including floats and kick boards.


If you have any kind of problems that you are looking to solve maybe this is what you may be looking for. I will simply list the faults the cause and the solutions or corrective practices.

Head too high-caused by hips too low, think of a see saw, fear of putting head in water, lifting head to breathe instead of the side -correction leg practices and confidence building exercises as well as breathing exercises.

Hips being too low-caused by head too high-cause lifting head to breathe, a week leg action or a week leg action-correction practice some leg kicking exercises, practice body position and breathing practice.

Snake effect from the hips (lateral deviation)-hand entry possible over centre line or hand crossing over centre line as well as possible week leg action-correction-practices of both arm and leg action.

Lover legs breaking the surface of the water-either kicking from the knee or no knee bend-correction practice leg kicking action

Excessive kicking from the knee or a cycling leg action-correction leg practices.

Pulling across the centre line-cause possible excess body roll could be caused by turning head too far to breathe-practice body position as well as breathing practices.

Hand and elbow enter the water at the same time-cause-low and straight arm recovery or elbow dropped in recovery-correction arm practices.

Entry too wide of shoulder-cause possible lack of body roll or stiffening of the shoulders-correction body position practices and flexibility practices.

Lifting head to breathe-cause maybe having trouble getting in a breath or having difficulty it turning head to the side to breathe-correction breathing practices.

Turning the head too far to breathe-cause pulling over the centre line or maybe having difficulty getting breath in-correction arm and breathing practices.

Hips being too low-caused by head too high-cause lifting head to breathe, a week leg action or a week leg action-correction practice some leg kicking exercises, practice body position and breathing practice.

Snake effect from the hips (lateral deviation)-hand entry possible over centre line or hand crossing over centre line as well as possible week leg action-correction-practices of both arm and leg action.

Lover legs breaking the surface of the water-either kicking from the knee or no knee bend-correction practice leg kicking action

Excessive kicking from the knee or a cycling leg action-correction leg practices.

Pulling across the centre line-cause possible excess body roll could be caused by turning head too far to breathe-practice body position as well as breathing practices.

Hand and elbow enter the water at the same time-cause-low and straight arm recovery or elbow dropped in recovery-correction arm practices.

Entry too wide of shoulder-cause possible lack of body roll or stiffening of the shoulders-correction body position practices and flexibility practices.

Lifting head to breathe-cause maybe having trouble getting in a breath or having difficulty it turning head to the side to breathe-correction breathing practices.

Turning the head too far to breathe-cause pulling over the centre line or maybe having difficulty getting breath in-correction arm and breathing practices.


Click here to look at my page about freestyle drills to correct your faults and improve your stroke


As you can see a lot can go wrong but if you can spot or feel what is wrong you can put it right. Another good piece of advice when learning freestyle swimming technique is to ask a likeminded friend or life guard to watch you and pick out the teaching points and corrections that need to be made. Maybe if you are both swimming the same stroke you can learn from each other. What a great way to learn. good luck and enjoy!

Dale Dudley


Freestyle swimming technique/ click here to find a swim shop to purchase kick boards and other floats to help you with your arm and leg practices


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