The Three Styles of “Modern” Freestyle

Yesterday, I got to attend an American Swim Coaches Association continuing education event in Reston, VA. While there are times I’m not that excited to live in the Mid-Atlantic, one of the benefits is everything that the DC region has to offer. In addition to the wonderful history, museums, and culture, you also get to access to other great events. For example, while living in Oregon, I waited for 2 years to finally get to go to a RRCA Running Coaching clinic. Within the first few months of living here, I was able to go to a RRCA clinic. Looking at the ASCA swimming clinics, there are only 10 clinics in the US, and the only one on freestyle, is here. I fee lucky and blessed to have access to such great coaching resources.

Mike Bottom, the University of Michigan (both women’s and men’s swimming) head coach was the keynote speaker. He spent 4+ hours speaking on freestyle and training techniques. Currently I only coach adult swimmers, and only swimmers who want to swim due to the swim leg of a triathlon. But I began coaching swimming back at my swimming Alma mater, The Victor Swim Club in the early 2000s. I was a 10 and under coach, and loved it. While I do like coaching adults, getting to see their progress and see their achievements, there is something special about being a mentor to young swimmers. One day I’d like to be coaching youth swimming again. It’s not a reality in the very near future, but hopefully again.

I’d like to highlight some of the things we spoke about at the clinic, and if you’re not a swimmer, then I’m sorry, it might be boring 🙂

Note: you can use all three styles of freestyle within a race. We watched a video of one of his swimmers doing a 200m race. He starts off with hip driven, in the last 50 moves to shoulder driven and in the last 10m goes to body driven. Pretty cool, I wish I had written down his swimmers name or the race he was swimming in.

The 3 Styles of Freestyle:

Hip Driven:

Hip driven freestyle is the most common form of freestyle and what most coaches are trying to teach. It is the most efficient stroke for long distance swimming, and is seen in swimming races from 200y and longer.

  • Stroke rate: 38-48 or 1.25-1.57 sec per stroke cycle
  • As the name implies, the hips drive this stroke.
  • This tends to be a front quadrant stroke-front quadrant swimming means that one of your hands is always in the one of the front two quadrants. Quadrant 1 is above the water in front of your head and 2 is below the water but in front of your head
  • Make sure you are getting a nice high elbow catch, also called early vertical forearm
  • The strength of the kick is what causes the hips to rotate
  • You can’t sprint well with a hip driven stroke

There are many good drills that help work on hip driven free. Mike recommended that everyone use a snorkel for the drills, specifically because it allows you to focus on your stroke, while not worrying about having to breath.

  • Kicking on your side, both arms at your side, and alternating sides is the most recommended drill.
  • Single arm drills are also important

Here’s a video from Mike:

*I want to add, for triathletes in open water or just swimmers swimming open water, your turnover rate will be higher than the number given. When out in the open water, you must have a higher turnover rate in order to stay above the waves. You lose your glide a bit.*

Shoulder Driven Freestyle:

Shoulder driven freestyle is less efficient than hip driven, so it is usually only done in shorter distance races.

  • Stroke rate: 54-67 or .90-1.11 sec per stroke cycle
  • The shoulders drive the stroke, vs the hips driving
  • The hips stay relatively flat, and are stabilized by the kick-they are still rotating some, but the faster you swim, the flatter they go
  • You need a strong core and steady kick for this reason
  • Arms are in sync: one hand/arm is always in the water
  • You must fully extend the opposite arm to ensure full rotation of the shoulders
  • You can use this for sprinting or for distance


  • Head up swimming-it will work on the trajectory of hand entry and you’ll see if you are dropping your elbow
  • Use gravitational force-use weighted paddles to help drive the hand downward
  • Pole vaulter drill where you almost throw your opposite arm over your head into the water
  • Use style sticks- the following video will show what they are

Body Driven Freestyle:

Body driven freestyle is something you’ll only use at the end of races. It looks kind of spastic, but the way it works is kind of neat. When your arms and legs go anaerobic, and get very fatigued, usually your core is still able to be used. So, what happens is, you tighten your core, “bind” your hips and shoulders together, fix your scapula and throw your arms forward.

  • Stroke rate- 52-58rpm , or 1.03-1.15 sec per cycle
  • Use the last 5-15m of a race
  • Press your head and chest down to create spinal alignment
  • Us a full side to side stroke, engaging the core and with straight arms, go toward the wall
  • Mike describes it as “go to body.” When he or another coach yells that, it means, go to body driven freestyle as your stroke has started to fall apart.
  • There is also a slight dolphin action in your body and kick

Here’s an example: It actually covers all three, but I couldn’t find an example of just body driven.

So, there you have it, the 3 styles of freestyle. It’s pretty interesting, and I can’t wait to implement some of the techniques we learned. I don’t have access to all the cool “toys” they have like weighted paddles, but I do know that they team up with Speedo and other companies to put their tools into the open market.



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