How to Swim Freestyle

Imagine a swimmer getting into the pool to swim laps. She slides in with ease, kicks off the wall, and moves through the water with such grace that it seems as if the water is as light and smooth as air! You are likely imagining a swimmer swimming freestyle, one of the most common strokes, but also one of the most important. 

If you’ve ever tried mimicking a swimmer like this, only to find your movements feeling clumsy and without grace, you're not alone. Everyone needs to start somewhere! Fortunately, we've created this guide to teach you the basics of freestyle. With a little work, you’ll be gliding across the water with ease.

Start Kicking on the Wall

Start by holding onto the wall, hands shoulder-width apart. Lie flat in the water with your eyes looking down, and your elbows locked.  Engage your core as you stretch your legs out behind you and kick by creating an up-and-down movement with your legs. Feel the water flow over your skin as you kick.

Kick from Your Hips

Instead of bending your knees, lock them and kick from your hips. Many swimmers attempt to generate the kick by bending their knees. This pushes the water with the lower half of your legs, which doesn’t propel you as well as using your full leg, and can exhaust you more quickly. For a more efficient kick, straighten your knees and move your entire leg from your hip joint.

Point Your Toes

As you kick, point your toes. This will help use your foot as a paddle, pushing you forward as you swim. Keep the kicks small, and move your feet in a fast motion. This will mimic a propeller on a boat, churning the water behind you to move you forward.


As you kick, it’s important to exhale through your nose. This helps prevent water from going up your nose, and also prepares you for side-breathing. For now, don’t worry about side breathing; just lift your head forward when you need to breathe. After you take your breath, put your head back in the water and continue kicking.

Practice with a Board

Once you’re comfortable with kicking at the wall, grab a kickboard. Grip the bottom of the board the same way that you held the wall: Arms straight out from your shoulders, eyes looking down, and legs stretched behind you. Perform the same small, straight-legged, fast kicks that you practiced at the wall.

Add in the Side-Breath

Hot Tip: Hold Your Breath
If side-breathing is throwing you off, try to just hold your breath. Concentrate on proper kicks for now. As you focus on the kicks, breathe forward as you did before. After you get more comfortable with kicking, try side-breathing again.

If you’re comfortable with the kicks, it’s time to add in the side-breath. While gripping the board, start kicking. Blow all the air out of your lungs. Then tilt your head to the side to breathe. Once you’ve taken your breath, roll your head back down and look toward the bottom of the pool. If you’d like to know more about how to breathe to the side, check out our guide “How to Side-Breathe in Freestyle.”

Use Your Arms

Start in the same position that you did in Step 2: Place both of your hands on the bottom of the board and lock your elbows. Next, let go of the board with your right hand. Pull it underneath the surface of the water and reach past your hip.

After your right hand exits the water, recover over the surface and place it back on the board in front of you. Once you’ve completed the right arm stroke, do the same process with your left arm. Pull through the water and recover over the water. When you need to, turn your head to the side to breathe.

Scrape Your Thumb

As you reach your hand past your hip, scrape your thumb against your leg. This will help you pull underneath the water in a straight line and ensure that you are finishing the pull. Some swimmers pull out too wide or too narrow. This trajectory is not as efficient as pulling straight, and it can wear on your shoulders.

Also, many swimmers don’t finish their pull. They take the arm from the water before the hand reaches the leg. If you touch near your suit, then you’re not pulling as much water as you can. This can also lead to a very inefficient pull. Pull as much water as you can! If you’re touching further down on your leg, then you’re pulling more water.

Use a Pull Buoy

Take the board away and put a pull buoy between your legs. In order to learn proper arm-strokes, isolate your arms. Using a pull buoy will allow your legs to float while you practice the correct arm movement. Now that you can concentrate solely on the pull, you can perfect it.

Hot Tip: Place the Pull Buoy High
Place the pull buoy as high up between your legs as it will go. Squeeze it tightly with your thighs. If you place it too low (near your knees), it will likely slide out. The pull buoy will be more distracting than helpful, because you’ll have to keep readjusting it.

Make sure your wrists are stiff. Flex your forearm to turn your hand and arm into a paddle as you pull. The stiffer you make your wrist and forearm, the more resistance you’ll have as you pull. This will allow you to grip the water better as well as propel you forward more efficiently.

Take Away the Gear

After you’ve isolated the pull, you’re ready to swim regular freestyle. Start by pushing off the wall with your arms stretched out in front of you. Pretend that the board is still there. Start kicking small fast kicks. After you feel comfortable with the kicks, start adding in your arms.

Remember to keep a stiff wrist on the pull. Touch your leg as your hand passes by. On the recovery, place your hand in front of you. Make sure that your hand is straight out from your shoulder.

Take Your Time

Go at your own pace. Learning these fundamental steps will make you feel more comfortable in the water and help you become an overall better swimmer. Don’t rush through these steps! Taking the time to feel more capable in the water will lead to greater results.

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