The Complete Guide to Front Crawl Swimming

A swimmer doing front crawl swimming on a pool.

Front crawl swimming is also known as freestyle swimming. This style of swimming is often taught to children and adults who are just learning how to swim, as it is the most commonly seen swimming style among both professionals and amateurs.

Front crawl swimming is not a difficult swimming style to learn. It is a swimming style that can be quickly perfected once the basic movements are mastered.

But before we go and talk about mastering the technique, we first need to make sure we know how to perform each movement of the front crawl. Once the movements are learned, you can perfect them to make your lap times quicker, and your fatigue levels lower.

Step 1: The Body

A swimmer doing underwater front crawl swimming on a pool.

This is the first and possibly most important step to learning how to front crawl successfully.

Your body will need to be stretched out flat while you swim the front crawl. As your body is stretched out flat, it will keep you from creating what is known as drag. Drag is when a part of your body is in an incorrect position and catches the water to slow you down as you swim.

For the front crawl, your body should be flat. If your lower body is lower than your upper body, you will create drag, which will slow you down and tire you out, so make sure your body is flat and parallel to the surface and bottom of the pool. This will maximize your speed and save your energy throughout the swim.

Step 2: The Head

A swimmer doing front crawl swimming on a pool.

Your head should stay down during the front crawl except when taking a breath. Keeping your head down will help your body maintain a flat and level position. This will prevent your body from creating drag and slowing you down.

When you need to take a breath, you will turn your head to the side of the body opposite of the arm that is stretched out front and entering the water. You will always take a breath on the side of the body where the arm is down by the side and near exiting the water.

Keeping your head down will also help you maintain your line in the pool during a race. You should not raise your head to see where you are going as this will cause your lower body to drop in the water, which will slow you down. Instead, keep your head down and maintain your lane by following the line in the bottom of the pool.

Step 3: The Legs

Underwater view of a swimmer doing front crawl swimming on a pool.

As your body is stretched out flat and your head is facing down, you will need to kick. The front crawl does not rely on kicking to propel yourself through the water but doing it wrong can slow you down and tire you out.

To kick, you will need to keep your toes in a pointed position. You will begin the kick at your hips and then bend the knees. The kick will finish in the toes and return to the hips to continue the process. The legs will alternate back-and-forth as they kick.

The key to successful kicking lies in pointed toes, relaxed ankles, and slightly bent knees. When you start at the hips and finish in the toes, the kicks will use less energy and propel you through the water while your arms pull the water beside you.

Don’t worry if your feet make a splash at the surface. Your body will be lying flat, and your legs will be under the water just below the surface, so splashing at the feet is likely. Just try to keep the splashing to a minimum as splashing can cause drag and slow your body down.

Step 4: The Hands

Your hands will play an important role in front crawl swimming. Your hands will need to enter the water correctly to push the water behind you correctly.

Your hands will enter the water in front of your head with your elbows bent and your palms facing the water at a 45° angle. Your hands should be slightly tilted so that your thumb enters the water first.

Once your thumb has led the hands into the water, you will now do what is called the pull. The pull is where you pull your arm through the water and bring it beside your hip.

To successfully pull when front crawl swimming, you will extend your arm out in front of you when the hand enters the water. Once your arm is stretched in front of you, pull your arm beside your hip to push yourself through the water.

When you complete the pull, your hand should be turned so that your pinky grazes your hip and causes your thumb to be the first finger to exit the water.

Step 5: The Arms

A swimmer's arm is seen above water while doing front crawl swimming on a pool.

Arm movement is slightly different than hand movement as your hands will need to be tilted to one side when entering and exiting the water.

The arms will go through two different actions: the pull and the recovery.

As we mentioned with the hands, the pull action is when the hands and arms enter the water and pull the body through the water by pushing the water back. This action propels you through the water.

Recovery is the second action your arms will execute. Recovery is when your arms glide by your hip to exit the water. Your elbow will be slightly bent, and your hands will be turned with your pinky on top as it exits the water.

Because the front crawl alternates the arm movements, one arm will always be pulling while the other arm is recovering.

Step 6: The Breathing

A swimmer gasps for breath while doing front crawl swimming on a pool.

The last component to front crawl swimming is breathing. Breathing is important in any style of swimming because it keeps the body energized and the muscles oxygenated.

To breathe correctly, you will need to turn your head to the side of the body where the arm is entering the recovery phase.

If your left arm has just completed a pull and is nearing the surface of the water to exit for the recovery phase, you will turn and lift your head to the left and inhale. Once you inhale, you can lower your head back into the water while your left arm extends in front of you to begin the pull phase.

If your right arm has just completed a pull and is nearing the surface of the water to exit for the recovery phase, you will turn and lift your head to the right and inhale. Once you inhale, you can lower your head back into the water while your right arm extends in front of you to begin the pull phase.

You will hold your breath and exhale underwater, repeating the process as needed.

We suggest developing a pattern so that you always breathe correctly. This will keep you from skipping breaths or forgetting to breathe.

To develop a pattern for breathing, you should always plan to inhale on the same side every time. This will develop a habit that your head will naturally follow. This can be on the right or left side; either side is fine.

In the beginning, you will want to do one breath for each full stroke. This means inhaling before the arm has begun to enter the water for a pull. Hold the breath while your arm enters the water and goes through the pull. Your other arm will be exiting the water and entering the recovery phase while your arm enters the pull.

Once the arm has finished the pull and is entering the recovery phase, you will turn and lift your head to take another breath.

Over time, you will likely be able to hold your breath for longer durations. This may turn into a two or three-stroke action. We recommend starting at one breath per stroke, only increasing your breathing to two strokes if it is comfortable.

You will always exhale underwater before lifting your head to take a breath.

Practice breathing by doing the following breathing exercise.

Breathing Exercise Drill

The front crawl is only effective if you can execute each action of the style, and this includes breathing. Instead of practicing breathing while swimming, you can practice breathing by doing this simple water exercise.

Stand in the shallow end of a pool and position yourself where the water is just below your chin. Take a deep breath so that your lungs are completely filled, then lower yourself in the water to cover your mouth completely. Once your mouth is covered, slowly begin to exhale and count at the same time. The longer you can count, the longer you will be able to swim with one full breath.

Once you have completely emptied your lungs, stand up and repeat the exercise. Do this exercise for 5 or 6 times to help build your lung capacity. Building lung capacity will help you swim for longer periods of time before you need to lift your head to take a breath.

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