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What is Freestyle Swimming?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Freestyle swimming is a form of swimming in which the swimmer can integrate a number of different swim strokes to get across the pool. Although freestyle is unregulated and people can generally move however they like, in practice, most freestyle swimming is done with the front crawl, a powerful and rapid swimming stroke which is widely believed to be the fastest. Freestyle swimming is an Olympic event, and in swim competitions, people may be barred from doing certain strokes such as the breaststroke and the butterfly.

The origins of the front crawl are a bit obscure. Some sources claim that it comes from the South Pacific, where it was picked up by Australians and became known as the Australian crawl. However, a stroke similar to the front crawl was also used by Native Americans and First Nations peoples in North America, and they may have developed it independently as well. There are also several variations on the basic front crawl which are sometimes seen in competition.

In the front crawl, the swimmer's body rotates on an axis, with the swimmer turning the body and bringing one arm out of the water with each stroke. Every few strokes, the swimmer takes a breath, tilting the head out of the water to do so. With a fit swimmer who has drilled repeatedly, the front crawl is very fast and reasonably efficient, and in competition, it can be a rather impressive sight.

Swimming freestyle can be an excellent way to get and stay fit, and people all over the world use freestyle swimming as part of their exercise regimen. People who are interested in competing may work with a coach and perform drills to refine their technique so that it is more efficient and even faster, and some swimmers integrate other swim strokes into their freestyle swimming sessions. Top speed varies, depending on a swimmer's level of fitness and training.

Many swim clubs and pools offer instruction in freestyle swimming to people who would like to start. Pools also often have open lap hours where people can swim on a first come, first serve basis. Usually people are expected to observe some basic rules during lap swim, such as staying in their own lanes and being conscientious of the fact that people may be waiting, so it may sometimes be necessary to limit a session to give someone else a chance to swim.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By GhostPug — On Nov 12, 2014

Oddly enough, in my experience, competitive swimmers do not refer to the front crawl as the front crawl - they call it freestyle. And in competition, you will never see any other stroke during a "freestyle" event - as the front crawl is the fastest stroke for nearly all swimmers.

I am curious to know if this is true for all competitive swimming, or simply American swimming?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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