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Learn to Swim Front Crawl/Freestyle: Hand-Lead Side Balance Drill

Hand-Lead Side Balance is one of our swimming drills for the front crawl/freestyle stroke. The goal is to practice balance in your most streamlined position, which is floating on your side with one arm extended in the direction you’re swimming.

Hand-Lead Side Balance follows Head-Lead Looking Down and precedes Hand-Lead Nose Up/Nose Down in our series of swimming drills for the front crawl/freestyle stroke.

A swimmer practicing the Hand-Lead Side Balance drill for the front crawl stroke.

The position you practice in Hand-Lead Side Balance will also be the starting position of our remaining front crawl drills. And it can also be considered the starting position of the front crawl stroke cycle.

Swimming Drill Video

The following video demonstrates Hand-Lead Side Balance:

Swimming Drill Instructions

You begin this drill in the Sweet Spot, like you did in the previous drills:

  • Float in a horizontal position, rolled about 45° away from the surface of the water; that is, halfway between fully on your back and fully on your side.
  • Keep your head facing upward, looking directly at the ceiling/sky.
  • Keep your arms by your sides.
  • Your uppermost arm is partially or even completely above water.
  • Perform a relaxed flutter kick.

Once you have checked your balance, do the following:

  • Extend your submerged arm forward in a relaxed manner, so that your fingers are pointing to the end of the pool.
  • Your extended arm can be parallel to the water surface’s or angled down a bit.
  • It doesn’t make much difference if the palm of your hand is facing up, sideways or down. Just make sure your submerged arm is straight and relaxed.
  • Correct your balance to take into account the changed weight distribution caused by extending your arm.
  • Try to minimize the gap between the back of your head and your submerged shoulder, but only as far as you can keep your head and arm relaxed.
  • Keep a streamlined position from head to toes.
  • Alternate your floating side with each length.

Practice this swimming drill until you feel entirely comfortable floating on your side with your submerged arm extended. This is quite important, because in front crawl many swimmers lose balance in this position when they breathe.

Additional Tips

  • You should be able to move forward with little effort in this drill. This is because you minimize drag by floating on your side, and maximize your body’s streamline by extending your arm forward – the same way a long, narrow boat is faster than a short, wide barge.
  • Having one arm extended should also make it easier for you to compensate for sinking legs by leaning on your extended arm and upper body. This concept is thoroughly explained in the Head-Lead Prone Balance drill.
  • This is an excellent drill to practice the flutter kick, as the position you assume is also a position you encounter while swimming front crawl, in contrast to using a kick board.
  • It is okay to use swimming fins (especially Zoomers) in the beginning if your kick isn’t propulsive enough.

Wearing a nose clip can stop water getting up your nose.

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.

Good luck!

Pearl Devenow

Thursday 14th of March 2019

Can you use hand paddles for these exercises?


Thursday 14th of March 2019

Hi Pearl,

To be honest, I fail to see why you would want to use paddles with these drills? Most exercises consist of learning balance, rolling, learning the arm stroke movements in a relaxed way, etc...


Wednesday 18th of April 2018

Is it just me, or does the demonstrator in the video have terrible kick form (excessive knee bending)?

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