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.

This is why it is used in freestyle races and is also often the favorite 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 backward 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.

Afterward, your arms switch roles.

Your legs do the flutter kick, which means they are extended and kick downwards and upwards in the water with pointed feet. 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 Cycle

We will now have an overview of the freestyle stroke cycle.

Initial Position

Let’s imagine that you have just pushed off the wall in a streamlined prone position:

1) Your head is in line with your trunk, and you look straight down.

2) Both arms are extended overhead. Your palms are turned downward.

3) You kick using a supple flutter kick.

Stroke Cycle

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 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 begin to exhale as soon as the head rolls downward and continue to do so until the next breathing recovery.

Freestyle Technique in Detail

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

Body Position

Underwater view of a swimmer swimming front crawl

How to position your body in freestyle: This article discusses why it is important to have a good position of the body in the water to minimize drag.

Furthermore, it also explains how to roll your body from side to side, which improves propulsion and allows you to breathe in more easily.

Arm Stroke

Underwater view of a front crawl swimmer

This article explains the different phases of the arm stroke in front crawl: downsweep, catch, insweep, upsweep, release, recovery, entry and extension forward.

Additionally, the synchronization between the arm and leg movements is also covered.

Flutter Kick

Focus on the flutter kick of a female front crawl swimmer

The flutter kick in freestyle: This article describes the technique of the flutter kick as it is used in the freestyle stroke.

Kicking patterns are also discussed, and some additional tips are provided.


A female front crawl swimmer breathing in on the side

Breathing in front crawl: This article discusses when and how to breathe during the stroke cycle, which breathing patterns to use, and provides a few tips for proper breathing technique.

Freestyle Swimming Mistakes

The next set of articles discuss common mistakes in the technique of freestyle swimmers.

Putting on the Brakes

A well positioned hand during the underwater phase of the arm recovery in the front crawl stroke.

“Putting on the Brakes” in front crawl: This is a common mistake made by front crawl swimmers where you push water forward during the underwater phase at the end of the arm recovery, hence the name.


A freestyle swimmer overreaching during the arm recovery

Why not to overreach in the freestyle stroke: Overreaching at the end of the arm recovery can be problematic. This article discusses why and what you can do about it.

Wide Arm Recovery

A freestyle swimmer with a wide arm recovery

The problem with a wide arm recovery: This article discusses why a wide arm recovery wastes energy, creates drag and can strain your shoulders.

Furthermore, tips on how to correct this swimming mistake are also provided.

Swimming Tips

A male freestyle swimmer breathing in

A few simple tips for the freestyle stroke: In this article, our reader Zach provides his tips to improve your freestyle stroke.

Learning To Swim Freestyle

Learning freestyle is challenging for several reasons.

Your face is submerged for the most 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.

U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) assistant swim coach, Susie Powell and a Marin Pirates swimmer

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:

1) 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.

2) The next step is to learn dynamic balance, which means you learn to maintain balance while switching between different body positions.

3) The third step is to practice balance while having the arms extended overhead, to get into the habit of swimming while being as tall as possible in the water.

4) 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!

Related Pages

You may also be interested in the following articles that cover the front crawl’s swimming technique:

6 thoughts on “Freestyle Stroke: Overview and Swimming Technique”

  1. Avatar

    Freestyle is not the name of a stroke. It is the name of an event in swimming in which the stroke used is optional.

    The name of the stroke being described here is and always has been the “crawl”.

    Children are growing up learning to associate the name “freestyle” with this stroke.

  2. Avatar

    I am 27 years old and a beginner in swimming and whenever I am trying to swim freestyle, after a few strokes my hips and legs start sinking.

    Also, I am practicing in the shallow end (3 ft) as my coach told me to do so. Do you think upgrading to 5 ft will help with my buoyancy?

    Please give me some valuable advice.

  3. Avatar

    This is really good information, but I kindly ask for assistance as I can not maintain a straight line while swimming. I tend to deviate or move in a crooked way.

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