Eliminate Drag in your Freestyle Stroke

Eliminate Drag in your Freestyle Stroke

Everyone wants to swim faster so, when wanting to improve, we need to first check the position and technique of the swim.  This post is going to concentrate on eliminating common culprits of drag found in the freestyle stroke.

Why would you want to eliminate drag? To preserve energy, reduce the possibility of injuries, improve your swim times, and allow you to enjoy the swim.

“Have you ever been driving your car and suddenly realized you’ve left the emergency brake on?  Did you push down harder on the gas to overcome the drag of the brake? No, of course not. You simply released the brake and with no extra effort you started to go faster.” The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.

Swimming is the same way, you can think of the drag you are creating as the emergency brake and, once released, you will start to swim faster and easier.

How to Eliminate Drag

To be efficient in the water, we must swim in the smallest cylinder possible.  You can think of swimming in a foot of water with only a foot of water on either side of you.  If your hands, body, or feet go outside this foot size box, they will hit the side.  Keeping your arms and legs in your body line will engage the correct muscles for swimming and will increase efficiency.

The top shape (non-streamline) is an example of how your body looks when you have a wide kick or pull.  This is very inefficient and causes your stroke to slow you down in the water.  Bringing your legs into your body line and your arms closer to your body will give you the streamline shape shown in the bottom shape to sail through the water.

The common culprits of drag we are going to address in this post are:  body position, forearm position, arm cross-over, and the kick.  Your pull could also cause drag but we will address this topic in a separate post.  The best way to check for drag is to use cameras to video your swim and then look for each of the aspects discussed below.

Body Position

 When checking your body position, you want to check for a good horizontal position.  If your body is angled down, you will want to adjust so your legs come up to just under the surface of the water.  To do this, think of your body as a teeter totter with the midpoint being at your belly button.  If your legs are low, you need to adjust your upper body to bring them up.  To do this, first check your head position in general and on the breath.  The head should be close to the surface of the water with just the crown of the head sticking out on the swim and the top of the head staying close to the surface on the breath.  (See my two posts on breathing for more information on this subject.)  If that doesn’t bring the legs up, try stretching the whole body from the tips of the fingers and top of the head to the feet.  By stretching your body, this will engage the core which is important for generating stability and power in the stroke.

Forearm Position

There are several aspects of your forearm position that can create drag.  During your recovery arm (out of the water) windmill arms, or straight arms, can cause shoulder muscles to be used which doesn’t create drag but does put your arms outside the foot size box, can wear you out, and lead to shoulder problems.  I will discuss more on the recovery arm in a later post.  In the water, you want to make sure your lead arm is not too deep in the water or sweeps to the side on the pull, causing it to going outside your body line in both cases.  Your lead arm should be right under the water, in line with your shoulder, and stretching for the other side of the pool.  When you pull, your hand and forearm should drop together while your elbow stays high in line with your shoulder.  Again, more on the pull arm in another post.

Lead Arm Crossover

 A very common culprit of drag is the lead arm crossing over the midline of the body.  You can think of your body being cut in half the long way and the midline extends from that cut above your head.  You want your right arm and leg to stay on the right side of your body and your left arm and leg to stay on your left side.  Replace your crossing arms with guiding arms.  Your lead arm tells your body where to go in the water so if you are crossing your midline, you are pointing your body off course.  Your arm should enter the water and extend just under the surface in line with your shoulder.  Think of the midline as your 12 o’clock.  If your right arm is crossing, your brain thinks this is your 12 o’clock so you need to think about bringing your arm to 1 or 2 o’clock depending on how badly you are crossing over.  This should bring your arm in line with your shoulder.  You can repeat the process with your left arm thinking about 11 or 10 o’clock.  If you have a mirror on the bottom of your pool, that would be a great tool to see if you are correcting properly.  If not, make another video while you are trying to correct.

Kicking Issues

There are 2 common kicking issues which can cause drag: runner’s kick and wide kick.  Many runners kick from their knees down which causes the lower body to drop or the feet to come out of the water on the kick, generates a lot of white water (we’ve all been behind them), and a loss of propulsion due to using the small muscles in the leg instead of the big muscles.  A wide kick, or bicycle kick, increases your cylinder size, contributes to over rotation, and incorrectly the stabilization task into the legs.  To correct the leg position, think about stretching your legs tall and keeping your ankles close to each other as they pass on the kick.  Distance swimmers will be more efficient when their legs stay in the water and the whole leg, from the hip to the toes, is used to kick.  Make sure your legs rotate with your body instead of staying flat and the stabilization of the stroke starts in the core and the hips.


So, how do we put this all together?  First, figure out if you need to reduce your drag by looking at your swim through a coach or a video. Next, adjust your head and stretching.  After the breathing, horizontal position is the most important piece of your technique.  Once you have the horizontal position, start adjusting your arms and kick.  If you need any help or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at info@WinningSwimming.com.  How can I help you?