Freestyle Swim Stroke : 4 Ways to Improve Your Technique

The benefit of the freestyle swim stroke, also known as the front crawl, is that it’s the fastest and most efficient swim stroke. It is also one of the more difficult swim strokes to master, given the level of coordination required to develop an effective technique. Having a good freestyle swimming technique is crucial for an effective stroke. And an effective stroke will allow you to swim faster for longer.

Here are 4 ways to improve your freestyle swim technique, designed to increase your speed, build strength and improve your swim fitness. Integrate these drills into your regular swim workouts to improve your efficiency in the water.

1) Bilateral Breathing

A lot of freestyle swimmers only use one side for breathing because they find it more comfortable. They often rely on their stronger side for breathing, be that the left or right.

However, learning how to breathe bilaterally (alternate-side) can result in a more balanced symmetrical stroke technique. Which in turn helps you cut through the water straighter. Also, on longer swims bilateral breathing will ensure a more comfortable swim, helping to loosen your neck and shoulder muscles. A common recommended breathing pattern is to take a breath every three strokes.

Ways you can integrate bilateral breathing into your workout:
  • Breathing to your weaker side during warm-ups, warm-downs and slow swim sets.
  • Change sides for alternate lengths; breathing to your right side on one length and you are left on the next.
  • Experiment with various patterns over time to determine what works for you, such as two breaths on one side, two breaths on the other.

2) Train with a kickboard

Kickboards are durable floatation devices, used to help beginner swimmers feel more confident in the water while learning the basics. More advanced swimmers can also use the boards to strengthen specific muscle groups and improve their kicks. The benefit of using the kickboard is it isolates leg movements and aids a straighter body position. Some swimmers over-rely on their arms when swimming so using the kickboard will allow them to focus on their lower body.  Thus building strength in the legs leading to improved technique and increased speed.

The drill:
  1. Hold the kickboard out in front of you with your hands out, lightly gripping the board.
  2. Stay relaxed as you practice your flutter kick. You can also practice the breaststroke kick or dolphin kick while using the float.
  3. Be aware of the interactions between the hip and leg muscles throughout the kick, utilizing all leg muscles.
  4. Kicks can be performed together for a short period, for improved speed or repeated over longer lengths, to increase muscle tone in the legs.
  5. To also workout abdominal muscles, try holding the kickboard over your head while practising the dolphin kick.

3) Thumb to thigh drill

The thumb to thigh drill will help reinforce the full extension of your arm at the end of the stroke. It encourages a tight streamlined recovery with a high elbow. Essentially this drill helps you to make sure you are drawing the maximum amount of water by keeping your hand underwater until your thumb grazes your thigh. 

The drill:
  1. Stand upright on a flat surface. Keep your feet 4-6 inches apart and drop your arms to your side and note where your thumbs naturally fall beside each thigh.
  2. In the water, while swimming a lap, drag your thumb along the side of your leg as you lift your arm out of the water.
  3. Take your time and get used to pulling your arm all the way through, extending the arm behind you.

The aim is to lift the elbow out of the water sooner and around for recovery, thereby grabbing less water during the underwater pull-through.

4) Head-Lead Side Balance

The head-lead side balance drill helps you practice floating on your sides. It is designed to help improve your performance in the water by learning how to move more efficiently. Additionally, it helps you to find your natural body position and improve balance. Mastering this float can also help you elongate your core and your muscles.

The drill:
  1. Float in the water on your back, keeping your body straight and arms by your side.
  2. Using a flutter kick for propulsion, push your head backwards creating buoyancy in your legs and hips.
  3. Then while in this position, rotate so the left side of your body is out of the water (from shoulder to top of thigh)
  4. Keep your head steady while you roll on the side, face pointed upwards so that you can breathe.
  5. Use the flutter kick to move down the length of the pool.
  6. Then repeat the drill on your other side, alternating lengths.


Finally, remember swimming as often as you can is the key to making real improvements. It is more beneficial to spend 20-30 minutes in the pool a few times a week rather than go for one or two longer sessions. These breathing tips and swim drills can take some time to master, so be patient while practising them, one or two at a time at each training session.

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