Freestyle is the most popular swimming stroke in the world, and is an essential skill for swimmers of all levels. Every single swimmer, from beginner to elite, has at least one element of their freestyle stroke that can be refined and improved.
From body position to the catch and the kick, here’s how to swim perfect freestyle.
To hear all our tips, listen to this episode on Soundcloud or watch the video above to see how it’s done!
1. Body Position
Streamline is the fundamental body position in swimming. In streamline, you make your body as narrow as possible to help reduce drag as you dive in or push off the wall. When in streamline, squeeze your biceps to your ears and keep your legs tight together. Any extra space creates resistance that can slow you down! Think like a torpedo.
Related: Learn to Float in Less Than 10 Minutes!
Head position plays a major role in your overall body position. When you swim freestyle, try to look down and focus your eyes on the bottom of the pool. Your neck and head should be in a neutral position, straight above your shoulders. You should not lift your head or look up in front of you.
Your head position has a direct effect on your hip position. If your head is neutral with the eyes focused down, your hips will naturally lift up, making it much easier to kick. Try to press your upper body lower in the water, which will make your hips higher. Add short and strong flutter kicks, and your legs will be right on the surface of the water.
Related: 10 Steps to Smarter Freestyle
2. The Catch
The “catch” refers to your arms pulling water as your body moves forward.
Your hands should be relaxed with a few millimeters of space between each finger. This actually helps you swim faster and increases the power of your pull compared to swimming with your hands cupped tightly together!
Related: How to Improve Your Catch with Open Finger Swim Training
Your fingertips should enter the water about 12-18 inches in front of your shoulder at a 45 degree angle to the water. Try not to cross your arms along the center of your body — it’s inefficient and might cause you zig-zag around your lane.
Your middle finger should enter the water first, followed by a long reaching extension through your shoulder and arm. Once your shoulder is fully extended, your chest will open up to the side, and you will keep looking down. This is the beginning of your catch, where you will start to pull water with your full arm.
Related: Sculling Drills to Improve Your Feel of the Water
Early Vertical Forearm (EVF)
Related: How To Do Perfect Early Vertical Forearm (EVF)
After your arm is fully extended, bend at the elbow and angle your fingertips toward the bottom of the pool. This sets you up for a strong pull phase, turning your entire hand and forearm into one large paddle. It’s also much easier on your shoulders than pulling with a straight arm.
After initiating EVF, you will begin your pull. Pull straight back toward your feet, keeping your hand relaxed with the fingertips slightly apart. Try to keep your elbow above your hand for most of the pull, eventually extending your arm straight when your hand reaches your hips.
Related: Analyzing Katie Ledecky’s Freestyle Technique
Hips & Shoulders
Related: Beginner Freestyle Training Plan
Every time you take a stroke, keep your head in place and use your hips to rotate to the right and left. Try to focus on rotating your body with your core, instead of leading with shoulder twists. The hips will initiate the movement, and your shoulders will follow. Connecting these two parts of your body will keep your body in a perfect, streamlined position along the surface of the water.
Head Position & Rotation
The most important part of breathing in freestyle is to keep a neutral head position. You do not want to move your head forward or up, as this will ruin your body position and waste energy.
When breathing, take a stroke with one arm, and as you reach forward, you’ll notice your upper body rotating to the side. Your head and neck should follow the same momentum, and begin to rotate as your chest opens up.
Related: The 5 Most Common Freestyle Mistakes
Keep one eye underwater and open your mouth to breathe. The water line should be in the middle of your face. It might feel like you’re going to swallow water, but your forward momentum creates a small air pocket that’s just large enough for you to take a quick breath!
Make sure to focus on your opposite arm as well — it should still be extended straight in front of you. This extension will keep your body more streamlined, and will allow you to continue moving forward. If you pull your arm down while you breathe, you will stop moving forward.
Keep it Simple
Many beginners kick too much and too big. This is an easy way to ruin your body position and slow yourself down. We recommend keeping it simple, and de-emphasizing your kick. For beginners, your body positioning, breathing, and arms will be much more important, and the kick should be an afterthought that helps you rotate and keep your hips up.
Short & Fast Kicks from the Hips
Try to keep your legs almost straight, with a slight bend in the knees. The power and strength in your kick will comes from your hips. As you move through the water, your legs should kick in a short and quick motion. Bigger kicks that are larger than 12 inches in height will take up too much energy, and will break you out of your streamline position.
6. Silent Swimming
Hearing, Touching, Smelling, Tasting and Seeing
Silent Swimming allows you to focus on all of your senses as you move through the water. The goal is to make as little noise as possible while you swim, which will help refine your stroke and pinpoint where you might not be as efficient in the water.
Related: How to Write a Swim Workout for Beginners
And most of all, being aware of your experience in the water will make swimming much more enjoyable! This is a wonderful opportunity to connect with your body, mind and spirit and simply relax in the pool. We always recommend a couple laps of silent swimming to end every workout!
How to Practice Your Freestyle Stroke
There are hundreds of swim workouts and drills that you can try in the water to practice your freestyle. Check out our YouTube channel or download the MySwimPro app for more tips and workout ideas! Sign up for Coach to unlock all of our Swim Workouts, Training Plans and Technique Videos. Use code SWIM35 for $35 off your first year of MySwimPro Coach >
Great tips! Thanks!
Thank you! 🙂
Muy interesante vuestra explicación. Tengo 70 años y aprendí a nadar de adulto, por lo que no se los estilos. Al ver el video me facilita la comprensión. Agradezco explicaciones en español. Gracias
I Like the silent swimming technique – I need to do this more often! It does work.
Gracias, ideal para seguir practicando
I am a 50 year old beginner swimmer. I’ve been swimming 1500 yards 5 days a week for the last 2 months. I’ve read a great deal on this and the arm position seems to be up for debate between straight and deep pull v. the high elbow pull. There doesn’t seem to be a right answer but certainly some options.
What I have read though and seems conclusive is that fingers should NOT be cupped but flat with fingers spread 4-8mm apart to reduce drag. There is an enormous amount of info on this and its goes against your article suggestion.
Again Im a beginner, and old, but read a ton so as to be as efficient as possible.
You’re right about keeping your hands flat with fingers slightly spread (soft). A straight arm poll isn’t optimal though. Without an early vertical forearm the initial half of your stroke pushes down on the water as opposed to backwards. The EVF creates more forward propulsion in the early part of the stroke.
Perfect break down- “how to” – TY
My question is:
How to convey “the hip-solders” to (7 & 9 yrs old)? – – – They are fast regardless the style perfection lol
I tried to “manually” moved their bodies (moving their “Hip & Shoulder” phenomena)
however – they practiced “their way” aka “speed” was their essential focus – who’ll be the 1st at the wall.
Its laughable – but they love it lol -(so- — I let them & enjoy item
any thoughts how to make them want to improve ?
They have been swimming w/me since 2013th – (2 & 4) thanks for their parents taking the “no prisoners” attitude –
The kids now swim 3x IM/ in 50m pool – & 1 IM kick legs while I’m “shouting @ them “strength up your legs or drag them”
Perfect explanation I have ever listenned,thanks!
Thanks for watching!
Thanks for the generousity of good tips!
Thanks for watching! Let us know if there is another topic you’d like us to cover. Happy swimming!
Great video and explanation. I agree with all just one thing I can not agree with… you mentioned about head positions, “cap should be half out”. Actually, head should be exactly between back and chest so not make any extra water resistance.
You can see on example of this girl swimming how she have wave over her head, she crushing water surface with her head, should be a bit under the water.
Great job, I love your videos. Keep good work. Is really good to have new ideas and more open mind.
Thank you for your efforts.
Thank you for your feedback! Let us know if there are any other videos you’re interested in us making. -Paige
What a great summary of the fundamentals of the freestyle stoke. The body position seems so easy, yet can be so tricky. Great tips here.
I just joined a masters swim class and they have really opened my eyes to better, more efficient swimming.
I do see disagreement about how far out one reaches forward before entering the water with the arm, but it may be a matter of preference.
Thanks for your support! Let us know what other topics you would like us to cover 🙂
Hi, I’m 68 in June. This is my 5th year swimming 5 days per week 1.5 klm each day freestyle! I swim at McKeons swim centre Unanderra NSW. Even after swimming for this amount of time I’m still not the best at it! I swim with a snorkel and with dumbbells between my legs to support my neck and sciatic nerve in the hip area respectively. Thank you for the great feedback!
Could you tell me the best flippers to use for freestyle and backstroke? And, the best strengthening exercises for someone my age and issues above?
Thank you Rob
Hey Robert, thanks for your comment! Happy to hear you’re enjoying your swim training. Check out our recommended products on our Amazon page here: https://www.amazon.com/shop/myswimpro
As for strength training tips, check out these exercises and modify when needed: https://myswimpro.com/blog/2018/10/04/dryland-exercises-for-swimmers/
Send us an email to email@example.com if you have any further questions. Thanks! – Paige
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Fabulous comprehensive lesson! Covers every bit from tips of head and fingers to toes. Ahhh-mazing. Can’t stand it. I gotta get in the pool.
Glad you enjoyed! We hope you can get back in the water soon!
So helpful. Will practice these techniques. Your teaching skills are swimmer friendly.
Glad you enjoyed! Happy swimming!
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Thanks – what a clearly expressed and informative video. I am a veteran of 30 years – I learned my kick is too big! Thanks!!
So glad you found the video helpful! Happy swimming!
You made it sound so easy…lots of great tips thanks..can’t wait to start practising.
Any more specific tips/videos strictly for open water swimming
Hi Lawrence! This blog is a great place to start: https://myswimpro.com/blog/2020/06/03/5-tips-for-beginner-open-water-swimmers/
Yes I need help!
Swimming for 5 years and haven’t gained any speed.
I fishtail too much, think my kicking needs much work.
This is very well presented thank you I will be an enthusiastic student and contributor
The best videos and comments I have seen on swimming. I am on the process of improving my free style swim but unfortunately I see that I don’t improve at the speed I would like. It’s a bit disappointing.
The most important thing is to stay consistent! Keep it up and you’ll see some great improvement!
The most important thing is to stay straight and head in the water so you can swim fast and not sink.