How to Perform a Head to Toe Assessment for Freestyle

 When you’re swimming and something feels off, how do you pinpoint what the trouble is to be able to change it?  Some people just ignore it, hoping it will go away.  Some people swim harder hoping their body will snap to it.  Some people figure they are not cut out for swimming and just give up.  Well, I don’t want any of these scenarios for you so today we are going to learn how to perform a Head to Toe Assessment to correct your technique as you keep swimming.

What is it?

A Head to Toe Assessment is how I figure out which piece of my technique is not working while I am still swimming my laps or my open water.  It can be used in practice or in an event and it starts with the all-important breath, moves to position, and keeps going through each piece of the technique until I figure out what is going wrong.  Once I pinpoint the trouble, I concentrate on that part of the stroke for a bit to get it back in line, doing drills if I need to, and then go back to my regular stroke concentration.  I will perform the assessment several times during a long swim just to make sure I am being as efficient in the water as possible.

How to do the assessment

To do the assessment, start with your breath and move through each piece of the freestyle technique until you have hit everything.  Don’t worry about remembering everything and don’t let the list intimidate you.  The more you do this, the more you will remember.  When I first started, I laminated the list and brought it to my workout with me.  The more I used it, the more I remembered.  Then, eventually, I didn’t need the card as a reminder anymore.

Start at the top

  1. Head position is neutral, in line with the spine, and relaxed.
  2. Eyes are looking down when not breathing and across the water when breathing.
  3. Breath in is relaxed, close to the water, and full.
  4. Breath out is controlled, constant, and continues until the face clears the water.
  5. Abs and glutes are engaged.
  6. Power is coming from the core and the hips.
  7. Hips are moving before the shoulder.
  8. Body is tall, taut, and horizontal.
  9. Body rolls as one unit without separation of top and bottom.
  10. Legs stay in line with the body.
  11. Using the whole leg to kick.
  12. Feet are flexed and pointing back.
  13. Recovery arm is relaxed and in line with the body.
  14. Recovery arm elbow is high with the forearm and hand pointing down.
  15. Hand entry is flat and extending straight – in line with the shoulder.
  16. Lead arm remains just under the surface until the pull phase.
  17. Hand grabs the water and pulls your body past your hand.
  18. Pull elbow stays in line with the shoulder and high on pull to engage lats, forearm and hand point down.
  19. Pull is straight back and strong.
  20. Pull hand extends all the way back to the thigh.
  21. Body is pushing the power forward.
  22. Rotation is controlled and initiated from the core and hips.
  23. Power from the core is transferred down the leg for the kick, up the arm into the glide, and across the body to the pull.
  24. Repeat

Well there you have it. No problem, right?! But seriously, don’t try to do all this at once.  If you need to work on one point, take that point, do the drills applicable to that piece in your workouts, and then incorporate it into your regular stroke.  If you need help picking drills to work on an issue, email me at and I will be glad to help you.

Doing this checklist will help to keep your freestyle moving forward and make it more likely you will be able to swim well into your senior years.  Good luck and let me know how I can help.