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

The next set of swimming drills for the front crawl / freestyle stroke let you practice balance while having one of your arms extended forward.

You need to practice this position because you will have one arm extended forward over most of the stroke cycle, and you need to maintain good horizontal balance in that position.

A novice swimmer who practices the head-lead side balance drill for the front crawl stroke.

An additional advantage of properly extending your arm forward while floating on the side is that it effectively opens a hole in the water through which the rest of your body can pass through while moving forward, thus reducing drag.

Swimming Drill Video

The video below demonstrates the hand-lead side balance drill:

Drill Instructions

The starting position (Sweet Spot) is the same as the one used in the Head-Lead Side Balance drill:

  • You are floating on the side. The angle between your body and the water surface is around 45°.
  • Your head is still, and your face is turned upward. You are looking straight at the ceiling.
  • Your arms are at your sides.
  • You use a supple flutter kick to move forward.

Once you feel balanced and comfortable, it’s time to elongate yourself in the water:

  • Extend the bottom arm forward under water until it is straight and in an overhead position.
  • Your palm may be up, to the side or down, whatever feels more comfortable to you.
  • Your arm should be parallel to the water surface or slightly angled down.
  • Adjust your balance to take into account the changed weight distribution.
  • Continue to flutter kick on the same side for the rest of the length, then repeat the exercise on your other side, and so on.
  • Practice until you feel entirely comfortable floating on the side with an arm extended overhead.

Once you are comfortable floating in this position, you should notice that you move forward with more ease and speed than if you don’t extend an arm forward. This is one of the secrets to learn how to swim faster.

Additional Tips

Experiment with palm rotation and arm angle in relation to the water surface to find out what feels most comfortable.

Normally, it should be easier for you to press your upper body down in the water with the arm extended to make your hips and legs buoy up.

It is OK to use swimming fins (especially Zoomers) in the beginning if your kick isn’t propulsive enough.

A nose clip can help to keep water out of 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)?