In freestyle swimming, sound technique is important to allow yourself to be able to swim in a relaxed and efficient manner. Whether you swim socially, for fitness or competition, there is always room for improvement in every swimmer’s freestyle technique.
There are many different aspects to swimming efficient freestyle, and it can be difficult to know where to start to improve your technique and concentrate on every aspect of the stroke all at the same time. Below I have listed the key ingredients to improve your freestyle technique.
The best way to build your technique is to focus on and master one area first, and once you have achieved that, move the focus onto another aspect, and gradually build in each step whilst still remembering what you have previously focused on.
Focus area No. 1: Streamline
When swimming freestyle, your eyes should be looking directly at the bottom of the pool with your head submerged in the water, allowing some water to travel over the top of your head.
Many swimmers make the mistake of looking forward to make sure they don’t crash into any other swimmers. Open water swimmers do need to occasionally look forward, so they know the direction they are heading in but keeping your eyes down helps to keep the rest of your body in a streamline position which reduces drag.
Focus area No. 2: Breathing
When breathing, it’s important to turn your head directly to the side (not lifting up or forward), and to keep one goggle in the water when you breath, so you aren’t turning your head too far. It’s also important to take a very quick breath and return to looking at the bottom of the pool as fast as possible.
A great drill to practice your breathing is to do freestyle kick with one arm still by your side and one arm extended out in front, focusing on quick breaths, turning to the side and practice keeping one goggle in the water.
Click here to watch the Breathing Drill
Focus area No. 3: Body Roll
Your shoulders and hips need to rotate approximately 45° to both sides as you swim freestyle. This reduces resistance and helps to position your arms to effectively push water backwards. A high elbow in the arm recovery phase will promote good shoulder rotation.
A good drill to practice the body roll is fingertip drag – as your arm recovers over the top of the water, keep your hand relaxed with a high elbow, and practice skimming your fingertips slightly over the water next to your body (you want to avoid your arms swinging out wide).
Click here to watch the Fingertip Drag Drill
Focus area No. 4: Underwater Arm pull
To maximise your distance covered per stroke, its important to maintain a high elbow position during the underwater arm pull. Starting from an extended straight arm position, your arm should bend at the elbow to around 90° so your forearm and hand are vertical, from here you need to press directly backwards on the water (in a straight line) to gain maximum propulsion.
My favourite drill to practice this is long dog – it is a version of dog paddle where you keep your arms underwater during the recovery phase. To do this correctly make sure you stretch forward after each stroke and focus on pushing the water behind you whilst maintaining a high elbow position.
Click here to watch the Long Dog Drill
Focus area No. 5: Hand Entry
As your arm recovers over the water with a high elbow and relaxed hand, you want to reach forward over the water and enter your hand fingers first in line with your shoulder (not in line with your head), then fully extend your arm, setting yourself up in a good position to begin the arm pull.
A good drill to practice this is one arm freestyle whilst you hold a kickboard fully extended with your other hand. Practice entering your swimming hand just under the kickboard that is out in front then fully extend your hand underneath the board.
Another option is the 6-kick switch drill: begin with one arm fully extended in the water in front of you and one arm by your side, after 6 freestyle kicks complete one stroke so your arms swap positions, practicing your hand entry and full extension.
Click here to watch the One Arm With Board Drill
Click here to watch the 6 Kick Switch Drill
To perfect your freestyle, spend around 4-6 swim sessions at each progression, and once you have completed each focus area it’s a good idea to start again to refine your skills!