Improving Your Freestyle Stroke: Stroke Improvement Series (Part 1)

Improving Your Freestyle Stroke: Stroke Improvement Series (Part 1)

If your goal is to improve your freestyle technique, here are some tips to take your swim to the next level. Freestyle, or front crawl, is arguably the most favored swim stroke. Used in recreational laps, triathlons, and water rescues, it is fast, effective, and provides for a great workout. Pros make it look easy, but several complex components need to be done well; the results are a carefully orchestrated and powerful freestyle stroke.

As a beginning swimmer, developing the basic freestyle components of breathing, kick, body position, and pull without developing bad habits will allow for a strong freestyle. At this stage, it’s all about drills where each component is practiced and perfected on its own.

If you have been doing freestyle for a while and your stroke isn’t as effective as you would like, its time to shed those bad habits and return to the basics. Some of the more common negative habits may be slowing you down.

Let’s break down the stroke into its four main parts with some tips for both beginner and experienced swimmers. 

For Beginner Freestyle Swimmers

This is the time to develop consistently accurate freestyle components before tying them together into the full freestyle swim. This means lots of drills focusing on each element individually.

For young or beginner swimmers, time spent focusing on perfecting the basics is key to future success with the stroke. This is the time to really get the stroke right before developing habits that slow you down in the water. Don’t rush the stroke; take the time to get each component dialed in, and then a fantastic freestyle stroke will emerge! 

#1 – Breathing

  • Getting the breathing down to a rhythmic, natural in and out without any breaks is important. Practice breathing by just doing the breathing, or “bobs” where you simply slowly submerge and breath out, surface and breath in, submerge and breath out, surface and breath in………bobbing up and down and just focusing on your breath
  • Avoid nose plugging! We need two arms to swim, so one hand cannot be holding the nose closed. Practice breathing out both the nose and the mouth at the same time.
  • Be patient! We are not fish, so we don’t have gills! Breathing under the water is not natural, but with lots of practice, it will begin to seem like you do have gills after all!

#2 – Flutter Kick

  • Kick like you are kicking your socks off, long legs, quick snap at your feet
  • Remember to kick with your whole leg. Your leg begins at your hip and goes down to the tip of your toes.
  • It is called flutter kick because it is just that, a quick flutter of nearly straight legs, fast and small

#3 – Body Position

  • Stretch! A long body will move through the water more easily! Reach for one end of the pool with your hands and the other end of the pool with your feet.
  • When you turn to take a breath in, don’t roll all the way onto your back. Just your face should turn up for that breath in. Do not lift your head out of the water
  • Skim through the water just below the surface…. don’t let your head or legs hang down toward the pool bottom

#4 – Stroke

  • A common mistake is to reach across too far when your hand enters the water for your pull. Think about entering the water in line with your shoulder
  • Point your elbows to the sky when swinging your arm out of the water…with a high elbow, try trailing just the tips of your fingernails along the surface
  • Grab that water with a slightly cupped hand and PULL yourself through the water, each stroke should be powerful

For Experienced Freestyle Swimmers

If you have been swimming freestyle for years, it may be that you have developed some inefficiencies in your stroke.

Even an advanced swimmer can benefit from breaking their stroke down, focusing on the fundamentals, and having some constructive criticism from a swim instructor

#1 – Breathing

  • Keep your head low in the water, turning the mouth and nose to break the surface, breathe in, and turn to look at the bottom to exhale through mouth and nose. Only your mouth and nose should break the surface
  • Develop an even rhythmic cycle; avoid pausing for double or triple breaths in or out or lifting your head to breath. 
  • Remember, you are breathing against the resistance of the water, which takes force, especially when you are working your cardiovascular system hard, so breath control is vital. Try here for bilateral breathing, which can also aid in having a super symmetrical stroke pattern, keeping you straighter in the water and thus more hydrodynamic. Breathing to one side can result in some stroke flaws and muscle imbalance.

#2 – Body Position

  • Swim on edge, like a knife moving through hot butter. Avoid having a flat body that is plowing through the water rather than cutting through it.
  • Think of pushing your chest downward; like you are swimming downhill, remember your upper body (lungs!) are more buoyant than the rest of your body. Avoid any head lift.
  • “Reducing drag is the surest way to improve swimming” (Friel 177). Think about how your body may be creating drag by letting your legs drop, by lifting your head, and by plowing through the water with a flat body.

#3 – Flutter Kick

  • Quick flutter action for the feet, from hips to toes, long and fluid. A fast-compact kick keeps your lower body from snaking through the water, which creates drag.
  • Dropping your legs by kicking weakly increases the drag.
  • Kicking with legs wide apart, thinking it will give you more propulsion, increases drag and is also a waste of power. Think about having your big toes touch as you kick.
  • Watch for knee bend, your legs should remain straight as bent knees increase drag.

#4 – Stroke

  • Finish your pull! Your arm should reach a full triceps extension with your hand passing your hip on every single pull, fingers pointing straight behind you.
  • Get a good catch of the water by keeping your elbow high.
  • “A long stroke and low cadence produce the most economical stroke” (Friel 177). This is easily measured by counting how many strokes it takes for one length, then try to reduce that count on your next length by making each pull count.

Join Our Swim Clinic or Sign Up For Private Swim Lessons At Wallen Swim in Roseville & El Dorado Hills

There is no better way to improve your swim technique than eyes on feedback. You can get this real-time “in the water” input from one of the highly skilled swim instructors at Steve Wallen Swim School. This will give you the ability to implement what you have learned and make gains in your stroke performance. Take part in a swim clinic or sign up for a private swim lesson.

Interested in having your stroke recorded and then reviewed with a swim instructor? Our Video analysis will allow you to see where your skills can be improved. Seeing your stroke with your own eyes is an innovative approach to learning and developing your stroke.  

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Stroke Improvement Series: Improving Your Backstroke!

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