Learn to Swim Front Crawl / Freestyle: Vertical Flutter Kicking Drill

Our swimming drills for the front crawl / freestyle stroke require that you have a moderately efficient flutter kick.

If your flutter kick is weak, you can practice vertical flutter kicking to improve your kick.

The following video demonstrates this swimming drill:

Vertical Flutter Kick
The vertical flutter kick drill can help you improve your front crawl kick

Drill Instructions

  • Go to the deep area of the pool, get into a vertical position and start to flutter kick.
  • The kick should start from the hip, move down the leg and finish with a whipping motion of the foot.
  • The kicking movements should be quick and compact.
  • You should try to keep your head above the water surface and keep your arms still, either extended sideways or crossed over your chest.
  • However, if your kick is weak and it is difficult for you to keep your head above water, a light sculling motion with the arms is allowed.
  • Do a few 15-second sets at each swim session.
  • Gradually increase the time per set.

With regular practice, your kick will improve and the drill will become easier. To up the ante, you can then try to keep your arms above the water or even hold something above your head like a ball.

Once you are comfortable doing this drill, add a little twist: start the drill in the usual vertical position, then progressively tilt your body forward in the water until it is horizontal. Keep on kicking while you move forward until you reach the end of the lane. Don’t forget to breathe, though! :-)

Learning Path for the Front Crawl

Below you will find an overview of our series of articles to learn the front crawl.

Each article includes one or several drills/exercises to be mastered.

The current article, which is part of this series, is highlighted:

By completing the different steps of this learning path, you should soon be able to swim front crawl.

Good luck!

26 thoughts on “Learn to Swim Front Crawl / Freestyle: Vertical Flutter Kicking Drill”

  1. Avatar


    I just started swimming two days ago and your site has been of tremendous help. I have a coach and he has his style of teaching. It has been two days now and I still don’t know how to float on my chest nor do I know how to flutter kick.

    I have never been in the water until now and so far it has been real hard. I am thinking of giving up. I am learning how to swim because I want to lose weight. But I’m always tired from flutter kicking and I can’t hold my breath for long (20 seconds).

    I can do elementary backstroke well for now as long as my coach can get me to float. But I am still not floating on my chest nor can I flutter kick well? What can I do to avoid giving up?

    P.S I still never leave the area of the shallow end of the pool, which is four feet deep. Also, if I hold my breath I float a little bit, if I don’t I sink. If I am floating I can’t stop floating without drinking water.

    1. Christophe

      Hi Magdaline,

      The first thing I want to tell you is that you need to be more patient. Two days is a very short time frame to learn how to swim.

      If you can float a little bit and swim elementary backstroke, you have already made a lot of progress.

      Learning how to breathe in the water is a technique by itself that needs time to be mastered.

      You might have a look at the following article: Overcoming Fear of Water which contains a few useful exercises to learn how to breathe while being in the water.

      You should get a pair of swim goggles and a nose clip if you don’t have them already, as they keep water out of your eyes and your nose, which reduces stress and lets you relax more in the water.

      It’s more difficult for certain persons to flutter kick because they have stiff ankles. In that case short swim fins can help because they will provide propulsion and make your ankles more flexible over time.

      Finally, have a look at the following exercises to learn how to flutter kick in a prone position.

      Good luck!

  2. Avatar

    Hi Christophe,

    I have just joined swimming (5 days ago) and have learned to float with head down, flutter kick, dog paddle and basic freestyle coordination (I’m still struggling with my arms and legs).

    When I float at the edge of the pool and flutter kick, it is pretty powerful and in a good position.

    However, when I dog paddle, the flutter kick is too slow and drags me. In fact, I sometimes touch the floor with my legs.

    My coach says that my kick is too slow and weak. I also tend to move my arms and legs at the same pace.

    The coach says that the arms must only move 20-30% vs the legs in dog paddle. Is this correct?

    I start well but gradually I start sinking even after I take a few breaths… I am unable to find out my problem… Can you please advise?

    Also, can you show a video of vertical kicking in the deep side of the pool? I have not been in the deep side and would like to try it out. However, I am scared that I won’t be able to stay afloat for long enough…

    Please help!

    1. Christophe

      Hi Anonymous,

      Without seeing your dog paddle it is difficult for me to diagnose why exactly your legs are dropping. Your swim coach is correct when he says that the pace of the arm stroke should be slower than the pace of the flutter kick.

      In fact, if you have a look at the video in my Learn How to Swim Dog Paddle article, you’ll see that my arms move at a slower pace than my legs.

      So I’d suggest that you work on your sculling and kicking movements separately, respectively using pull buoys and kickboards until these techniques are well-integrated and support you well in the water.

      Then try to scull and kick simultaneously while using a pull buoy to support your legs. Also, try to use a faster pace with your kick than with your arm stroke.

      In my swimming video above, I suspect that I use a kind of six-beat kick. This is a common kicking rhythm used in front crawl, where you kick six times over the whole stroke cycle.

      Another issue you might be experiencing in your dog paddle could be that you keep your head up too high above the water surface. This can make your hips and legs drop, as explained here.

      Again, if you watch me in the dog paddle video above, you’ll notice that I keep my mouth and the bottom of my nose in the water, except when I need to inhale. At that time I raise my head a little bit, then I let it drop again when I’m done inhaling. I exhale in the water.

      Using this technique, I’m more horizontal in the water and my hips and legs drop less. As a consequence, I don’t need to kick that hard to keep my legs up.

      As for shooting a video of vertical kicking, well I recently bought a new waterproof camera that needs to be tested. So I’ll try to shoot the video you requested once I’m done reading the manual (200 pages, yikes!).

      Good luck with your swimming lessons!

  3. Avatar

    Hi there,

    Your article is really amazing and helping me overcoming my so many swimming mistakes which even my instructor couldn’t get it.

    However, I have one phobia that when I am swimming with a flutter kick and when out of breath, I cannot get up from horizontal to vertical position.

    It’s like someone has to pull me out. If I try to bring my feet to my chest, I turn wobbly, can’t put my hands down and as a result start getting scared and drowning (I feel :-( )

    I know strange phobia but please help me because I am unable to leave my kickboard. With the kickboard I can stand on my own. I have been swimming for 4 days. Thanks.

    1. Christophe


      Maybe you can practice the transition from flutter kicking to standing up by using a swimmer’s snorkel during the drill.

      That way you can flutter kick without a kickboard and continue.

      And afterwards once you have internalized the movement (still using the snorkel) just hold your breath between the moment you finish kicking and the moment you are standing up.

      If this works, then try all this now without a snorkel.

      Just an idea…

  4. Avatar

    Hi there….

    Thanks a lot for this wonderful website…. It has been just 4 days and I learned a lot following your instructions.

    4 days ago I was afraid of going in the deep side of the pool but today I crossed the whole pool using the freestyle stroke without a single pause. The pool is about 30 m long.

    However I have some problems. I did the free style swimming with 2 beat flutter kick. I tried a lot for the 6 beat flutter kick but I could not synchronize my hand and leg motions.

    It is really hard to do three complete leg motions while having 1 complete hand motion. Are there any drills to overcome this problem?

    I also have problems with my breathing technique. What is the proper way to exhale? Should we start exhaling immediately after sinking our head and keep it going slowly until we rise our head for inhale or should we exhale quickly and remain silent till next inhale?

    Thanks a lot….

    1. Christophe

      Hi Naveen,

      For the six beat flutter kick, I think you simply need to have some patience. When you did write your comment, you were only at the 4th day of your swim instruction.

      Most of the time, once all the other aspects of front crawl have been integrated, the six beat kick comes naturally when you are sprinting. So I don’t have a specific drill for you.

      As for breathing out, normally you should exhale continuously while your head is in the water, exhaling the last bit of air just as your head turns to the side before breathing in.

  5. Avatar


    I just started to learn swimming 3 days ago with my friend. I can already float myself with my face inside the water. But I found that, I’m having so much difficulties to do the flutter kick (I tried the drills for flutter kicking from this page). I assume my technique is wrong as I’m using the kickboard and I did not move forward as I was flutter kicking. What should I do?

    1. Christophe

      Hi Anonymous,

      Just use swim fins, preferably short ones such as Speedo Biofuse. They will allow you to progress without being held back by a weak kick. With time your kick will improve.

  6. Avatar


    This site has been very useful to me. Thank you very much for these great instructions.

    I am 15 and I have been swimming for around a month, but I can’t do the backstroke properly. I don’t know what happens but maybe I fear to drown, I can’t float in the backstroke.

    Please, can u help me with that?

  7. Avatar

    Hi Christophe,

    I have started learning to swim from the past 4 days and I am not able to perform flutter kick to full potential.

    I learned to float in the water on my chest, but when I push off the wall using my legs and I try to perform flutter kick, my legs won’t float in the expected manner. They remain in the water and due to the drag, my flutter kick won’t last much.

    Also, my body wobbles a little when I try to perform the flutter kick. My coach says that my hands are too stiff and I need to keep them more freely to avoid wobbling.

    Can you tell me how to float properly, generate more force from hips and to keep my hands position in a relaxed manner?

    Waiting for your reply.

    Thanks, Arjun.

    1. Christophe

      Hi Arjun,

      For now I would simply grab a pair of (short) swimming fins and alternate laps where you use them and laps when you don’t. Later on, as you progress, you will be able to get rid of them.

      Hope this helps,


  8. Avatar

    Hello! Christopher,

    How do I stay afloat with the 10 brick on my chest? It’s for the lifeguard retrieval training.

    I seem to be going underwater holding the brick on my chest.

    Help! Mae

  9. Avatar

    Hello there, I seem to have trouble floating. I just started taking swimming lessons again and still have the same issue.

    An initial problem is very stiff ankles, please advise. Thanks.

    I’ll check out your site as it seems to have rave reviews.


    1. Christophe

      Hi Simon,

      Stiff ankles is a common problem, especially among runners, soccer players, etc. Regular use of swimming fins will stretch your ankles and loosen them up.

  10. Avatar

    Hello, your site is amazing, thank you!

    I am a 44-year-old lady, learning to swim now. I haven’t been able to move in the pool while kicking.

    When using fins, I did move. I take them off, and nothing… I kick in place or start to rotate left or right without wanting to.

    This happens both on my chest and my back!

    Please help!!!

    1. Christophe


      It could be that you lack ankle flexibility. I’d suggest to just keep the fins for now (preferably short ones) and learn to swim with them.

      Once you have mastered the arm movements and breathing you’ll be able to swim even if your kick isn’t propulsive enough.

      Over time your ankles should become more flexible.

  11. Avatar


    It’s my 9th day of swimming… I’m doing freestyle… Two beat flutter kick… But I can’t breathe rolling my head sideways.. Water tends to fill my mouth… So I have to push my head up slightly which cause me to kick harder and I get exhausted and often lose balance… I can’t inhale sufficiently and can’t cross the pool without a pause.. So I pause… Take a deep breath and start again… What should I do to overcome this??

    Thanks in advance…

  12. Avatar

    Thank you for this website,really useful! I am trying to learn freestyle swimming and cannot understand the arm trajectory after the pulling phase is over all the way till the hip – how exactly to bring it back to the front after that?

    1. Christophe

      Hi Mary,

      Let’s suppose you want to recover your right arm forward. When your right hand moves towards your right hip, your body rolls from head to toes with your right hip moving up.

      At the same time, your right elbow, which is bent, leaves the water first, and then the forearm follows along.

      When the hand has also left the water, you move your bent arm forward with the forearm still dangling, until your hand has passed your head.

      Then extend your hand forward and pierce the water with your hand about ten inches further than the top of your head.

      Finally, extend your arm forward underwater until it is fully extended.

      (P.S. Sorry for the late reply)

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