Learn Swimming Strokes: Freestyle

Learn Swimming Strokes - Freestyle

Swimming is a great form of exercise for all body types and ages. It is great for aerobic exercise, and limits the impact on joints that other aerobic exercises (such as running or biking) can have on the body. Swimming also helps to increase muscular strength and endurance, and increases flexibility. If you’ve never swam for exercise before, you might know of several strokes. There are many to choose from, each with their own benefits. In the first blog of our series, we’ll look at how to swim freestyle and what muscle groups it impacts.

Freestyle Swimming

One of the most basic and commonly taught strokes is called “freestyle,” which is also known as front crawl. When done properly, it is the fastest of the four strokes, and it is usually to easiest to master. If you’ve watched any of the past Summer Olympics, you’ve probably seen pros like Katie Ledecky or Michael Phelps crush events like the 800m freestyle or the 200m freestyle, respectively. Whether you’re a seasoned lap swimmer, or someone just starting to try it out, it’s always a good thing to brush up on the basics and keep focusing on your stroke technique.

Swimming Technique

There are 5 main components to the freestyle stroke: Reach, Catch, Pull, Push, and the Recovery. As you can see in the video below, Phillip Toriello, a competitive swimmer and swim instructor, demonstrates these 5 basic steps.

Some additional tips to consider:

  • When reaching forward, don’t forget to rotate your chest/hips too. It will allow you to reach further forward, making your stroke smoother and more efficient.
  • During the catch and pull, remember to keep your fingers/hands in a closed, slightly bent position instead of spreading your fingers apart. (I always tell my swimmers to think of their hands as spoons as opposed to forks.)
  • In the recovery, don’t forget to bend your arm at the elbow! It’s much more efficient energy-wise, and will make it easier to stay afloat compared to if you swing your arms up completely straight.
  • Try these freestyle drills to practice!

Muscles Used

As mentioned before, swimming is a great way to increase your muscular strength and endurance. Freestyle utilizes many of your large muscle groups, which can translate to a higher quality of day-to-day life. As highlighted in the video below, some of the major muscle groups used during freestyle include your quadriceps, hamstrings, your biceps and triceps, and you’re constantly using various core muscles. Check out the chart below for a brief breakdown of those muscles and the actions they produce.

Part of Stroke


Muscles Used

Daily Activities Used


Kicking Down Quadriceps Thighs Walking
Tibialis Anterior Shins


Kicking Up

Hamstrings Thighs Stepping up



Pointing your toes




Twisting your body

Triceps Brachii Arms

Opening a door

Latissimus Dorsi Lower Back Pulling something towards you

Rotator Cuff


Swinging your arms



Shoulder Raising your hand

Extensor Digitorum

Forearm Pointing your fingers
Triceps Brachii Arm

Shooting a basketball

Brachioradialis Arm

Twisting your arm


Latissimus Dorsi

Back Pull- ups/ Chin-ups


Arm Bending at the elbow
Triceps Brachii Arm

Push Ups

Trapezius Shoulder

Shrugging your shoulders



Upper Back


Latissimus Dorsi

Mid/lower Back Bent over row
Deltoids Shoulder

Crossing arm over body

Rectus Abdominus

Abs Crunches
Obliques Abs




Shoulder Getting a box from a shelf


Arms Hitting a tennis ball
Trapezius Shoulder


Obliques Abs

Swinging a bat


Mckinzie Halkola - Fitness Intern at Elite Sports Clubs

Written by Mckinzie Halkola, Fitness Intern at Elite Sports Club – Brookfield

Mckinzie will be receiving her B.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise and fitness in August of 2018. She was captain of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s swim and dive team, was named two-time swimmer of the week by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), Athlete of the Week by the UWO athletic department, and made second-team all-conference for her efforts in the 200-yard backstroke. Her certifications include Adult and Child First Aid/CPR/AED from the American Red Cross (ARC) as well as a lifeguarding certification from the ARC.