Body position :
Armstroke :
Legstroke :
Remark :
On the breast
Double overarm-stroke
The far most fastest swimming-stroke

The armstroke
The legstroke
The combination
Frequently made mistakes while swimming the frontcrawl


The frontcrawl has a continuous armstroke and legstroke. The frontcrawl is the fastest swimming-stroke because of:

  • The body position is always horizontal,
  • Little resistance during the contra-movements,
  • A long damming-phase for the arms, which partly overlap eachother,
  • An uneven pull-over,
  • A powerful armstroke.
Because of all this, the movement is very continuous and also very efficient: with little energy a relative high swimming speed.

The armstroke
The frontcrawl's swimming speed is caused for 70-90% by the arms. The arm movement can be divided in a couple of phases:

  1. The put-in
  2. The gliding-phase
  3. The pull-phase
  4. The push-phase
  5. The lash-out
  6. The pull-over

1. The put-in
The put-in of the frontcrawl is straight in front of the shoulder in the line of the shoulders or maybe a little more wider, on ¾ of the arm length with a slightly bent elbow. The hand touches the water sooner than the elbow, which is positive for the next phase:

2. The gliding-phase
After the put-in, the arm will be stretched to the front, at which the palm of the hand is pointed downwards. During the gliding-phase the arm chooses the best position to pull through. We could say that the hand "grabs" the water. Because the hand is searching for prop on the water, the pull-over shoulder can be kept high and above the water, so that there is less resistance. Also the breathing is a lot easier because of that prop.

3. The pull-phase
The movement of the arm right after the gliding-phase until the hand is perpendicular under the shoulder, we call the pull-phase. During this phase there occurs a slight bow of the elbow joint, so that at the end of this phase, the angle of the elbow joint is about 90 degrees. Because of this, it's possible to pull through with a lot of power. The elbow remains constantly at the highest point. During the pull-phase the palm of the hand will be pointed backwards. The hand moves first to the side and then comes under the shoulder again, at which a slow bow in the elbow joint occurs. At the end of the pull-phase, the hand never passes entirely the imaginary vertical axis of the body. When this does take place, this has direct consequenses for the body's position in the water. The shoulder goes down under water and its position is much deeper in the water, which causes a lot of extra resistance (see picture below).

Wrong             Good

4. The push-phase
The push-phase starts right after the pull-phase, so in the beginning the arm is perpendicular below the shoulder until the moment that the arm, and then the hand leaves the water.

During the push-phase the hand will go backward towards the hips and will be slightly stretched. In fact, the hand follows a certain "S-pattern" (looked upon from below). The elbow joint will never be entirely stretched. The hand will make in the last part of the push-phase, just before the lash-out, a final push backwards. This is called an uniformly accelerated movement.

The S-formed way the hand follows with regard to the body, has been drawn in the figure on the right. With regard to the bottom the hand remains more or less on the same depth, because the hand is "locked" in the water and the swimmer pulls his/her body over it. The armstroke's damming surfaces are the palm of the hand and the inner side of the forearm.

5. The lash-out
If the end of the push-phase has been executed well, the elbow will first and the hand (starting with the little finger) will be the last to leave the water. The lash-out takes place at the hips and/or the upper leg. During the lash-out the hand is as close as possible to the body and partly unbended. In fact there has to take place a smooth movement between the pull-through and the pull-over. Because of this a shaking movement will be prevented.

6. The pull-over
The pull-over takes place with a "high" elbow and has to take place unbended: the forearm and hand are "hanging" below the elbow. Swimming with a "low" elbow and a "wide" movement cost more energy and cause more unwanted rotations. All the movements should take place as close as possible to the body's length-axis.

Because the pull-over can take place faster than the pull-through (less/no resistance), we see that the arms with regard to eachother do not start acting like the "wings of a mill", but make up for eachother and go away from eachother. The complete armstroke passes away uninterupted. The shoulder also moves continuously (also called the "rolling" of the shoulders). The rolling of the shoulders must only take place in the length-axis of the body.

The legstroke
Although the arm-movement contributes by far the most to the swimming speed, it is wrong to think that the legstroke is not of any significance. The arms and legs have to cooperate precisely, to swim a well swum stroke. A good legstroke contributes its part to the whole. The legstroke has two functions:

  • A stabilizing/compensating function (most important)
  • A damming function

The leg-movement consists of an alternation of up- and downbeats, at which the legs pass eachother during the stroke. The legstroke is often very irregular and very differ at different swimmers and takes rarely place only in a vertical direction.

The irregularities consist of: emphasisstrokes, drag-movements and differences in moving results. These irregularities are closely connected to the way the armstroke is swum and the breathing. Although the up- and downbeat both have a damming function, the effect of the downbeat is bigger, because of a more positive position of the damming surfaces.

The movement starts from the hip, at which in the upbeat the leg will be stretched because of the water resistance. The downbeat of the upper leg has already been started when the feet are still moving upwards. At the turning point the unbended foot goes down, at which the foot sole can give stowage. Meanwhile, the knee has also been bended when the foot went down, the shinbone and instep are in a favourable position to cause stowage in the downbeat.

This effect will be strengthened, because the upper leg moves back in upward direction. This is only possible when the unbended leg follows the movement out of the hips. In the end there arises a wave-alike pattern via upperleg - knee - lower leg - ankle - foot.

Click on the picture on the right to zoom in...

The combination
There are different combinations that can be swum; for example the American crawl. This means that in one complete armstroke, fit exactly six downbeats of the legs. For short, we could say 2:6. Characteristics of the American crawl are: intensive legstroke, a clear gliding-phase, the tempo of the arms relatively slow and the pull through close to the body with high elbows. Finally we could say:

  • The downbeat of the right leg equal to the put in of the left arm.
  • The downbeat of the right leg equal to the link between the pull-phase and push-phase of the left arm
  • The same counts for the left leg and the right arm, of course.
At the 2:2 the armstroke is very dominant. There is no, or hardly any legstroke present. This combination (2:2) is also called the Australian crawl, because a lot of Australian swimmers swim this way.


Inhaling takes place when the arms are in the extension of eachother, which means in practice: inhaling on the left side, when the left hand is at the height of the left hip and the right hand starts with the put-in/gliding-phase. Inhaling takes place in the valley at the left side, at which the head turns around the length-axis of the body. Exhaling gradually takes place under water via the nose as well as the mouth.

Most swimmers have a favorite side to breathe and often only inhale at that favourite side. There also are swimmers who have the ability to breath at sides. This type of breathing is considered to be the best way. The legstroke plays a supporting role with breathing during swimming.


Frequently made mistakes

  • No or little rolling of the shoulders
  • During the put-in phase, the arms cross the length-axis of the body
  • The pull-through is to much sidewards
  • Too much legstroke, in stead of a proper armstroke
  • Hooked toes, where the ankles are not relaxed.
  • The arms or not dominating but the legs do
  • The position of the head: too high or too deep, which causes problems with breathing and of course more water resistance



Copyright © Stefan de Best