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by Cokie Lepinski

October 27, 2020

Proper body alignment and balance can help you swim faster

Proper body alignment and balance are key in freestyle. Your foundation should be a good horizontal line with your head, shoulders, hips, and heels flat. Establish that first, and then work on the mechanics of your arms, legs, breathing, and timing.

Here are five tips to help you swim freestyle smoothly and efficiently.

Tip 1: Swim Tall

Each freestyle stroke should begin with you rotated about 30 to 45 degrees onto your side with your arm stretched out in front of your shoulder. When you reach out front, think about the line from your fingertips to your toes as a chain. Keep that chain taut. You should feel a stretch in your latissimus dorsi (your lats), the largest muscles in your back. These powerful muscles help to establish a stronger pull.

To maintain this tall position, watch your head position. Keep your eyes down, and let the water cut the middle of the top of your head. Press or lean into the water with your upper body to keep your hips high. If you don’t keep your head in line, your body will arch forward or backward, reducing how tall you are in the water.

Tip 2: Pitch, Path, Pressure

Start your catch by tipping your forearm as a unit, so that your fingertips are pointing to the bottom of the pool and your palms are facing behind you. You should keep your elbow in place, just a few inches below the surface of the water. This is called “early vertical forearm” and can be visualized by imagining you’re reaching over a barrel.

As you reach the middle of your pull, you should push the water toward your hip. Keep a flat palm there and finish your pull at or just below your hip. You should finish with force, as if you’re closing a door behind you.

The pitch, path of your hands, and the amount of pressure you’re placing on the water are all important things to consider during your stroke.

Recover by lifting your shoulder and elbow. Don’t lead with your hand; your head should stay beneath your elbow during your recovery.

Tip 3: Time Your Breath

A common mistake is breathing too late in freestyle. This throws you off-balance very quickly and makes it more difficult to find that long smooth line. The rotation for your breath begins about halfway through your pull. The actual breath takes place as you finish the pull. You should get your head back down before your hand approaches your head. Turn your head like a doorknob; don’t lift your head to breathe. A quarter-turn is all you need, leaving one goggle in and one goggle out.

Tip 4: Engage Your Hips

Something that will help you swim tall is learning to rotate, which requires hip action.

As you reach forward with one arm, your opposite hip lifts up as you finish your pull with the other arm. When you finish your stroke with a closing of the door, think of it as pushing your hip out of the way. This causes your hip on the side of your lead arm to slide forward and angles you for a better catch that engages your lats.

Tip 5: Keep Your Kick Narrow

Another common problem is allowing your legs to splay out when you breathe. This happens because you aren’t engaging your core and aren’t balanced in the water.

Think of your legs being in a cylinder or your feet kicking in a bucket. Brush your big toes together once in a while to establish that your feet are staying close together. Good freestylers keep their kick compact and steady and just under the surface of the water.

Are you ready to take the next step in your swimming journey? Try a free workout with a Masters club this July as part of our Try Masters Swimming campaign.

All you need to do is fill out our trial membership form, find a participating club in your area, and pick a workout time to swim with the club. Come experience for yourself the amazing emotional, mental, and physical health benefits tens of thousands of adults just like you across the country are already enjoying.



  • Technique and Training


  • Freestyle