Freestyle Swimming – 10 Tips to Improve Your Technique

Underwater picture of a woman swimming freestyle.

In freestyle swimming, the proper technique is crucial for success. A good swimming technique allows you to either swim at a moderate pace in a relaxed way or to swim at a fast pace without becoming exhausted too quickly.

With these considerations in mind, we have listed below some swimming tips that will help you become a better swimmer.

1. Use a Neutral Head Position

Keep your head in line with the rest of your body, and look directly at the bottom of the pool.

A female freestyle swimmer with a neutral head position.
A swimmer with a neutral head position

When swimming freestyle, many people tend to look forward rather than down. The problem with this approach is that it can cause the legs and hips to sink.

As a result, you have to kick harder to keep your legs up, which causes you to get tired and out of breath faster.

In addition, continuously looking forward in this position can strain the neck in the long run.

2. Press Your Buoy

The key to maintaining a good balance in freestyle, in which your body is horizontal and your legs do not sink, is to learn how to press your buoy.

By saying, “press the buoy, we mean that in the water, you push your chest down a little at all times

A freestyle swimmer with good horizontal balance.
Note how this freestyle swimmer has a good horizontal balance. Her hips and legs do not sink but instead remain close to the water’s surface.

Imagine your body is a seesaw. The fulcrum is between the navel and the groin.

Your upper body represents one end of the seesaw, with the air-filled lungs acting as a buoy. Your legs represent the other end of the seesaw.

If you push your chest down a little bit, your body turns at the pivot point, and your hips and legs move upwards.

Learning this swimming technique is often a major breakthrough because it allows you to keep your legs up without effort. This allows you to concentrate on other aspects of your stroke.

I know triathletes who are good at running and cycling but are weak swimmers because they have not learned this technique.

3. Do Not Lift Your Head to Breathe

Do not lift your head forward before turning to the side to breathe. This common mistake causes your hips and legs to drop.

A freestyle swimmer who makes the mistake of raising his head to breathe.
Raising your head to breathe disrupts your balance.

Instead, roll to the side and simultaneously turn your head a bit further so that your mouth leaves the water.

This should feel like your head is resting on the surface of the water, and then you turn it to the side to breathe.

Ideally, you should have one eye above and one eye below the water surface when you breathe. However, being able to do this requires time and practice.

4. Swim on Your Sides

Roll your body from side to side over the stroke cycle.

Underwater view of a female freestyle swimmer gliding nicely on her side.
Rolling from side to side provides additional power.

If you roll from one side to the other in this way, instead of swimming “flat,” you can activate the larger back muscles in addition to the shoulder muscles, which provides additional power to your arm stroke.

5. Exhale in the Water

To develop an effective freestyle stroke, you need to exhale continuously while your face is in the water so that your lungs are almost empty when you turn to the side to inhale.

A freestyle swimmer has his head turned down and is breathing out in the water.
Exhale in the water

The reason for this is that the amount of time the mouth is above water is too short for you to inhale and exhale.

By exhaling continuously, you also remain more relaxed than when you hold your breath.

6. Use a High-Elbow Position

Use a high-elbow position at the beginning of the arm stroke.

A freestyle swimmer is using a high-elbow position during the underwater arm pull.
A high-elbow position allows you to keep your forearm vertical for a longer time.

The high elbow position consists of keeping the elbow high in the water at the beginning of the arm stroke, bending it, and bringing it outward so that the forearm moves into a vertical position.

The forearm and the palm are then facing backward, and the swimmer can push back against the water with maximum efficiency.

7. Do Not Reach Too Far with Your Recovering Arm

As you recover your arm above the water, do not extend it all the way forward, only to drop it into the water at once.

A freestyle swimmer who reaches too far forward during the arm recovery.
Do not reach too far forward with your recovering arm.

Doing this is a bad idea for two reasons:

  1. First, it creates turbulence in the water and additional drag.
  2. Second, it can cause shoulder impingement and tendonitis after a while, a condition known as swimmer’s shoulder.

You should, therefore, slide your hand into the water earlier, for example, at half the distance of a fully extended arm. Then extend your arm further underwater.

8. Use a Two-Beat Kick for Long-Distance Swimming

The use of a relaxed two-beat kick is ideal for long-distance swimming, as it saves energy.

Three swimmers are racing in a long-distance freestyle swimming competition.
A two-beat kick is well suited for long-distance swimming in freestyle.

It also makes sense to use a two-beat kick to learn the front crawl stroke, because as you need less oxygen, breathing is easier, and therefore, you can be more relaxed than if you were using a six-beat kick.

On the other hand, a six-beat kick is better for short sprint races because it provides more propulsion and allows you to swim faster. The downside is that your large leg muscles use a lot of oxygen, and you will be out of breath more quickly.

With a two-beat kick, you kick once with each leg during the entire stroke cycle for a total of two kicks. This means that your arm strokes and kicks are executed in the same rhythm.

On the other hand, with a six-beat kick, you kick three times with each leg during the entire stroke cycle for a total of six kicks. As a consequence, your kicking movements are executed much faster than those of your arms.

9. Do not Push Water Forward

When extending your arm forward underwater during recovery, make sure to keep your hand flat and parallel to the water surface with your palm facing down.

A front crawl swimmer showing a good hand position at the end of the arm recovery phase.
Pay attention to how you position your hands.

A common mistake of freestyle swimmers is to bend their hands upwards in the water at the end of the arm recovery. When they do this, they push water forward and thereby slow themselves down.

This mistake is sometimes called Putting on the Brakes.

10. Using a Nose Clip is Fine

When learning the freestyle, using a nose clip can help keep water out of your nose.

A nose clip and earplugs intended for swimming.
A nose clip makes it easier to breathe when learning to swim.

If you don’t have to worry about getting water up your nose, you can be more relaxed when doing swimming exercises. This, in turn, accelerates your progress.

After a few months, once you have mastered the basics of freestyle, you can wean yourself off the nose clip.

For example, I used a nose clip for a year when I learned to swim freestyle, which helped a lot.


I hope that the swimming tips mentioned above will help you improve your freestyle swimming technique.

While some of these suggestions can be implemented immediately, for others, it may take some time before they can be put into practice. But it doesn’t hurt to give them a try.

Good luck, and have fun!

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16 thoughts on “Freestyle Swimming – 10 Tips to Improve Your Technique”

  1. Avatar

    I am 55. I have been enjoying swimming freestyle for many years. I have a short video of my freestyle. I need to get advice from this video.

    I breathe in through the right side rotating on the left side. Then at this moment, my trunk sinks a little. It does not happen when I am on the right side.

    What is the reason: too much rotation on the left side? Not a full stroke catch of the left arm?

    Could you please write your E-mail address and I will attach the video. Many thanks in advance for comments and advice.

    Kind regards

    Algis Gecas


  2. Avatar

    Great tips and advice on working on becoming a more effective freestyle swimmer.

    These techniques are certainly worth a try. Thanks for the article.

  3. Avatar

    Well, I do believe there is some good information in this article, but I don’t think is too helpful.

    You are missing some very important things plus you should put way more photos and video so we can visualize everything better.

    Remember swimming is a sport where you need to see for the swimmer to learn.

    Anyway, my Olympic coach recommends me this website

  4. Avatar


    My son is 15 and just started to participate in competitions.

    I have a short video of him swimming freestyle. After I saw your great videos, I know he needs to make some corrections on his technique.

    Could you please send me your E-mail address so I can send you his video swimming in a competition? Thank you for your support!

  5. Avatar
    wendy mclaughlin


    I’m Wendy, and I signed up for the channel swim for diabetes. This means I have to swim 22 miles in a local pool, luckily, not the channel or I would already be dead!

    I’m of the age when you were thrown into the pool and if you didn’t die, you were a swimmer!!

    I can only do the breaststroke (maybe a close copy of same) and I have realized I’m as slow as a week in the jail!! I’d love to be able to do the crawl, any tips please, 70/80 year-olds are lapping me.


  6. Avatar

    Hi Christopher,

    I really enjoyed your site. Of your 10 techniques for freestyle, I reckon I am doing only one, the underwater breathing timing, correctly.

    I have swum all my life reluctantly and badly as part of my overall fitness regime. I am a former top-class runner and gym instructor who at 54 years due to an accumulation of injuries it looks like my running days are over.

    I have hit the pool with a vengeance doing 3-5 k up to four times per week. However, this is slowly. I know I am fitter and stronger than others in the pool however they fly past me.

    I know I am ultra-competitive and laugh at myself. In running, I knew I was always faster than almost everyone, and it is a big fall. These techniques give me a lot to ponder and hopefully work upon.

    One question. I miss the burn, fatigue of a hard anaerobic type workout. Is swimming naturally self-limiting and moderating or will this change with technique? I really find it hard to push myself in the water so go for distance instead.

    Thanks again,


    1. Christophe

      Hi John,

      It is indeed possible that you are held back by your swimming technique. This explains why less fit swimmers can swim faster than you.

      As the human body isn’t designed for swimming, we have to learn how to move efficiently in the water. This requires time, dedication, attention to detail and ideally a good swim instructor.

      I have been a runner for 25 years, dabbling in 10k and 20k races. I also did the swimming leg in a few team triathlons a few years ago. So I can tell you that swimming is no different than running in the regards of training intensity.

      Once your swimming technique has improved, you will be able to target a certain level of intensity in your swim training without being held back by technical hurdles.

      Before closing, I want to add a word of caution. Swimming injuries, such as swimmer’s shoulder, are possible if you increase swimming distances quickly and/or swim with not-so-good technique.

      Just one thing to keep in mind.

      Good luck!

  7. Avatar

    Thanks for the article. I was taught to swim by the great “Doc” Councilman who went on to become a legendary coach at Indiana and for the USA. Many of the things shared above are the same basic techniques he taught me in the 1960’s. Thanks for reminding me!

  8. Avatar

    Thanks for the useful article Chris. I originally learned how to swim almost 10 years ago, and it’s been on and off, and even to this day I’m not the greatest swimmer.

    It astounds me, because I’m in the military and a fairly fit person, so I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, lol.

    But after reading this, I honestly think the main issue is that I’m lifting my head out of the water to try and breathe every few seconds, which definitely seems to be a big no-no?

    Thanks for the post man.

    1. Avatar

      Hey Visalia,

      I’ve been swimming for quite a few years now, and yes, lifting your head out of the water to breathe is definitely a big no-no. You need to make it a natural movement, where you twist your head to the side ever so slightly every few seconds to catch some air. It definitely takes some practice, but after awhile it feels natural.

  9. Avatar

    Thanks for the great tips and tricks for people who would like to know more about swimming. With these techniques and tips, I think I would be an awesome swimmer after reading this article.

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