Front Crawl Swimming Strokes

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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Arm movements for front crawl are broken down into three basic phases, but what about the rest of the movements involved in this stroke?


What are the Front Crawl Stroke Phases?

There are five basic phases to the front crawl stroke. Learning how each of these phases works and the key parts of each can help you to perfect your stroke and improve your personal best. 


Catch Phase

The catch phase is where your hands are being used to catch the water. You should have one hand entering the water from the recovery position while the other is starting to move down and slightly outward through the water in a scooping action. 

This is where you are getting ready to pull in your hand to propel yourself forward. Again, it’s important to not rush yourself at this point. Fully extending your arm is what allows the next phase to work properly and propel you as it should. 


Pull Phase

In the pull phase, your hand that had been in the catchphrase is now going toward the pull phase. 

This is where that hand starts to exert pressure on the water, pushing it behind you to propel your body forward as your arm is pulled towards the trunk of the body from the end of the catchphrase.

If done correctly, your elbow should be pointing almost 90 degrees from your swimming direction, vaguely resembling a chicken wing in terms of position, towards the pool edge on either side of you.

The head prepares to rotate for breathing, and the body follows accordingly.


Push and Breathe Phase

The front crawl’s push and breathe phase involves precise movement of the backhand to the top of the thigh before the elbow leads the hand back towards the head, briefly escaping the water.

When executed properly, a trough of water should have formed next to the ear on the side of the body with the backhand that is about to start recovery. Rotating the head slightly to the side and rolling the body allows you to breathe in this dip in the waterline.

Take care not to lift your head from the water to breathe, or you risk ruining your streamlined profile and balance.


Roll Phase

In the roll phase of the front crawl, the elbow raises high out of the water as the lagging hand is drawn up the side of the body from the thigh to the armpit in a zipper-like fashion. 

Your elbow controls the roll as you pivot around the imaginary center line and dictates where your hand will land after recovery for the next cycle’s catchphrase.

The head should return quickly to its neutral position along the body’s center axis after breathing to remain as streamlined as possible.

Timing the roll phase can be difficult, but developing a rhythm of when to roll creates consistency in the rate and length of your strokes.


Kick Phase

Keeping to small even kicks is the key part of the kick phase. It is also important to remember to kick from your hips. When you are kicking, you will keep your leg, and feet pointed straight while using your hips and thighs to start the movement. 

Many people think your speed will improve by kicking faster or deeper. However, timing is much more important than the power behind your kick. Your arms do most of the propulsion, but your kicks keep you balanced and straight. 

If you lose your pace with your kick or mess up the depth, you will find that your front crawl is lacking, and you aren’t able to get the movement you need. 


What is the Most Important Phase in the Front Crawl?

All phases of the front crawl are important, and practicing them individually can be rewarding, but the kick phase is the most important when doing the front crawl.

The logic behind the kick phase being the most important phase is that it maintains your body’s streamlined position in the water while adding just a little bit more power to drive yourself forward.

Others may argue that the pull phase is the most important in front crawl, but the truth is that no matter how good your pull phase is in terms of stroke length, power, or consistency, if your form is misaligned, all that effort is wasted by unnecessarily increasing drag.

Focusing on keeping the proper body shape and position by making the spine as long as possible and having a streamlined profile will improve your front crawl times more than trying to pull harder or faster, which is likely to result in straining or even injury.


How Can You Diagnose the Phase that You’re Lacking in?

Diagnosing what is wrong with your front crawl form can be difficult without professional help from someone like a coach to observe and advise you on what to do.

The most common way to learn which phase your front crawl technique is messing up is to use swim paddles. These little flipper-like tools strap onto the hands, increasing surface area and, therefore, resistance in the water.

Swim paddles force users to recognize their mistakes through increased resistance. For example, upon water entry during the catchphrase, the paddle creates pressure on the hand from the resistance that can inform you of poor hand angles.

In a similar vein, swim paddles increase the drag on the hand if, during the roll phase, the hand is not raised high enough out of the water by the elbow, the roll was incorrectly timed, or both.

Be careful, though. Swimming with swim paddles for long periods can cause undue strain leading to conditions like a swimmer’s shoulder.


Final Thoughts on Front Crawl Swimming Strokes

Five phases make up the entirety of the front crawl, and each has its purpose and execution that needs to be done consistently well to achieve better times. 

With professional help from external sources and the body’s inherent senses tuning your form via swim paddles, you can improve your stroke to become a more confident swimmer.