Front Crawl ≠ Freestyle

Front crawl is a survival style of swimming taught by Red Cross, LifeSaving Society, and YMCA learn to swim programs with the specific focus on water safety: the goal is to prevent drownings by teaching how to travel short distances unassisted (e.g. to the side of a pool, or to a boat or platform in open water). The Front Crawl requires a low level of skill allowing it to be gained in a matter of hours.

What is front crawl? Easiest way to think of it is as a cross between dog paddle and freestyle. If you watch a dog do dog paddle, they use their front legs to paddle and they typically recoil their back legs using them and their backend as a rudder, occasionally ‘kicking’ with their back legs to steer, but rarely for propulsion. In front crawl the pattern is the same: front crawl swimmers drag their legs, rarely kick, and when they do its typically to restore balance in body position. Also, when front crawlers do try and kick it ends up looking more like a cycling pedal stroke rather than a swimmers kick. This also explains why front crawlers preferred way to train is using paddles and pull buoys. Since there is little to no kick in dog paddle, why train to kick for front crawl? Pull buoys allow you to drag your legs while muscling the pull of the stroke desperately trying to force the stroke faster (which only makes the effort exhausting). Front crawlers breathe forwards (as in head-up) or to the front-side. Freestyle technique allows the breathe to be taken comfortably to the side, if not to the side-back. The front crawl breathing pattern causes countless problems not only for breathing but also in body position, namely a dropped hip posture which creates immense drag making swimming even more exhausting. Due to lack of body roll, front crawlers end up with all the problems that limit their potential (i.e. dropped elbows in recovery, early entry, a weak catch, low elbow pull, head up breathing, dropped hips, fish-tailing, etc…). All the stroke technique work and drills are pointless when the underlying stroke is front crawl. That’s like duct taping spoilers onto a clunker thinking it can then compete in a Formula1 race. Learn freestyle and all of these improper patterns correct themselves, while swimming becomes fun, enjoyable and offers endless opportunity to progress further still.

FREESTYLE

Is a highly technical and complex pattern of movement where the pull, body rotation and kick are united into an efficient and effective 3 dimensional pattern of movement designed for speed. Freestyle technique is the technique required for peak performance in competitive swimming, marathon/open water swimming and triathlon. Learning Freestyle starts with the 2 beat pattern, and progresses to 7 different beat patterns. The movement components of Freestyle are developed over hundreds of hours where the focus is on acquiring, developing and refining the posture, positions and movements of the technique. Training begins with simple movement patterns and evolves in complexity as the level of skill integration increases. Freestyle is taught by highly experienced individuals who are capable of identifying the individual needs of the athlete solving the challenges in their progression along the Freestyle learning curve.

Back Crawl ≠ Backstroke

Back Crawl ≠ Backstroke : same applies to the back crawl which is also taught as a survival stroke, versus the backstroke which is a competitive swimming stroke with technique comparable to that of Freestyle.

Frog Stroke ≠ Breaststroke

Frog Swim ≠ Breaststroke : the always head up style of frog swimming that many adults use (especially those who do not want to get their face or for that matter hair wet) is not equivalent to the breaststroke. The Breaststroke – like the Butterfly stroke – is again a 3 dimensional pattern of movement that involves coordinated movement in the pull, the roll in the body and the timing of the kick in order to be executed correctly, efficiently, effectively, with power and speed.

Why most find swimming exhausting & unenjoyable.

If all you and your swim/triathlon coach know is front crawl, back crawl and frog style swimming, then all you can do is try and force these non-competitive inefficient and ineffective movement patterns to try and ‘go fast’ by trying hard, and then harder and then harder still. Its no wonder that most find swimming exhausting, unenjoyable and depleting: you cannot bring a clunker of a car to a Formula1 race and expect high performance. To be competitive requires having the proper skill set to compete and that starts with learning the competitive version of all the swim strokes.

Problem is…. the overwhelming majority of swim instructors, swim coaches and triathlon coaches have no clue that there are competitive versions of all the strokes, let alone how to teach them.

Which leads to a universal experience….

Junior athletes (and their parents) believe that high performance arises from pushing themselves harder and harder to complete the workouts of their swim/triathlon coach, yet fail to make consistent progress and fail to understand why others do while they don’t. Resulting in the vast majority of junior swimmers quitting the sport when they stop growing (i.e. ages 12-16): the ‘easy’ gains from growing longer arms and legs are gone (which compensated for the lack of stroke skill), and the real training begins which requires competency in the competitive versions of all the strokes.

Masters athletes – both swim club and triathletes – resign themselves to the excuse of ‘old age’ or not having been a junior swimmer to explain their inability to make progress. As a result, they turn to paddle and pull buoy workouts and depend on their wetsuit in open water settings to survive.

There is another way: no matter the age, no matter the skill level or experience, anyone can learn proper Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Butterfly technique. Which means that fun-filled swim sessions are a reality for anyone who wants to take their swimming out of survival mode and into competitive mode.