Front crawl swim session: Improve your pulling power

If you're lucky enough to be able to still swim during this pandemic this session will help you develop a connection with the water, so that every stroke takes you that little bit further

Credit: James Mitchell

Developing your catch or feel for the water is important for improving your speed and economy. Without this technique, your hands can slice through the water to little effect. Improving this portion of your stroke is about engaging the water to press it back past your body and, in turn, accelerate forward. If you get this right, the faster you can push your hands back, the faster you’ll go.


Focus on pushing your elbow out to the side slightly. Then you can push your hand and forearm down to get that high elbow and early vertical forearm. Think ‘reaching over a barrel’. From here you can press your arm back under the body, feeling resistance against your forearm and pushing from your
lats in your back.

To practise this hold on the water, use paddles. But only use the finger straps as this forces you to maintain form and hold onto the water throughout your stroke. If your hand twists underwater, or you grab at the water, the paddle is likely to come off.

How to use swimming paddles

What’s the difference between finger paddles and hand paddles?

How to improve your ‘catch and pull’ phase in front crawl


The session


4 x 50m front crawl easy; 10secs rest (RI)

4 x 50m choice kick, no float, focus on good body position; 10secs RI

4 x 50m descend 1-4 with the fastest (number 4) at or quicker than race pace; 15secs RI

Main Set

8 x 50m front crawl; 15secs RI 

First 4 without paddles, second 4 with; try to hold a faster speed with the paddles, without rushing

50m easy backstroke

4 x 100m front crawl; 15secs RI

First 2 without paddles, second 2 with; try to hold a faster speed with the paddles

50m easy backstroke

2 x 200m front crawl; 20secs RI

First 1 without paddles, second 1 with; try to hold a faster speed with the paddles

50m easy backstroke

6 x 100m; 20secs RI

Alternate 100m IM (fly/back/breast/free) and 100m front crawl


 200m mixed strokes, with at least 50m non-front crawl

Adapt for beginners

Do shorter and fewer reps throughout the session. E.g. 4 x 50m/2 x 75m/6 x 50m. Take longer recoveries if required. With the medley swimming at the end, substitute butterfly for front crawl.

Adapt for advanced


Lengthen the overall reps, do more reps at each distance, or swim the session harder (but maintaining at least some technical focus).

How important is technique when it comes to swimming?

Swimming with paddles: a training session to develop power