How to Swim Freestyle

Learn how to freestyle for a great workout.


By Beth Shaw


The freestyle stroke in swimming, also known as the front crawl, is the most common and efficient swim stroke performed in competitions and swimming workouts. It’s also the most preferred stroke for swimmers and triathletes.

There are many ways that freestyle swim stroke is taught, but for a beginner let’s start with the basics, working from the head and arms down to the feet.


Breathing during the freestyle stroke can be tricky to learn but with practice it will become second nature. The first step is to be comfortable putting your face in the water. To breathe, turn your head to the side and inhale. Exhale when your face is in the water and blow out of your nose and mouth.

To become more comfortable with breathing, practice by inhaling above the surface and then exhaling under the water and repeat.

Head and Arms

With your body positioned parallel to the surface of the water, keep your head in a neutral position. Your arms circle forward in an alternating motion. It’s important to let the hand enter the water first, then the rest of the arm. Think of your hand as a paddle and the rest of the arm is your oar. As one arm enters the water, the other arm is coming out of the water with a high elbow. You turn your head to breathe to either the left of the right as that same arm is coming back around.

The arm portion of freestyle is called “pulling.” You can purchase a “pull buoy” as an aid to help you focus on you arms and head before you integrate the kicking portion of the stroke. But be careful not to become too dependent on it.


Your torso and core are very important in swimming freestyle. Those muscles help keep your body high on the surface of the water where you are most hydrodynamic. There is a slight rotation in the torso as you kick and rotate your hips. To help prevent your bottom from sinking and creating drag, push your head down and use your core to keep you high on the surface.

Legs and Feet

The freestyle stroke uses a type of kick called the “flutter kick.” In this kick, you should keep your legs close together and think of them as whips. The kick comes from the hips and the quads, down to the knees and feet are a reaction to that movement. As opposed to kicking with a strong bent knee, try to keep the knee only slightly bent as a natural part of the flutter kick.

Similar to the pull buoy that can be used as an aid, fins and a kickboard can help you work on the kicking portion of your stroke. Again, these are to be used as aids so don’t become reliant on them as they aren’t typically allowed in any competitions you may decide to enter down the road.

Putting It All Together

Putting the full stroke together can be challenging at first, but practice and patience will have you swimming the freestyle stroke in a short time. There are also plenty of online videos that can offer more instruction and direction to improve your technique.

Beth is a running and triathlon coach from Florida who began her journey through health and fitness as a high school swimmer. After leading an unhealthy lifestyle while in college she made changes to get back in shape. Since then, she's completed numerous marathons and triathlons and finished her first full Ironman in 2014. She's also a freelance fitness writer and blogger. Her passion is fitness in all forms, though she enjoys running and swimming the most, and she believes in doing what makes you happy and healthy.

Main Photo Credit: Satyrenko/; Second Photo Credit: Microgen/; Third Photo Credit: seyomedo/