3 simple ways to improve your freestyle technique

Making little progress in your freestyle swim training? Then you need Andrew Sheaff's simple 3-step plan for fast results and even faster times…

Underwater shot of young woman swimming freestyle in a swimming pool

Improving your freestyle technique is really hard. Swimming is an unnatural skill and all of our intuitions about how to move in the water are wrong. To make matters worse, most triathletes don’t take a systematic approach to creating change. 


As a result, many triathletes stagnate with their skills, which ultimately means they stagnate with their performance. Part of the problem is that the advice provided for improving your swimming is extensive and often contradictory. It’s hard to know where to start.

To move past all of the noise, if you want to get started and make progress, you need a simple plan that you can put to work today… So, here are three steps you can implement today.

How to improve your freestyle swim technique 

1. Work on the right skills

Read any article or watch any video and you’ll find countless skills to improve. Unfortunately, some skills are more important than others, and if you’re not working on the right skills, even if you learn those skills, you won’t improve as much as you’d like. Instead, keep it simple.

Improving your freestyle all comes down to two key skills – reduce drag and increase propulsion. In other words, you need to do more through the water with less resistance and you need to move more water back with your arms with each stroke.

If you’re not improving one of these two skills, you’re not using your time optimally. If the skill you’re addressing is not dramatically improving one of these two skills, there are probably better skills to work on.

How do you know? Simple. Is that skill affecting your position in the water, or how ‘torpedo-like’ you move through the water?

If the answer is yes, it’s impacting drag.

Is the skill affecting how much water is moved backwards?

If the answer is yes, it’s impacting propulsion. That’s it!

2. Use the best exercises

If you know the right skills, but you’re using bad exercises, you won’t learn anything. Great exercises have two key qualities – they’re simple and they’re effective.

They’re simple in that anyone can do them, and you don’t need any special skills to learn them. They’re also effective in that they help you feel the most important aspects of the skill you’re trying to learn.

Unfortunately, most skills aren’t particularly simple, nor are they particularly effective. For reducing drag, here’s an exercise I love to start with.

For improving propulsion, here’s an exercise I love to start with:

They’re both great starting points for learning the key skills in fast freestyle. Use the best and forget the rest!

3. Perform sets that optimise learning

A key aspect of good exercises is that they help you feel better skills. They show you a new way of moving. The challenge is getting that new way of moving through the water to show up when it matters – while swimming freestyle.

The best strategy I’ve seen for making that happen is simple – alternate between the exercises you’re using and swimming freestyle. Then, keep going back and forth between the two.

You use the exercise to feel the new opportunity, and then you make it happen while swimming freestyle. Here’s a simple set that uses these principles, designed to improve your breathing:

4 x

  • 4 x 25m Stroke and Roll
  • 50m freestyle
  • Odd rounds – breathe every third stroke
  • Even rounds – choice breathing

Follow these simple steps and you’ll find your freestyle improving fast!


Top image credit: Getty Images