Common Freestyle Mistakes

Freestyle can often be the easiest stroke to learn, yet the hardest stroke to master. With so many small aspects of the stroke to tweak, it can take a long time to get everything just right. Even Olympians constantly work to perfect their seemingly flawless strokes. If you’d like to enhance your freestyle, this guide points out some common slip-ups to look out for and offers solutions so you can swim at your best!

1. Head Position: Looking Forward

It’s instinctual to look where you’re going. That’s why it’s so tempting to look forward while you’re swimming. In the water, it can feel even more nerve-racking not being able to see in front of you. In order to improve your stroke, though, you’ve got to fight the urge to glance toward the wall.

Looking forward drops your hips low in the water, which creates a less ideal body position. Low hips force your back to curve. This releases your core, and causes resistance. All this means you’ll be exerting plenty of effort, but you won’t be moving very quickly. Swimming this way is exhausting!

How to Fix

In almost all lap swimming pools, there’s a black line in each lane. While swimming freestyle, look down at this black line. Relax your neck as you do this. You will feel your hips rise to the surface of the water. This allows you to tighten your core, which will cause less strain on your back. Swimming while looking down will also ease resistance, helping you swim faster and smoother.

If you’re uncomfortable looking straight down, try glancing forward at an angle. Still stare at the black line, but also slightly ahead of you. If you’re still uneasy, try glancing forward every few strokes. Keep in mind, though, that looking forward for even a second will drop your hips. You’ll want to break this habit as soon as you’re more comfortable with looking down.

2. Body Position: Swimming Flat


Hot Tip: Swim Backstroke
If your shoulders start to hurt while swimming freestyle, switch to backstroke. It eases the strain on the shoulders. It can also help you stretch out your muscles. If they still hurt, stop swimming and see a doctor. Pain in the shoulders is very serious, and should not be taken lightly!

Swimming flat means that your belly is always pointing down toward the bottom of the pool. As you take arm strokes, your body doesn’t rotate to ease the pressure on your shoulders. This strain on your shoulders can cause serious injury: from rotator cuff issues to tendonitis.

How to Fix

Rotate your shoulders. On the arm stroke, extend your hand all the way in front of you until you feel your body roll onto your side. In this position, your armpit should be facing toward the bottom of the pool. Make sure you’re keeping your core tight to make the rotation smooth. Rotating with a tight core will also be easier on your shoulders and back. As you pull past your hip, paddle aggressively through the water to help roll your body onto your other side.

3. Legs: Bending Your Knees

Kicking with bent knees does not efficiently propel you forward. Instead, it causes resistance in the water, slowing you down while you exert a lot of effort. Again, this can be very exhausting.

How to Fix

Kick from the hip, and straighten your legs. It’s easier to kick with straight legs if you keep the kicks small and fast. This type of kick is much more efficient, saving you energy while speeding you up. If you’re having trouble getting the kicks down, practice a few laps with a board.

4. Arms: Pulling Crooked

Pulling crooked is possibly the most common problem in swimming. This is where you reach under your belly while pulling during the arm stroke. This trajectory is not ideal because you slip a lot of water. The hand often crosses under the belly when the swimmer breathes. This can be a little more difficult to change since you cannot watch your hand during the breath.

How to Fix

Make sure you rotate. Otherwise, you’ll reach crooked from the start of the stroke. Find a wall — either on land or in the pool. Put your back against the wall so that both of your shoulders are touching it. Next, reach in front of you, straight out from your shoulder. You’ll see that your hand’s not directly in front of your face: It’s slightly outside your line of sight. When not rotating, you have to cross inward to enter in front of your body.

Now, rotate your shoulders so that only one is against the wall. Your chin should be over your shoulder with your arm stretched straight out from your side. You’ll see your arm directly in your field of vision. By rotating, you’re setting the stroke up correctly. You won’t start the stroke by reaching crooked.


Hot Tip: Use Paddles
To exaggerate the feel for the water, put on some paddles. It will be easier to tell if your hand travels straight or if it crosses under you if you can feel it. Only use paddles for a couple of laps, though. The increased surface area adds strain on your shoulders.

Next, swim a couple of laps while making sure that you rotate. After your hand enters the water, watch for it. Pay attention to whether it’s traveling straight back, or if it is cutting underneath your body. If you can see the error, it’s much easier to change.

As for pulling crooked during your breath: Be aware of it. If you think about pulling correctly while breathing, it should help. If you’re unsure whether you’re pulling crooked, ask someone to watch you. They can tell you what they see.

5. Timing: Breathing Late

Breathing late can throw off your entire stroke. You don’t want to breathe after your hand exits the water. Your arm will be in the way when you attempt to breathe in this position. Because of where you are in the stroke, there’s no propulsion in your upper body to help lift your head for the breath. This is very difficult to do!

How to Fix

Breathe as you begin the pull. After your hand has entered the water and you start to pull water, begin your breath. Once your hand exits the water, roll your head back into the water. Breathing while pulling lifts you up in the water. This makes it much easier to breathe. You are less likely to swallow water if you breathe during the pull, too. Another added bonus: There’s no arm in the way!


All of the mistakes listed in this guide are fixable. You’ll find that it’s easier to swim with slight tweaks to the stroke. Just stay focused and think about what you’re doing. Concentrating during each arm stroke will help train your body to do it correctly. With some patience and effort, you’ll work out the kinks in no time!

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