10 Tips to Improve your Front Crawl / Freestyle Swimming Technique

Underwater picture of a woman swimming front crawl

Having a clean swimming technique is essential to develop an effective front crawl/freestyle stroke.

By an effective stroke, we mean being able to swim at a moderate pace in a relaxed fashion or being able to swim fast without getting exhausted too quickly.

With these considerations in mind, we have a few swimming tips below that should help you achieve these goals.

1. Use a Neutral Head Position

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

A female front crawl swimmer displaying a neutral head position.
A swimmer with a neutral head position

While swimming front crawl, many people tend to look forward rather than downward. The problem with this approach is that it can cause your legs and hips to drop.

As a consequence, you need to kick harder to keep your legs up, and you get tired more quickly, and you also get out of breath faster.

Furthermore, looking always forward in this position can strain your neck over the long run.

2. Press Your Buoy

The key to maintaining a good balance in front crawl, so that your body is horizontal and your legs don’t drop, is to learn how to press your buoy.

A front crawl swimmer exhibiting good horizontal balance.
Notice how this front crawl swimmer has good horizontal balance. Her hips and legs don’t drop, but are close to the water surface.

By pressing your buoy, we mean that you push your chest a bit down in the water all the time.

Let’s imagine that your body is a seesaw. The fulcrum is located between your navel and your groin.

Your upper body is on one side of the seesaw, where your lungs filled with air act like a buoy. Your legs are on the other side of the seesaw.

If you press your chest down a bit, your body will pivot at the fulcrum, and your hips and legs move up toward the water surface.

Learning this swimming technique is often a game-changer, as you can then keep your legs up without effort, and focus on other aspects of your stroke.

I know people that have been triathletes for years and are good at running and cycling, yet have a weakness in swimming because they haven’t mastered this technique.

3. Don’t Lift Your Head to Breathe

Don’t lift your head forward before rolling sideways to breathe. This frequent error also causes your hips and legs to drop.

A front crawl swimmer making the mistake of lifting his head to breathe
Lifting your head to breathe disrupts your balance

Roll sideways instead, and at the same time turn your head a bit farther, so that your mouth clears the water.

Doing this should feel as if you were turning your head on a pillow resting on the water surface.

Ideally, you should have one eye cup above the water surface and one eye cup below the water surface. Being able to do this takes time and practice.

4. Swim on Your Sides

Roll your shoulders and hips from side to side over the stroke cycle.

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

When you roll from side to side in this way, rather than swimming too “flat,” you can engage the larger back muscles in addition to the shoulder muscles, and this gives additional power to your arm stroke.

5. Exhale Underwater

To develop an effective front crawl stroke, you need to exhale continuously in the water while your face is submerged.

A front crawl swimmer exhaling underwater
Exhale Underwater

The rationale for this is that there isn’t enough time to both inhale and exhale sideways during the arm recovery.

Breathing out continuously also allows you to be more relaxed than when you hold your breath.

6. Use a High-Elbow Position

Use a high elbow position while pulling backward with your arm in the water.

A front crawl swimmer demonstrating a high elbow position during the underwater arm pull.
A high elbow position allows you to keep a vertical forearm for a longer time.

The high elbow technique consists in bending your elbow and bringing your forearm in a vertical position as soon as possible during the underwater arm stroke phase.

To keep your forearm vertical, you need to keep the bent elbow as high as possible for as long as possible during the active pull phase.

By keeping your forearm vertical, you increase your grip on the water and, as a consequence, improve propulsion.

7. Don’t Overreach with Your Recovering Arm

While recovering your arm forward, don’t extend it entirely above the water surface before letting it drop at once in the water.

A front crawl swimmer overreaching with the arm at the end of the recovery.
Don’t overreach with your arm.

Doing this is a bad idea because it creates turbulence in the water and additional drag.

Furthermore, fully extending the recovering arm above water increases shoulder strain, and can over time lead to swimmer’s shoulder.

It is best to carefully insert your hand in the water half-way at a distance between your head and the span of the fully extended arm, and let the rest of your arm follow into that opening made in the water.

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

A relaxed two-beat kick is ideal when swimming long distances, as it allows you to save energy.

Three swimmers competing in a long-distance freestyle swimming race.
A two-beat kick lends itself well to long-distance freestyle swimming.

In a similar vein, using the two-beat kick when learning the front crawl allows you to be more relaxed as you consume less oxygen and hence need to breathe less often than when using the six-beat kick.

A two-beat kick means that you kick once per arm stroke for each side of your body, or two kicks over the whole front crawl stroke cycle.

With the six-beat kick, on the other hand, you kick three times with each leg over the whole stroke cycle, or six times in total with the two legs.

The six-beat kick lends itself better for short sprint races, as it allows you to swim faster, but you also burn much more oxygen with your large leg muscles.

9. Don’t Put On the Brakes

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

A well positioned hand during the underwater phase of the arm recovery in the front crawl stroke.
Pay attention to your hand position.

A common mistake made by front crawl swimmers is to angle their hand upward at the end of the recovery.

By doing this, they are pushing water forward and as a consequence, slow themselves down.

10. Using a Nose Clip is OK

When you are learning front crawl, a nose clip can be useful, as it keeps water out of your nose.

A nose clip and ear plugs designed for swimmers
A nose clip makes breathing easier when you learn to swim

Not having to worry about getting water up your nose allows you to be more relaxed.

Later on, after you have mastered the basics of the front crawl, you can wean yourself off the nose clip.

I personally used a nose clip for a year when I started swimming front crawl, and this helped me tremendously.

Conclusion

It is my hope that the swimming tips proposed above will help you to improve the swimming technique of your front crawl.

Some of these tips can be applied quickly, while other ones will take some time to master, but it nevertheless doesn’t hurt to give them a try.

Good luck!

10 thoughts on “10 Tips to Improve your Front Crawl / Freestyle Swimming Technique”

  1. I am 55. I have been enjoying swimming front crawl for many years. I have a short video of my front crawl. I need to get an 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

    Lithuania

  2. Great tips and advice on working on becoming a more effective front crawl swimmer. These techniques are certainly worth a try. Thanks for the article.

  3. 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 https://skillswimming.com/freestyle-swimming-tutorial/

  4. Javier Garcia

    Hi,

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

    I have a short video of him swimming front crawl. 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. wendy mclaughlin

    Hi,

    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.

    Help!!

  6. Hi Christopher,

    I really enjoyed your site. Of your 10 techniques for front crawl, 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,

    John

    1. 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!

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