Stroke Notes

Swim Technique

The following is a point form summary of the key technical elements involved in the freestyle stroke. Note that the science of swimming is always being developed and for this reason there are many 'schools of thought' out there regarding stroke mechanics. The information here, and the techniques taught in our swim programs, are those we have found to be most commonly practiced by top triathletes presently.

Body Position

  • the head affects the rest of the body (ie if you raise your head the hips sink)

  • keep the head still and looking down unless breathing or sighting

  • don't move the head side to side unless breathing

  • most swimmers position the head so that the waterline is between the hairline and middle of the head (this position varies with body type)

  • body roll: the whole body rotates around mid-line or axis of the body

Arm Stroke

  • Entry

    • keep the elbow bent so that the entry point is about 3/4 as far as you can reach when fully extended

    • enter with all four fingers at once

    • continue to extend underwater with a smooth and fluid motion

  • Power Phase

    • hand faces slightly inward (towards opposite foot) until moment pull starts, then turns slightly to face directly back

    • the elbow remains higher than the hand

    • you should feel tension in wrist and pressure on the palm

  • Mid Pull

    • elbow is bent to approximately of 130degrees as the hand and arm sweep back towards the feet

    • keep the wrist flat and the fingers pointing at the bottom of the pool as long as possible

    • hand does not cross mid-line of body

  • Finish

    • at the end of the mid-pull, straighten the arm and press the hand back towards the feet till the arm is almost fully extended and the thumb comes very close to the thigh

    • note that the hand gains speed from catch to finish so that the finish is fastest and creates the most power

  • Recovery

    • the hand and arm are relaxed to gain a moment of rest

    • elbow is bent and lifted high out of water followed by the hand, little finger first

    • at this point the body roll is at its maximum

    • elbow is high, arm is relaxed and forearm hanging down

    • as the hand passes the shoulder let it lead the rest of the arm to the entry point

    • a common mistake is dropping the elbow during recovery


  • down beat motion starts at the hip

  • thigh starts down even while the calf and foot are still going up

  • knee is slightly bent through most of the downbeat

  • burst of power comes when you quickly straighten the leg and snap the foot downwards as if kicking a ball (imagine the motion is like that of a whip)

  • that whip happens as the arm stroke is in the entry stage

  • recovery is on up beat: keep the leg straight and raise to the surface till the heel just breaks the surface

  • don't bend the leg on recovery as it will cause drag

  • the range of motion of the kick varies with body type but averages 12 inches

  • keep the feet close laterally to increase streamline (big toes almost touch)

  • cadence varies from 6 beat to 2 beat and usually depends on distance of swim, shorter swim = faster cadence


  • you can breath once on every arm cycle or once every 1.5 cycles

  • proper body roll makes it easier to breath to the side

  • inhale just as you start the arm recovery

  • rotate your head on the body's axis as you turn to breath

  • don't lift head