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Swimming front crawl
File Photo Credit: Cheah Cheng Poh/SportSG

By Malcolm Baey


The Freestyle is not actually a stroke but a category in swimming competition. The most common and popular stroke in freestyle races is the front crawl as this style is the fastest. For this reason, the term freestyle is often used as a synonym for front crawl.

The front crawl requires you to flutter kick your feet while reaching forward with alternating strokes. Follow these 4 steps to learn how to swim and refine your front crawl swimming technique.

Step 1: Body Position

Keep your body flat, lie facing down in the water with your body kept in line with the water surface.

Step 2: Arm Movement

Your arm movement can be broken down to the simplest form consists just two actions - the Pull and Recovery.
  • Pull - With your palms facing down, pull in-line with your body with a slightly bent elbow all the way to the side of your upper thigh. Advanced swimmers can do a S-pull which maximizes the pulling phase.
  • Recovery - With your hand close to your upper thigh, lift one arm out of the water with a bent elbow. Reach forward over the water with a bent elbow and enter the water with your finger tips.

Both hands should alternate between these two movements and be moving simultaneously.

swimming freestyle arm movement

Step 3: Breathing Technique

Choosing a side to breathe will depend on being right or left handed. Whilst your hand is early in the recovery phase, turn your head sideways for a quick breath (one second). The trick is to time the roll of your head with your arm movement. 

A very common mistake is to lift your head upwards instead of turning it sideways to avoid the water for breath. This is actually counter-productive as it disrupts your body positioning and causes you to dip further into the water.

Step 4: Leg Action

With ankles relaxed and flexible, point your toes behind you and kick up-and-down in a continuous motion from your thighs. Kicking from the calves is not as effective and a simple way to correct this is to make sure your legs are straightened out whilst kicking. For more details on this, refer to exercises you can do in the pool to improve your swimming. 

Notes on Coordination
  • Your arms and legs should move simultaneously in cycles
  • A breath should be taken on one side with each stroke of that arm
  • A breath is taken when that arm is back. Exhale as the same arms enter the water
Helpful Tips
  • Stretch your arms as far as they can go to make a longer stroke. A large arm stroke is essential to speed and efficient swimming
  • Keep a straight body to reduce drag and make swimming easier
  • Take short quick breaths instead of long ones

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