When it comes to technique, swimming is one of the most challenging sports. You may swim every day and be able to get from one end of the pool to the other, but are you really doing everything right? From head position to proper pull mechanics to kick tempo, there’s a lot to think about!
We’re diving into the most common freestyle mistakes we see from swimmers of all ages and skill levels, and showing you how to fix them!
1. Looking Forward
The foundation of proper freestyle is good head position, but lots of athletes swim with their heads out of alignment.
Ideally, you’ll look straight down while swimming, but many swimmers look forward too much. When you look forward, your hips drop. This increases drag big time — you’re pulling your entire lower body along in the water, instead of riding high near the surface! Looking forward also decreases your stroke efficiency.
As much as you may want to look right at the other end of the pool, don’t! The black line on the bottom of the pool and the backstroke flags can help you get your bearings without looking up.
2. Kicking too Much
Finding the right balance in your kick can be a challenge, especially for new swimmers. It’s very common to see swimmers kicking way too big — they lift their legs up too high and press down too deep in the water. While your kick may be powerful when done this way, it’s actually slowing you down!
Instead, your kick should be driven from the rotation of your hips. Keep your kick short and fast, point your toes, and avoid bending your knees too much. Kicking with a smaller amplitude displaces less water, helping you move through the water more smoothly. Your knees will still bend slightly, but it will be more natural.
3. Breathing Incorrectly
Lots of swimmers like to lift their heads forward before turning to the side to breathe, which is inefficient and creates a ton of drag. Instead, think about maintaining a low profile — try to keep one eye and one ear in the water when you turn to breathe. You might have to contort your mouth a bit to avoid getting water in your mouth, but that’s normal!
Some swimmers also hold their breaths when their faces are in the water. This means that when they turn to breathe, they have to exhale and inhale quickly. Doing that throws off your stroke rhythm and slows you down. Try exhaling through your nose when your face is in the water, and inhaling through your mouth when you turn to breathe.
4. Crossing Over on Hand Entry
If you drew an imaginary line running from the head to the toes, many swimmers’s hands would cross over on entry. This is a big no-no!
This type of hand entry puts extra stress on your shoulders, and forces you to pull more water without actually helping you to move any faster. Instead, it makes you swim in a bit of a serpentine pattern, almost like a fish. We aren’t fish, so that doesn’t work for us!
When swimming freestyle, your hands should enter the water at about shoulder width — think 11 and 1 on a clock! Your hand should enter the water at a 45 degree angle, with the middle finger first. This sets you up to pull the water straight back, maximizing your power.
To learn more about good freestyle technique, check out our stroke analysis videos! We’ve analyzed Michael Phelps, Caeleb Dressel and more! Watch on YouTube >
5. Pulling with a Straight Arm
Swimmers who pull with a straight arm are missing out on tons of extra power in their stroke. When you keep your arm straight, you actually pull less water and increase stress on your shoulders, which could cause injury.
Think about it — when you keep your arm straight, you’re pushing water down instead of back. That’s not very helpful if you’re trying to get to the other end of the pool!
A correct freestyle pull is driven by Early Vertical Forearm (EVF). When your hand enters the water, bend at the elbow and pull backward, keeping your elbow high. This turns your hand and forearm into a big paddle that pulls tons of water.
Related: What is Early Vertical Forearm?
To work on EVF, try the fist drill! In this drill, you’ll swim regular freestyle but with your hands clasped in tight fists. This forces your body to compensate and turn to EVF to keep moving forward. Check out this swim workout that incorporates fist drill!
Bonus Mistake: Not Following a Plan
Swimming without a structured training plan isn’t an efficient use of your time. Whether you want to get faster, increase your swimming distance or lose weight, a plan will help you reach your goals faster.
The right swim plan will push you to progress over time. The MySwimPro app has a variety of Personalized Training Plans for swimmers of all levels — from beginners who can only swim a few hundred yards to advanced athletes looking to train for marathon open water swims.
Follow Guided Workouts on your phone or smartwatch, so you know exactly what to do when you show up to the pool. Access hundreds of Swim & Dryland Workouts, drills, videos and more.