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An efficient stroke will significantly reduce wasted energy output through less drag in the water and a cleaner execution of hand and arm entry and recovery. When considering a swimming technique for any stroke, the analysis should follow the format described below, in this order:

  • 1. Leg kick
  • 2. Arm cycle
  • 3. Timing
  • 4. Breathing

The leg kick will control the body position in the water, while the arm cycle will provide the propulsive force. The timing between the two is vital to the efficiency of the given stroke to provide a greater speed through the water with minimum wasted energy.

Finally, the breathing technique should be analysed to ensure that when you breathe, your overall technique is not disrupted in any way that would cause a breakdown of efficiency.

If you want to work as a swimming coach or already do, you should know the various styles.


The main propulsive force of the Freestyle stroke is the arm cycle. The primary function of the legs is to help keep the body balanced and efficient to allow the arms to do their work and keep the body moving when the arm cycle is at its weakest point. The legs add only 10% of the total speed through the water, depending on whether you use a 2, 4, 6, or 8-beat kick.

The arm cycle


Elbow leaves the water first, with a high elbow, hand relaxed directly under the elbow, trailing fingers on the water, then reach forward to the entry position.

Entry & Catch

Thumb first, hand slightly cupped, reach further forwards and out (laterally) to "catch" the water to prepare for the out sweep. Dropping the shoulder (upon the reach) slightly will help in the "catch" and the recovery of the other arm.

Out sweep

Press the water laterally to the body with only slight elbow flexion and begin to rotate the hand at the wrist medially.

In sweep

Press the water towards the hips through the elbow and wrist flexion as you feel the body being pulled over the hand.


With the hand at the hip and palm facing towards the feet, press the water back by extending the arm to approximately 90% of full extension, keeping in line with the body to reduce drag. The arm is ready for recovery, elbow first!

Why bend your elbows in freestyle?

The very best arm stroke recovery is one that allows the hand to arrive in time to begin the next stroke but also allows the arm to slow almost to a complete stop just before the hand enters the water. If the hand and arm come forward and slam into the water, you lose momentum in the form of drag, and your arm fails to move you forward. Bending the elbow allows you to do this.

Practice the Finger Tip Drag drill to get used to the bent or high elbow recovery. Swim freestyle but drag your fingertips across the top of the water on each arm recovery out of the water.

Article Reference

The information on this page is adapted from Coulson (2000)[1] with the kind permission of Electric Word plc.


  1. COULSON, M. (2000) Here's an overview of the basics of technique for all strokes and specific training needs. Peak Performance, 135, p. 6-8

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Freestyle [WWW] Available from: [Accessed