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Improve Your Freestyle Body Positioning With This Simple Drill

BY Laura Medcalf

The early season is the perfect time to revisit your foundational swim technique, particularly your body position in the water. This simple drill will help you get a feel for proper freestyle body positioning.

The early season is a great time for swimmers to go back to basics and clean up their freestyle techniques. Before high volume and higher fatigue training begins, athletes have an opportunity to make changes to their stroke with patience, and without disruption to event specific training phases.

Working on techniques now can help an athlete take better advantage of more specific strength, pace and volume training in the spring and summer months ahead.

Three commonly accepted, basic principles of swimming fast freestyle are:

  1. Reduce drag by using effective body positions.
  2. Maximize forward propulsion, using adequate pressure and shapes of the pull and kick.
  3. Coordinate effective timing of body positions, breathing, pull and kick.

Swimmers can develop a wide variety of ineffective stroke habits over time, but many can be avoided or corrected by going back to these basic principles. For example, a classic error in freestyle made by many triathletes, is the crossover arm entry and the often accompanying splayed scissor kick.

These symptoms are rarely the cause of inefficient swimming.Often, these are symptoms of a poor body position and balance, poor propulsion or poor timing. Attempting to correct symptoms, without also going back to basics and exploring core principles, often leads to plateaus and swimmer frustration.

Regardless of individual stroke style or rhythm, the most important core principle of an efficient freestyle, is having a buoyant body position, with head, shoulders, hips and heels at the surface of the water.

There will be slight differences among athletes in how they float, and in how they need to adjust head and posture to achieve an effective body position. Learning how to hold your body in the water allowing buoyancy to assist, is the foundation upon which to build a faster freestyle.

Using methods that allow swimmers to experience these principles, such as the drills described below, provide the athlete with valuable insight and learning opportunities.

Try it: Wall Float & Surface Push

Experience buoyancy and what it feels like to hold your body at the surface.

How to do it: Wall Float

  • Take a moderately deep breath and hold.
  • Hook the tops of toes over the edge of the pool, feet held up out of the water.
  • Float face down, relaxed, with arms down by sides.
  • Hold still, hold breath, relax.
  • When you need a breath, stop and stand up.

Now do it well:

  • Be patient, relax and wait. Wait long enough for any bouncing/bobbing to subside.
  • Look down.
  • Play around, experiment. Patiently, make slight adjustments in head position and posture, to achieve a level, horizontal body position.
    • Play with shoulders rounded versus fully retracted, before settling into neutral.
    • Play with eyes looking forward, versus tucking chin allowing water to submerge entire head, before settling into neutral.
    • Play with actively forcing your tallest posture, versus excessing slouching, settle into tall but relaxed postures.

Experience what happens to body position while approaching extremes.

  • Once settled into neutral, feel for air on the back of head, shoulders, hips, and calves. Head, shoulders and hips should be crowning the surface of the water.

Next Step: Surface Push

  • Start from a wall float.
  • Patiently ensure you are level, head/hips/heels all crowning the surface.
  • Allow feet to slip into the water, quietly and patiently maintaining head/hip/heel surface position, hold your breath, push off the wall.
  • Glide just long enough to feel the loss of momentum and the corresponding loss of position, then stop.
  • Repeat a few times.

More Advanced: Surface Push with Kick

  • Add snorkel (fins optional), start with wall float and surface push. Add gentle kicks, focus on maintaining head/hip/heel surface position.
  • Example Set: 16 x 25m surface push and kick with snorkel and fins, 5 seconds rest between.

Watch a video of a wall float here.


All swimmers are different, if drill progressions aren’t working, don’t hesitate to use equipment and/or drill variations to experience what a buoyant body position is supposed to feel like.

  • Snorkel: take time to notice how your breathing changes your buoyancy.
  • Pull Buoy: instead of a ‘Wall Float’ use a pull buoy and float with feet near, but not hooked onto, the wall.
  • Training Partner/Coach assist: your coach or swim buddy can hold your feet just below the surface, at the wall, with heels just breaking the surface, then release for the surface push.

Incorporate these stroke explorations by using this three week training plan. This plan includes warms up and nine progressive skill sessions to be used prior to a regular swim workout, as well as modifications for beginning, intermediate, and advanced swimmers. Ensure a solid foundation with video analysis and feedback, included with this version of the same training plan and improve your freestyle body position and technique for faster swimming during race season.

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About Laura Medcalf

Laura Medcalf is a performance coach based in Vernon BC Canada, where she is head coach of the Tri Monsters Youth and Junior Squad, Lead Coach for the local swim club, as well as private swim and triathlon coach to many age group athletes.