Breaking Down the Freestyle Stroke Technique

Make a splash and learn how to improve your freestyle stroke with these step-by-step swimming tips.

July 31, 2016

If you are a beginner swimmer or thinking about joining a team, you may be wondering how to improve your swimming skills. One of the first steps is learning how to do freestyle.


“The front crawl, or freestyle, is one of the first strokes you learn as a competitive swimmer,” Marc Christian, Division I swim coach, says.


In the freestyle stroke, you begin on your stomach with your arms and legs alternating in movement. So dive right in and break down the steps needed for you to master freestyle swimming form.



In the freestyle stroke, you should be floating on your chest with your body in a straight line and face parallel to the bottom of the pool. This flat and level body position can allow you to move faster through the water. Keep your head still without looking forward or side to side. A good rule of thumb is to align your hairline with the water’s surface.

A key to proper freestyle technique is to rotate your shoulders and hips together along with your strokes. You should never turn on your side completely, however. This can help with the timing of your breath. You should roll your head from side to side based on which arm is currently in front of your head. When doing this, try to keep one eye in the water and one eye out of the water

After you’ve improved on synchronizing your breathing with your other motions, you can begin to breathe on every two or three strokes.

PRO TIP: Do not go more than three strokes without breathing. You need oxygen to move your muscles. If you go more than two or three strokes, you can potentially deprive your muscles of oxygen, taking power out of your stroke.



The body position of the freestyle stroke allows your arms to have a wide range of motion. This is important since your arms are one of the main factors that propel your body forward.


  • Begin by reaching in front of you as far as possible.
  • Your fingers should be slightly open and relaxed.
  • Allow your fingertips to enter the water first, above your head, to effectively move water.
  • Start to pull water. Rotate your shoulder to get a high elbow to pull water as far as possible in front of your head. This can help maximize your distance per stroke.
  • When pulling water, be sure to bring your arm down so that each stroke ends near your hip.
  • Your hand should exit on the outside of your hip. This is known as the recovery phase.

Timing between your arm strokes is very important. You want to ensure that as one arm is finishing the recovery phase, while the other is beginning to pull water.



The type of kick used in freestyle is known as the “flutter” kick. The flutter kick is essential to your freestyle swimming technique because it can significantly help with timing and propulsion.

  • The flutter kick should originate from your hips. This should be its most exaggerated movement and it should get smaller as it progresses down from your legs to your toes.
  • Kick your feet rhythmically along with your strokes. The goal is to have a six-beat kick, which means for every two arm strokes, you should take three kicks on the left and three kicks on the right.
  • Small, fast kicks can help balance you and reduce drag.
  • A common mistake of beginner freestylers is allowing too much bend in the knee. Focus on keeping your legs straight and moving your feet.
  • Always make sure your toes are pointed.

“If you point your toes, you can actually increase the surface area of your feet and they actually become more like fins,” Christian says.



A helpful drill for new freestylers is known as the “short dog.” The short dog allows you to focus on the front part of your stroke.


To complete this drill, start with your arms extended out front. Next, while keeping one arm extended, bend your starting arm at the elbow so that your fingers are pointed down to the bottom of the pool. After you bend your arm, recover it forward, back into the starting position. Alternate between your right and left arms.


Now that you have these Pro Tips on freestyle swimming for beginners, you can navigate the waters of learning other strokes. Check out these helpful guides on the backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke.