Learning the front crawl/freestyle stroke should begin with practicing the flutter kick. This approach has the following advantages:
- The flutter kick can be practiced on its own, without using the arms.
- The flutter kick can be practiced without worrying about breathing, at least in the beginning.
- The flutter kick will force you to also practice balance; i.e. floating in the water in a horizontal position.
Once you’ve mastered the flutter kick, you can incorporate other elements of the front crawl, such as the rotation of the body, arm movements and breathing.
We have compiled the following series of drills you can use to practice the flutter lick.
How to Flutter Kick
Let’s imagine that you are floating in the water in a prone position, with your legs extended and held together. Your feet should be in a neutral position, neither fully extended nor fully flexed.
- To flutter kick, move your legs up and down, alternating left and right. The movements should be quick and shallow.
- Initiate the downbeat by flexing your hip. Then flex your knee as your thigh moves downward. The pressure of the water against the front of the lower leg and foot causes the foot to fully extend.
- Start to extend your knee at the end of the downbeat.
- Begin the upbeat by extending your hip. The pressure of the water against the back of the leg will cause your knee to fully extend and your foot to move into a neutral position.
- At the end of the upbeat, when you stop extending your hip, inertia will cause the knee to flex and the lower leg to move slightly further upward.
- Begin the next flutter kick cycle by flexing your hip.
Propulsion is generated during the downbeat, while the top of the foot is facing downward and backward. On the other hand, no propulsion can be generated during the upbeat, as the back of the lower leg and bottom of the foot are facing upward and forward.
Consequently, push against the water with your legs only during the downbeat, and relax your leg muscles during the upbeat.
Flutter Kick Drills – Video
The video below demonstrates drills you can use to practice the flutter kick for the front crawl stroke:
Flutter Kick Drills – Instructions
Here’s a description of the swimming drills shown in the video above:
Grab the edge of the pool (or a pool lane divider). Push your feet off the ground, and start to flutter kick. Make sure your feet are extended. Keep your head above the water.
Notice how flutter kicking pushes your legs and hips up. Extend your arms while holding onto the pool’s edge, so that your body assumes a horizontal position.
Repeat the previous exercise but now put your face in the water, so your head is in line with your body.
Assume a horizontal prone position. Notice how floating is easier and maintaining the horizontal position requires less effort when your head is in line with your body.
Stop kicking when you need to breathe.
Drill #3 is the same as the previous one but with a twist. So grab the pool’s edge, start flutter kicking, put your face down into the water and get into a horizontal position with arms fully extended.
If you do this well, your body will be mostly supported by the water. Try to hold on to the wall only by the fingertips. Finally, let go of the wall and see if you can maintain balance with your flutter kick only.
Keep kicking and enjoy the feeling of floating in perfect balance.
Push off from the wall and get into a streamlined position. Your arms are extended in front of you, and your hands are on top of each other. Your head is in line with your torso and your face is in the water.
Try to glide as far as possible in a balanced position, the way you did in the previous exercises, until the momentum stops and you have to put your feet down.
Repeat the previous exercise, pushing off from the wall and gliding in a streamlined, balanced position.
Start to flutter kick while gliding to maintain momentum.
Continue to kick and maintain balance until you need to breathe, then stop.
Get a kickboard and hold it by the short edge, away from you. Assume the same horizontal position as before, holding the kickboard forward at arm’s length, and perform the flutter kick.
Keep your head above water and kick for short repeats.
Repeat the previous exercise, but now put your head in the water, in a neutral position, face down.
To breathe, raise your head, inhale, then put your face back into the water. Exhale continuously in the water while kicking.
This exercise is easier on your legs than the previous one because you are in a balanced position. On the other hand, breathing is restrained, so you get out of breath faster.
1) In the drills where you put your face in the water, you can use a swim snorkel, such as the Finis Swimmer’s Snorkel, as an alternative to having to stop to breathe.
2) The flutter kick is driven by the hips, and not by the knees. Your knees should bend only slightly during the downbeat. Think flutter kick, not bicycle kick.
3) If you have stiff ankles, you may find it difficult to stretch your feet. If this is the case, the regular use of swimming fins can improve the flexibility of your ankles.
I prefer short fins like the Speedo BioFUSE® training fins, because the kicking movements you make while wearing those are similar to the movements you perform when not wearing fins.
4) If your hips and legs still sink during the kick, you may be positioning your upper body too high in the water. To counteract this, you should push your head and chest down. In response, your hips and legs should rise.
5) If it is still challenging to perform the flutter kick and get your body in a balanced horizontal position, other issues might need correction.
Ask a friend or swim buddy to observe your technique. They might spot an obvious problem and give you feedback about what you might be doing wrong.
It is even better if someone can record a video while you perform your drills, because nothing makes you more aware of problems in your technique than seeing yourself in a recording.
Learning Path for the Front Crawl
Below is an overview of our series of articles on learning the front crawl. Each article in this series contains one or more drills that have to be mastered. The current article is highlighted:
Once you have gone through all the steps of this learning path, you should be able to swim front crawl without any problems.
Monday 30th of October 2017
I can kick alternately but when I try to lift my arms up to stroke my legs stop kicking. Can’t seem to coordinate my arms and legs.
Any suggestions, please?
Monday 30th of October 2017
This is most likely because you are a beginner and have to exert conscious effort to both kick and stroke at the same time and when you focus on one movement the other one stops.
A short-term crutch might be swim fins, as with those you need to kick less to keep your legs up.
But the best approach would be to practice the sequence of swimming drills in the "learn to swim" section, as then you'll seamlessly and progressively integrate kicking, balance, and the arm stroke.
Wednesday 30th of November 2016
No, no, no!!! Do NOT use a pool lane marker to hang on! I can't believe you guys recommended this. You're setting up your students to get yelled at by the lifeguards.
Saturday 3rd of December 2016
I understand what you mean. If there are people swimming in the lane and the lane marker line is pulled down, it can be annoying for those swimming.
So this should only be done when the pool is not too busy and you don't get into the way/annoy of other swimmers.
Sunday 20th of November 2016
I have been learning for quite some time but just can't do the flutter kick with the legs on the surface of the water.
Every time I try it no sound is heard. I don't know what's wrong.
Sunday 20th of November 2016
Normally your feet should barely break the water surface, especially when swimming at a moderate pace.
If your feet cause a lot of splashing or make a lot of sounds, you are in fact wasting energy.
The exception to this might be while sprinting, where you can waste energy and kick hard because you only do short distances.
Wednesday 3rd of August 2016
I have aquaphobia and have just enrolled in swim lessons. I am simply unable to let go of my feet touching the bottom of the pool.
What would help me get over this?
Friday 5th of August 2016
Could you provide us with more details? What is the depth of the water? Is it clear water? Are you using flotation devices?
Sunday 26th of June 2016
I am currently working on the flutter kick drills outlined in the video.
I'm able to float when I fill my lungs up with air and hold my breath but sink when I exhale. How does this help with swimming?
Based on what I have read it is bad to hold the breath while swimming and a swimmer needs to exhale most of the time and inhale for a short amount of time.
The problem is my body sinks when I exhale.
I have been practicing the flutter kick drills (holding side of pool and using a kick board) and can do the flutter kick for a short amount of time when my face is in the water but when I lift my head to take a breath, my legs sink and touch the bottom of the pool.
What am I doing wrong and what corrections do I need to make to learn to float while exhaling and float when I lift my head to breath?
Thanks for the advice.
Monday 27th of June 2016
You are correct, it is recommended to not hold your breath while swimming, for different reasons (relaxation, elimination of CO2, timing, etc.) but this is more a rule for lap swimming than for drilling, where in certain cases you'll have to hold your breath a bit.
Now when you lift your head in the flutter kick drill with a kickboard as described above, it is normal that the legs drop.
In fact, I kick a bit harder when I lift my head, and I also push my chest and head back in the water as soon as I have taken a breath so that the legs rise quickly.
So the last drill is a bit tricky and requires some practice. On the other hand, you don't absolutely need to master this last drill, as normally in front crawl you breathe on your side and not to the front.