3 principles to follow for freestyle swimming

Posted on July 23, 2021 by

Biomechanists at the NSW Institute of Sport help elite swimming athletes to understand how they can move through the water faster, and do so more effectively with less chance of injury.

Here are three pieces of advice for swimmers from the NSWIS Biomechanics team, designed to assist in improving your freestyle stroke.

1. Streamline, streamline, streamline

The most important position in swimming is to be ‘streamline’. Believe it or not, your position in the pool is directly impacted by the posture we assume outside of the pool.

Expert tip: Don’t assume crouched/seated positions for long durations. Get up and about and stretch often and when walking or standing, look for your reflection and make the correction to good posture.


For efficiency and speed, a longer position is better. It’s a similar principle to a speed-boat vs a tug-boat. A speed-boat is designed to be fast through the water and so the boat is long and slim, whilst a tug-boat isn’t worried about pace (rather it’s capacity to pull a bigger boat) so it’s compact and wide.

Expert tip: Swim ‘long’ with a focus on good arm reach and pointed toes when you kick – this will assist in flotation, efficiency and speed.

2. Stroke along the train tracks

As your hand enters at shoulder width, it should remain in-line with the shoulder as you pull through the water with your stroke.

The idea behind the ‘catch the water’ concept is to move your body past your hand, not your hand past your body.

The objective is to expose the maximum surface area to the water with your hand, forearm and upper arm.

This is aimed at improving traction on the water – and ultimately to gain more distance and speed from each stroke.

Expert tip: To assist with the above technique, picture a set of train tracks in the pool lane ahead of you, and use this as a guide to stay in-line.



3. All in the timing

When your freestyle stroke and kick are working in flow together (synchronized timing), it multiplies your propulsion. If your stroke and kick are working independently from each other it’s less efficient, ultimately meaning you won’t swim as fast.

Fatigue is the most common reason that your stroke & kick will go out of synch. Decide on a key moment through your motion to prompt yourself to ensure your timing is in synch.


Some tools to assist

  • A pull buoy between the upper legs can assist flotation and promote a pull/stroke focus.
  • Use of a snorkel (swimming not scuba diving) can aid body position maintenance and stroke shape, as the complications of taking a breath are removed.
  • Kick boards are beneficial to improving kick effectiveness. Use them in tandem with a snorkel to remove unnecessary strain on neck and shoulders. If you don’t have a snorkel, kick with your head down and breathe to the side.


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