The front crawl, also known as the Australian crawl or freestyle, is popular among recreational swimmers, racers and endurance swimmers. Lifeguards and other water rescue personnel are required to swim the front crawl over long distances to qualify for assignments. The elements of the front crawl are consistent, and techniques vary with the type of swimming you do.
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Some might think of swimming solely in terms of making certain types of arm strokes. You stroke outward underwater for the breaststroke and both arms stroke out of the water simultaneously for the butterfly. But you wouldn’t go anywhere if not for the action of your legs. The front crawl is based on leg kicks, forward arm strokes and breathing techniques.
Kicking and Strokes
If you push off from the side of a pool and hold your arms at your sides and your face in the water, kicking your legs will propel you for a short time. With the front crawl, your stroke consists of reaching ahead with one arm, drawing that arm down in an arc underwater and immediately repeating the action with your other arm. If you stop kicking, your legs become weights and you find yourself stroking faster to stay at the surface. The most effective technique for the leg kick is kicking from the knees down with your toes pointed. Long-distance swimmers kick rapidly and their kicks make almost no splashes. But at some point, all front crawl swimmers have to breathe.
Proper breathing technique is often the biggest challenge for beginning swimmers. Many lift their heads completely, which reduces the power of the strokes and drops the torso below the surface of the water. Your arms create pockets of air near your armpits as you reach ahead and stroke. Swimming coaches teach students to turn their heads to one side and draw a breath from the pocket. The number of breaths you draw in relation to the number of strokes you make depends on the style of front crawl you are using.
Long Distance and Endurance
Long distance and endurance swimming emphasizes rhythm and consistency with slower strokes. Some swimmers might draw a breath with every stroke for a time, then on alternate strokes or after a series of strokes. The breathing technique you use when swimming long distances depends on your level of conditioning and personal preference. You might find that breathing on alternate strokes helps maintain your rhythm without the need to draw a breath. When racing, the emphasis is on speed and every breath can slow you down.
Watch a freestyle racing event and you’ll notice the swimmers cover a lot of distance between each breath. In addition, you can see that the power of their strokes and kicks generates splashes and wakes. Unlike long-distance strokes where your fingers are relaxed, the technique for racing involves spreading your fingers open and fully extended as if you are catching an overhead basketball pass. Opening and extending your fingers allows your hands to travel faster through the underwater arc. You have to be in peak condition to swim freestyle racing events competitively. This includes training to develop your upper body and leg strength and cardiovascular system. You refine the techniques used to breathe, kick and stroke effectively through practice.