The front crawl, also known as freestyle, is an event in the Olympics and in recreational swimming. The front crawl is composed of a kick and an arm stroke in two phases: the power phase and recovery phase. Body position in the front crawl is important. Undulation is a feature of other strokes such as the butterfly, but not the front crawl, in which the body should be straight. Undulating your body in the front crawl could decrease the efficiency of the stroke.
Arm Stroke -- Power Phase
While performing the front crawl, your arms are moving in opposition. As one arm is pulling through the water, your other arm is recovering above the water. To start the power phase, submerge your hand into the water in front of your shoulder while keeping your elbow slightly flexed. Complete the arm extension and point your fingertips down toward the bottom of the pool with your palm pitched slightly outward to start the catch. Next, pull your arm down and just outside your shoulder. While bending your elbow no more than 90 degrees, pull your hand and arm in and push back toward your thigh as your opposite hip rolls toward the bottom of the pool. Throughout the power phase your elbow should always be higher than your forearm, and your arm should never cross over the midline of your body.
Arm Stroke -- Recovery Phase
As one arm is in the power phase, pulling through the water and propelling your body forward, your other arm is above the water recovering. During the recovery phase it is important that your arm be relaxed, giving those muscles a short break before your arm has to pull through the water again. To start the recovery phase, pull your elbow high out of the water. As you lift your elbow out, the body roll is at its maximum. Your elbow should remain the highest point throughout the recovery with your forearm hanging. As your hand passes the shoulder, let it lead your arm until it enters the water to start the power phase.
The kick used in the front crawl is the flutter kick. One key aspect of the flutter kick is that your ankles remain relaxed to be most effective. The kicking motion starts at your hip, pulling your thigh down, which causes your knee to slightly flex. Forward propulsion occurs as the leg straightens. The kick ends as your foot snaps downward, and then you pull your leg back up. Keep it straight and only raise your leg until your heel just breaks the surface of the water. The size of your kick should be fairly small. The cadence varies from person to person; a normal cadence is between two and six kicks per arm cycle.
Body Position and Movement
Throughout the front crawl your body should remain prone and straight, and there should be no undulation. Keeping the body straight, you rotate your body around the long axis. This rotation, or roll, occurs during the recovery phase of your arm stroke, with your opposite hip rotating toward the bottom of the pool. During the front crawl, look toward the bottom of the pool, keeping your head in line with your spine. To breathe, rotate your head to the side just before your hand enters the water to start the power phase -- this keeps your body in the appropriate position. If your head is lifted to the front, it could cause your hips to sink. You may choose to breathe either every arm cycle, or every 1.5 arm cycles.
It is safer to swim with someone, especially if you are just learning how to swim. Always remember to use caution while in or around the water, and check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine, such as swimming.
- USA Swimming: History of Swimming at the Olympic Games
- Swimming and Water Safety; American Red Cross
Jacquelyn Slater is a certified strength-and-conditioning specialist and group fitness instructor. Slater earned a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Slippery Rock University and a Master of Sciece in health and fitness from the University of Pittsburgh. She currently serves as the health and wellness director at the Titusville YMCA.