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Freestyle Stroke: Overview and Swimming Technique

The freestyle stroke, also known as front crawl, is the fastest and most efficient of the competitive swimming strokes. That’s why it is always used in the freestyle event of swimming competitions and is also often the preferred stroke of experienced swimmers and triathletes.

A freestyle swimmer floating in the water

Freestyle is the fastest swim stroke.

To swim freestyle, you assume a prone position in the water.

Your arms execute alternating movements. One arm moves backwards in the water from an overhead position towards the hip and provides propulsion. The other arm recovers above water from the hip towards the overhead position. Afterwards your arms exchange their roles.


Your legs do the flutter kick, which means they are extended and kick downwards and upwards in the water with pointed toes. This is a simple and efficient kicking technique.

Freestyle Swimming Video

Here’s nice a video that shows a freestyle swimmer in action:

Overview of the Freestyle Stroke Phases

We will now have an overview of the freestyle swimming technique. Let’s imagine that you have just pushed off the wall in a streamlined prone position:

  • Your head is in line with your trunk and you look straight down.
  • Both arms are extended overhead. Your palms are turned downward.
  • You kick using a supple flutter kick.

Now you start the swim stroke’s cycle:

  1. The wrist of your propulsive arm flexes downward. Your forearm moves downward and backward into a vertical position. At the same time, your elbow and upper arm stay high in the water and move a little bit outward so as to form the so-called high elbow position.
  2. Once your forearm and palm are vertical and facing backward, your arm adducts at the shoulder as a unit and your hand sweeps in under the chest.
  3. From there, your hand changes direction and moves toward the hip. At the same time, your body rolls on the side so that your hip gets out of the way.
  4. Your hand leaves the water at the hip and your arm sweeps forward with the forearm relaxed and dangling.
  5. You inhale quickly on the side of the recovering arm if this is a breathing recovery.
  6. Once your hand has passed your head, it enters the water again and your arm extends forward into the overhead position. At the same time, your head and body roll back toward a more neutral position.
  7. As soon as your recovering arm enters the water, your other arm starts its propulsive phase, and so on.
  8. The flutter kick continues rhythmically during the whole stroke cycle.
  9. You start to exhale as soon as the head rolls downward and continue to do so until the next breathing recovery.


Freestyle Swimming Technique in Depth

The following articles explain the swimming technique of the freestyle stroke in more detail:

Head and Body Positions: This article explains how to position your head and your body while swimming freestyle so as to create the least amount of drag. It also explains how to roll your body on your sides to inhale more easily and to improve propulsion.

Arm Stroke and Hand Movements: This article explains the different phases of the front crawl arm stroke in detail: downsweep, catch, insweep, upsweep, release, recovery, entry and extension forward. The synchronization between arms and legs is also covered.

The Flutter Kick: This article covers the flutter kick as it is used in freestyle swim stroke. The kicking technique is explained, kicking rhythms are discussed and some additional tips are given.

Breathing Technique: This article explains how to breathe in the front crawl stroke. It explains during which phases of the stroke you should inhale and exhale, which breathing patterns are most commonly used. The article also gives several tips for proper breathing technique.

Learning To Swim Freestyle

Learning freestyle is difficult for several reasons. Your face is submerged for the most part of the stroke cycle and you must roll on your side to breathe. Your arms and your legs execute alternating movements. That’s why it takes practice to correctly and simultaneously execute all these different aspects of the stroke.

However, learning freestyle is much easier if you use our step by step approach based on a sequence of progressive swimming drills. These drills let you learn the freestyle stroke in several steps:

  • The first step is to learn static balance, which means you learn how to float effortlessly on your back, on your chest and on your sides.
  • The next step is to learn dynamic balance, which means you learn to maintain balance while switching between different body positions.
  • The third step is to practice balance while having the arms extended overhead, so as to get into the habit of swimming while being as tall as possible in the water.
  • The final step integrates the arm stroke movements and also lets you practice efficient swimming rhythms.

So discover our swimming drills in the learn how to swim freestyle section!

Advanced Freestyle Swimming Technique

The next set of articles allow you to fine-tune your technique once you have become a proficient freestyle swimmer:

Freestyle Swimming Mistakes – Putting on the Brakes: Describes a common mistake intermediate swimmers of the freestyle stroke do called “Putting on the Brakes”. This means that you push water forward during the underwater phase at the end of the arm recovery, hence the name.

Freestyle Swimming Mistakes – Overreaching: Explains why overreaching during the arm recovery in the freestyle stroke is considered bad swimming technique. Tips on how to correct this mistake are given.

Freestyle Swimming Mistakes – Wide Arm Recovery: A wide arm recovery wastes energy, creates drag and can put strain on your shoulders. This article discusses why this is the case and provides means to correct this swimming mistake.

Swimming Tips

Freestyle Stroke – A Few Simple Tips: Our reader Zach explains a few simple tips to improve your freestyle stroke.

 Swimming Strokes – Overview Next – Breaststroke 

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