Freestyle stroke technique

woman with swimming cap swimming freestyle in public swimming pool lane 

Freestyle is a core swimming stroke and is useful in swimming for fitness, swimming away from danger or for performing rescues as it is one of the fastest strokes. Because of its speed it is also used in aquatic sports such as water polo.

Freestyle can be tiring as it has an above water arm recovery and a quick kicking action, therefore it is important to have the correct technique.

The basics of any stroke can be broken down into Body position, Legs, Arms, and Breathing (BLAB). When learning the stroke correctly it is important to work through this in order; for example, it is very difficult to work on breathing if your body position is incorrect.

BODY Position 

The body position for freestyle is relaxed, streamlined at the front and as horizontal as possible with the waterline at the top of the forehead. Keep your eyes down with your chin near your chest to maintain a streamlined position and to minimise front resistance. 

LEG Action 

The freestyle kicking action is commonly known as a flutter kick, because the feet appear to flutter at the surface. It is important that the legs are relaxed, and the kick should begin from the tops of the legs. A good kicking action will see the leg flex slightly at the knee on the up-beat and straighten on the down beat. Feet should be pointed during the kick and it should be smooth and continuous. 

ARM Action 

The freestyle arm action is an integrated sequence consisting of five segments:

1. Entry

The hand entry into the water should be smooth with a relatively high elbow, with the thumb and index finger entering the water first. Entry should be made around the shoulder line. After the entry the hand pushes forwards and slightly downwards. As the arm is extended the other hand is completing its propulsive pushing action under the hips.

2. Catch

The catch is made following the entry of the hand and is the initial part of the pull, performed with the wrist slightly flexed. The little finger leads the hand in a slightly outward sweep, which applies force against the water and assists in propelling the body forwards. 

3. Pull

After the catch the elbow should flex and the hand will begin a downward and outward pathway with the elbow continuing to flex throughout the down-sweep. As the hand reaches its deepest point, the down-sweep is rounded off into an in-sweep with the elbow slightly bent and the arm continuing in this position under the shoulders.

4. Push

The push phase starts at the end of the in-sweep, approximately under the swimmer’s chest. During this phase the hand moves backwards, outwards and upwards this allows the body to propel forward. Once the hip has moved over the hand, the elbow begins to flex to allow the hand to leave the water smoothly.

5. Recovery

The desired arm recovery is a high elbow action initiated by a roll of the shoulder with the hands passing close to the sides of the body. The recovery commences at the end of the upward push. 


The arm action will cause the body to roll slightly along its long axis. This should, however, be kept to a minimum as too much roll can disrupt the body position. To breathe, the head should roll to the side until the mouth is out of the water. Inhaling should start when the recovery arm enters the water. Exhaling should start immediately when the mouth returns below the surface and should continue until the next breath. 

For some simple freestyle practise drills, follow the link below.

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