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by Abbie Fish

January 3, 2020

Improper head position, hand entry, and freestyle kick can trip up even experienced swimmers

After many years of competitive swimming and coaching, I can identify a lot of freestyle mistakes within seconds of watching any swimmer. Here are three of the most common problems I see and ways you can easily fix them.

Keeping Your Head High

This is by far the most common mistake among swimmers of all disciplines (pool, open water, and triathlon) and ages (4 to 100-plus), no matter their talent.

Swimming with your head up causes your legs to sink, adding drag and slowing you down. Your ideal body position is with your body at the surface, parallel to the pool bottom, with two-thirds of your body under the water and one-third above. Any variation of this alignment will make it harder for you to swim faster.

The only good thing about this mistake is it’s very easy to correct. You simply need to drop the top of your head down, so the only portion of your head that’s sticking through the surface is the crown of your head. When you make this change, don’t just adjust your head position; push your chest toward the bottom as well.

Getting your stroke analyzed through video is a great way to see if your head and chest position are off and if you corrected it. In the video below, I identify this mistake in another swimmer, which is very helpful to see.

Entering Thumb-First

This entry is so common that I see it across multiple age groups. Your hand should enter the water middle finger–first, not thumb-first, with your palm facing backward. After your middle finger enters, your wrist, forearm, and elbow should follow.

One way to work on this entry is to set it up properly during your recovery by rotating your forearm so your palm is facing behind you, not to your side. Also, think about “placing” your hand into the water with your middle finger first, instead of just allowing your strokes to happen too quickly and letting your hand just “slice” through the water.

Just like body alignment, this technical mistake is also very easy to see on video.

Not Pointing Your Toes

This deals with your freestyle kick.

We do a lot on land—including walking, running, or participating in land sports other than ballet—with our feet in a dorsiflexed position, which is when our feet and lower legs are in a 90-degree angle. Swimming is unique because it puts swimmers into a plantarflexed position in which our toes point away from our body, similar to ballerinas standing on the tips of their toes. Your toes should be at a 180-degree angle, or a straight line, relative to your lower legs.

If you aren’t used to plantarflexing your toes, it’ll feel weird and very tight. Couple that with getting into the water, an environment that produces resistance, and you’re in for a challenge. Working on plantarflexing your feet at work or at home by pointing them or stretching your ankles will help you do it in the water. Eventually, you want to get to a point where you don’t have to think about plantarflexing because you’re doing it naturally.

To learn how to identify these three technical mistakes, be sure to watch my video analysis of them below.


  • Technique and Training


  • Freestyle