The Strokes


For beginning freestyle swimmers, a pullbuoy will help the swimmer concentrate on proper arm stroke and additionally, help keep the hips positioned high in the water which minimizes drag. Approximately 90% of the work with the freestyle is due to the arm stroke.

The correct arm pull incorporates several elements of sculling. In overall terms, the arm of the swimmer resembles a turning propeller. The diagrams in Figure 5-4, Figure 5-5, and Figure 5-6 outline the hand motion relative to the water, and present front, side, below the water views of the free-style arm stroke of Mark Spitz, as analyzed by swimming physiologist, James Counsilman. Notice the circular motion of the swimmer's arm.

Figure 5-4. Comparing the Free-Style Stroke to the Blades Turning on a Propeller

Swim Stroke Mechanics Freestyle

Figure 5-4. Comparing the Free-Style Stroke to the Blades Turning on a Propeller

Figure 5-5. The Free-Style Stroke of Mark Spitz

Hand Entry Swimming Freestyle Diagram

net hand


Body Motion Forward

Point of Entry

Point of Exit

In Figure 5-5 you can see the "catch" that a championship swimmer develops as he sculls downward at first and then sweeps his hand quickly back toward his body.

As shown in Figure 5-6, you can see how the hand is used to seek out still water from below the swimmer. The swimmer initially sculls outward, then he directs his hand inward at the same time he is "catching" back upward toward his body. The freestyle stroke is then completed with an outward scull.

This view shows best the "S" shape of a proper pull. Keep in mind that the "S" occurs in both the horizontal and vertical planes - a very complex motion indeed! You can appreciate how necessary coaching is in developing a proper arm stroke.

Several of the drills are designed to break this down for you. One arm freestyle allows you to concentrate on the arm's motion. Catchup freestyle slows everything down so that you can coordinate body roll with arm pulls. Using hand paddles will help you feel the water and the sculling sensation is also greatly accentuated.

Figure 5-6. Below the Swimmer View of Mark Spitz's Free-Style Stroke

Using hand paddles will help you develop a strong sculling motion.

Other views (Figure 5-7) show how the arms move during the freestyle stroke. From the front, the hand roughly describes a loop. Finally, you can see again from a side view of Mark Spitz that there is an aggressive "catch" action in the arm pull as he sculls back toward his body.

Figure 5-7. Side and Front Views of Mark Spitz's Free-Style Stroke
Freestyle Arm Stroke


The key to breaststroke is the kick. Propulsion is provided by drawing the feet up towards your body in the direction of motion, and then sweeping both feet backward in a circular motion, pushing motionless water backward with the inside and bottom portions of the swimmer's feet. Coaching is essential to develop good technique as the kick is very subtle.

Pulling is done by a sweeping sculling motion. A good stroke drill to work on for a strong sculling motion is to use only your arms and not your legs, in other words, "pull breaststroke". This drill develops a feel for the water that is needed for all three strokes.


Sidestroke is extremely important for you to master. SEALs are required to swim in open water under challenging conditions. Arm pulling and kicking should be coordinated to maximize thrust and conserve energy over a long swim. It is necessary to learn sidestroke using either side in order to be able to face away from heavy ocean chop and swells. You can't afford to have a favorite side.

Sidestroke is a "stealth" stroke, unlike freestyle. SEALs can stay in contact with each other over a long swim distance. The sculling motions that have been diagrammed in this chapter for freestyle, also apply to sidestroke. Use a sweeping action with your hand and visualize that your upper hand is like a hclicopter blade grabbing still water out in front of you while your bottom hand grabs water ahead and below you.

The power of fins can be used with your flutterkick, not broaching on the surface of the water. Sidestroke is efficient, conserving your energy over a long swim. With fins, the majority of thrust comes from the legs and arm stroke is less important.

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  • Jeffrey Wesley
    How to swim free style?
    7 years ago
  • leanna watson
    How to swim freestyle diagram?
    7 years ago
    How to learn arm timing in freestyle stroke?
    6 years ago

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