How To Do The Freestyle Swimming Stroke Correctly
This article may contain affiliate links. We collect a share of sales from qualifying purchases.
Seeing the long expanse of a pool or a stretch of open water can be intimidating, even for those who are adept at other types of fitness. But if you’re looking for a powerhouse workout, go ahead and dive in. The best way to start? With some good, old-fashioned, freestyle swimming.
The freestyle stroke, also known as the front crawl, is one of the four competitive swimming strokes, in addition to backstroke, butterfly, and breaststroke. Freestyle is also the stroke that people typically learn first when they start swimming.
Here’s why it’s worth learning how to do freestyle stroke, and tips on how to do it correctly.
For more cardio exercises that you can do anywhere (not just in the pool!), sign up for a free Openfit trial to access all of our sweat-inducing workouts.
Which muscles does freestyle swimming work?
Swimming is a great shoulder, back, and arm workout, but you’ll also be working your core, quads, hamstrings, and glutes, says Von Collins, triathlete, runner, cyclist, and fitness advisor, and author of Your First Triathlon Guide.
How To Do The Freestyle (Front Crawl) Swimming Stroke
A major part of taking advantage of the total body benefits of swimming is to work on your technique. When done well, it creates an efficiency of movement that allows you to perform better and optimize your results.
Here are some tips to help you perfect your freestyle form:
The front crawl is done in a prone position, with your face in the water. To be as efficient as possible, you want to avoid dipping in and out of the water like a dolphin, which can accelerate your time to fatigue.
Imagine you’re swimming through a barrel or tunnel that’s just a little larger than your body, Collins suggests, and try to keep your body inside that space.
“Make sure that with each stroke, your body is rolling slightly from left to right,” he says. “This helps you efficiently cut through the water, and provides for a more efficient reach and stroke.”
With your body parallel to the bottom of the pool, your head should be tipped forward about 45 degrees as you’re looking slightly ahead, with your forehead just below the waterline.
If your head is tilted too far down during freestyle, it will create excessive resistance, Collins says. It will also screw up the alignment of the rest of your body. The results: Slower progress and greater effort to move through the water.
Freestyle Stroke Technique
Once you master the freestyle stroke, it should look like a fluid, continuous movement. But to become proficient, you need to master its distinct phases.
Catch and Pull
- Extend your lead arm forward in front of your shoulder, with your hand entering the water fingertips first.
- Bend your elbow slightly, pushing the water back with your palm, and sweep your hand down toward your feet until your hand reaches your waist. (The bend in your arm ensures that you don’t straighten your arm down too far into the pool.)
Exit and Recovery
- Begin to lift your arm out of the water with your elbow high and exiting the water first.
- Then, lift the rest of your arm out of the water, and begin to arc it forward, eventually letting it straighten slightly as it reaches over your head.
- Your body will rotate up naturally during the recovery. (This also is where you can take a breath.)
Alternate arms in a smooth, continual, and even fashion. This will help you move forward at an even, consistent pace.
Freestyle Breathing Technique
Being able to breathe efficiently is just as important as body position and stroke technique when it comes to reducing fatigue and improving stamina. One mistake people make often is to hold their breath, and then exhale forcefully every few strokes, Collins says.
Instead, you want to slowly release your breath when your face is in the water, and then take in an even breath when you turn your head to the side.
Start by practicing the breathing technique without doing the stroke:
- Stand in shallow water (about chest height).
- Inhale through your mouth and then place your face in the water and exhale through your nose, blowing small bubbles.
- Count to three, and then turn your head to one side so that your face exits the water and inhale.
Repeat that a few times until you’re comfortable, and then try doing it while performing the front crawl stroke. When your right arm is reaching behind you (approaching the recovery phase), inhale as you turn your head to the right. As your right arm arches overhead (to start the pull phase), put your face back in the water. To begin, practice breathing to one side only — every other stroke, or every four strokes.
Once that feels comfortable, the next level is bilateral breathing, where you alternate which side you breathe on. Ultimately, this is what you want to aim for, since breathing out of just one side can make your stroke lopsided, and keep you from swimming in a straight line.
Kicking Technique For Freestyle
Last but not least is the kick. With freestyle swimming, you use the flutter kick. Here are some tips to master it:
- Keep your legs close together.
- Generate power from your hips, not your knees. Your whole leg should be moving with each kick, not just your lower leg.
- Your legs should be relaxed and bent slightly. Think of your legs as battle ropes, moving fluidly up and down.
- Focus on smooth, consistent, slow and controlled kicks at first. As you get more comfortable, you can start picking up the speed.
When you feel confident with your freestyle swimming technique, then you can start adding it into swim workouts (like these four!). For the next step, use these tip to improve your freestyle stroke. You can also start adding in the other strokes to your routine. Here’s how to do backstroke and how to do breaststroke, so you can become a well rounded swimmer. Olympics, here you come!