Using 'stroke contrast' to improve your freestyle technique

By Guest Blogger | 3 Minute Read

Are you in a position where you'd like to improve your freestyle swimming technique but don't quite know where to start?

It can be difficult to know what to focus on when you don't have a coach to guide your session, so Swim Smooth have provided a handy step-by-step guide to help improve your freestyle stroke and optimise swim training when you're next hitting the pool on your own...


Want to improve your freestyle stroke but don’t have a coach? As an 'uncoached' athlete and without an experienced eye watching over you, it can be difficult to make improvements to your stroke technique and judge which areas of your technique you should be working on.

Swim Smooth’s 'Stroke Contrast' method is ideal to help you identify stroke flaws and improve them. This technique asks you to deliberately alter your stroke for the worse so that you can experience how it feels. The contrast this creates gives you a unique sensory experience, which helps you spot flaws in your stroke. Give this session a go to teach yourself and tune up your freestyle technique...


Stroke Contrast Session

For each of the contrasts listed below swim 100m where you deliberately emphasise the stroke flaw, and then swim 200m focusing on correcting that error.


Warm up

Swim 400m smooth, easy freestyle.


Contrast of Flaw 1: Holding Your Breath


Swimsmooth holding your breathImage: Swim Smooth ©


a) Swim 100m without any exhalation into the water - holding your breath the whole time you're face down. Rotate to the side as normal to breathe, but use that short window to both exhale and inhale.

b) Now experience the contrast by swimming 200m emphasising good, strong exhalation into the water. Doing this you only have to inhale when you rotate to breathe. This is good breathing technique - do you do this in your stroke normally?

Find out more about exhalation.


Contrast of Flaw 2: Lack Of Body Roll


Swimsmooth lack of body rollImage: Swim Smooth ©


a) Swim 100m without any body roll, trying to keep your shoulders and hips flat and level with the water. To do this you might have to swing your arms round the side a bit more than normal.

b) Now swim 200m emphasising good body roll, rotating the hips and shoulders together. As you enter the water and extend forwards at the front of your stroke emphasise rolling your body onto that side.

Find out more about body roll.


Contrast of Flaw 3: Dorsi Flexed Ankles


Dorsi flexed angleImage: Swim Smooth ©


a) Using a pull buoy, swim 100m with your foot positioned square to your leg as if you're standing. When you swim in this position your toes will point down towards the bottom of the pool. Feel what this does to your body position and how it creates drag.

b) Now continue with the pull buoy for 200m correcting this stroke flaw by pointing your toes (technical term: plantar flexion). Experience how this feels and what it does to your progress through the water.

Find out more about kicking technique.


Contrast 4: Head Position


SwimSmooth head position
Image: Swim Smooth ©


 a) Swim 100m, every 25m try a different head position:

1. looking straight down and slightly behind (totally submerged)
2. looking straight down
looking straight down and slightly ahead
4. looking ahead (eyes still just below the surface)

b) There is no right or wrong with head position - it's an individual thing to suit your stroke. Choose the position that felt best for your stroke and then swim 200m holding that position.


Contrast of Flaw 5: Straight Arm Catch and Pull


SwimSmooth straight arm catch and pullImage: Swim Smooth ©


a) After entering the water at the front of your stroke and extending forwards, start your stroke but deliberately keep your arm straight without any elbow bend. This means you have to push straight down on the water rather than push it back. Emphasise this stroke flaw for 100m.

b) Now swim 200m, focusing on extending forwards and then commencing the stroke by catching the water with a good elbow bend, so pulling the water back to the wall behind you.

Quick tip: try exaggerating the elbow bend more than you might think necessary.


Warm down

Pick the contrast above that made the most difference to your stroke and swim 200m at a very easy pace focusing on that one thing.


Thanks to Paul, Myffy and the team at Swim Smooth for their advice and hopefully you'll be able to put this 'stroke contrast' method into action during the off season. If you wanted more information or assistance with improving your swimming technique, you can visit the Swim Smooth Guru or subscribe to the Swim Smooth blog.

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